Citizenship through naturalization
Naturalization is a process of obtaining U.S. citizenship by a citizen of a foreign country. Another way of obtaining U.S. citizenship is by birth in the U.S. or to a U.S. citizen parent.
You may qualify for naturalization if you have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years, or for 3 years or more if you are married to a U.S. citizen and you meet all eligibility requirements. Other paths to naturalization include service in the U.S. army or “derived” citizenship from a U.S. citizen parent, provided all other requirements are met.
To be eligible to apply for naturalization you must be at least 18 years old and fall within one of the scenarios described below:
- You have been a Permanent Resident (Green Card holder) for the last 3 years and obtained your permanent residence through marriage to a U.S. citizen. You have lived with your spouse during this period and have not left the country for 6 months or longer. You have been physically present in the U.S for at least 18 months
- You have been a Green Card holder for the last 5 years and have not left the U.S. for 6 months or longer and have been physically present in the U.S for at least 30 months
- You are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces (or will be filing your application within 6 months of an honorable discharge) and have served for minimum 1 year. Note that you must be a Permanent Resident on the day of your interview at USCIS.
Additional requirements for each applicant are good moral character, English language knowledge and a basic understanding of the U.S. history and constitution for which an applicant will be tested at the interview.
Continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S.
Continuous residence means that you have not been absent in the United States for a long period of time. If you have left the U.S. for 6 month or longer and less than 1 year, it may disrupt your continuous residence. Leaving the U.S. for 1 year or longer will disrupt your continuous residence in most cases. Leaving the U.S. for such a long period will not only render you ineligible for naturalization but you might also lose your permanent residence status.
Physical presence refers to the total number of days, which a naturalization applicant has spent in the U.S. For instance, if you have been married to a U.S. citizen for the last 3 years and have been physically present in the U.S. for 19 months in total during this 3-year period, you meet the physical presence requirement, but if during the past 3 years you left the U.S. for 6 months or longer, you do not meet continuous residence requirement, because your absence in the U.S. for that long period interrupted your continuous residence.
Good moral character
To be a person of good moral character is one of the necessary requirements for naturalization. The law does not specify what is good moral character and USCIS will determine your eligibility based on your criminal records. Here are some examples of crimes that show a lack of good moral character:
- Any crime against a person with intent to harm.
- Any crime against property or the Government that involves “fraud” or evil intent.
- Two or more crimes for which the aggregate sentence was 5 years or more.
- Violating any controlled substance law of the United States, any State, or any foreign country.
- Habitual drunkenness.
- Illegal gambling.
- Polygamy (marriage to more than one person at the same time).
- Lying to gain immigration benefits.
- Failing to pay court-ordered child support or alimony payments.
- Confinement in jail, prison, or similar institution for which the total confinement was 180 days or more during the past 5 years (or 3 years if you are applying based on your marriage to a United States citizen).
- Failing to complete any probation, parole, or suspended sentence before you apply for naturalization.
- Terrorist acts.
- Persecution of anyone because of race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or social group.
English and Civics Test
To be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must be able to read, write and speak English. He or she must also have basic understanding of the U.S. history and principles and forms of the government. Applicants are also required to know important parts of the U.S. constitution. You can download the Civics test questions with answers in PDF format by clicking the hyperlinked text.
There are some circumstances in which you can waive this requirement such as:
- If you are over 50 years old and have been a U.S. permanent residence for at least 20 years you are not required to take the English test, but you must take civics test in other language you know
- If you are over 55 years old and have lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least 15 years, you do not have to take the English test. You are still required to take the civics take in the language of your choice.
- If you are physically or mentally disable to take the test in English and Civics you may be excused from the test requirements as well. A licensed doctor must complete and file Form N-648 to demonstrate your eligibility for this exception.
Naturalization application process
The application process starts with completing Form N-400. You will also need to gather all required documents, which are listed in the instructions for Form N-400. Then you will file the completed form with USCIS along with the supporting documentation and filing fee.
Soon after USCIS receives your application, it will confirm its receipt and will notify you about the date for your biometrics appointment. Several months later, after your biometrics are taken your will receive another notice from USCIS about your interview date. At the interview, you will be tested for English and Civics. Soon after the successful completion of the interview you will be scheduled for the ceremony to take the oath. At the ceremony, you will surrender your Green Card and receive a Certificate of Naturalization. This ceremony will complete your naturalization application process after which you can apply for a U.S. passport.
U.S. citizenship brings a number of important benefits and protections:
- Voting. The right to participate in federal elections is restricted to U.S. citizens. A majority of states don’t allow anyone but citizens to participate in non-federal elections, either.
- Bringing family members to the United States. It is much easier for U.S. citizens to petition and bring their family members to the U.S. permanently than it is for Green Card holders to do so.
- Obtaining citizenship for children born abroad. In most cases, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen is automatically a U.S. citizen, so having citizenship can ensure that your children will be American citizens even if they are born elsewhere.
- Traveling with a U.S. passport. A U.S. passport allows you to travel to most countries without going through the cumbersome visa procedures that citizens of other countries have to face. It also qualifies you to receive the assistance and protection of the U.S. government when you are abroad.
- Being eligible for federal government jobs. Becoming a U.S. citizen opens the door to many jobs in federal government, which in most cases are restricted to citizens only.
- Becoming an elected official. Many elected positions in the United States require U.S. citizenship.
- Protections in case of legal proceedings. A U.S. citizen cannot be deported and enjoys fuller rights and protection under the U.S. Constitution than a permanent resident.
The list of these benefits is not exhaustive. While the decision to become a citizen should not be made lightly, naturalization is a path that deserves serious consideration by any Green Card holder living permanently in the United States.
Should you have any questions or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact me by submitting the form or by calling me at (917) 426-8227 or (248) 630-3239. I accept clients from across the U.S. and around the world. My law offices are conveniently located in Troy, Michigan and in Lower Manhattan, New York for in-person meetings. For phone consultation, you can reach me from any part of the United States or abroad.