One of our subscribers asked for this video, and the question was basically: Are there any financial tests or income requirements or a public charge test for naturalization? These questions come up in different shapes: Do I have to have a certain income to apply for naturalization? Can I naturalize if I received unemployment benefits, or if I’m retired? If I owe back taxes? If owe child support? or WIC? Medicaid? Bankrupt? Bad credit? So, let’s visit each of those scenarios.

Hardly anyone asked about these “financial concerns” questions until around two years ago. Then as soon as the outgoing anti-immigrant administration started the “public charge” persecution, prospective clients started to ask it in just about every consultation for naturalization. Anthony Bourdain was right: Fear Works.

Before we review each permutation of the what I call the “financial concerns” questions, I’ll assume that there has been no fraud or foul play involved. The sad truth is that some people lie to obtain certain financial advantage. We call those lies “fraud” and fraud is often a crime, and crimes are a completely different, sensitive, and highly dangerous issue. Therefore, we won’t touch the fraud issue in this video. So if you even believe that you have engaged in fraud to obtain any type of financial benefits and you want to apply for naturalization, then stop watching this video and consult with a lawyer, or maybe even two lawyers.

Phew! Now that we got that out of the way, let’s review each permutation of the “financial concerns” questions:

Common questions about finances and naturalization

Do you need to have a certain level of income or wealth to naturalize? Absolutely not. There’s no means test for naturalization. Yes, the form asks you whether you’re currently employed, but that information is not used to judge your finances. It’s used to know your whereabouts during the statutory period and things of that nature.

Can I naturalize if I’m unemployed or retired? You most definitely can. Think about all those stay-at-home parents who are raising children or those who are caring for the elderly? If there was an employment requirement, none of them could naturalize. Rest assured that if you’re unemployed, the officers won’t even ask you what you’re doing to find a job or how are you spending your days or how you’re coping. Having said that, however, sometimes we forget that USCIS officers are also caring human beings with real human feelings. So, out of a genuine personal concern they may ask you. But again, they may ask you because of genuine personal concern, and not as part of their official duties.

Can I naturalize if I received unemployment benefits? Yes, you can. Unemployment benefits are NOT public benefits, if that’s what was worrying you.

Can I naturalize if I owe back taxes? Well, it depends by what you mean by “you owe”.

If you have complied with all of your tax reporting obligations and have a written agreement to pay back taxes and you’re current with your payments, then you’re probably OK, but I still need you to consult with an immigration lawyer before you file for naturalization.

If you have not complied with your tax reporting obligations, then talk to your tax expert before you even approach your immigration attorney.

Can I naturalize if I’m paying child support? If you’re current with your payments, then yes, and please bring proof that you’re current. If you’re in arrears, then it can get tricky because you’ll have to show a valid reason—we call it “extenuating circumstances” –why you’re in arrears. So for example, if you simply ignored the CS order and haven’t paid any child support, then you should be denied naturalization. If, on the other hand, you can show that you’ve been dutifully paying your child support, but just lost your job and you’re behind by a couple of months, then chances are that it won’t be an obstacle.

Can I naturalize if I have declared bankruptcy or if I have bad credit? Yes, you can. There are no questions in the N-400 about bankruptcy or bad credit and I can’t recall an officer ever asking about those issues.

Can I naturalize if I received public benefits such as WIC, Medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance, etc., etc.? Definitely Yes. There’s no public charge test for naturalization applicants, at least not yet.

My friends, please remember that each immigration case is different. They really are. So, if you have any concerns about your particular situation, then you have an obligation to consult with your lawyer before you file for naturalization or any other immigration benefit. You should not be leaving a long, detailed comment below fully exposing your problems to the entire world. You should only share those concerns in private with your lawyer.