Naturalization is the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. If you are the child of a U.S. citizen or were born within the United States (including, in most cases, U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), you are may already be a U.S. citizen. If you are not yet a U.S. citizen and are otherwise, we would be delighted to assist you in the naturalization process.
Benefits of Naturalization
United States citizenship has many advantages. For example, American citizens can sponsor relatives for immigration to the United States, obtain a U.S. passport, remain immune from deportation for criminal convictions, vote for government leaders, apply for high-level government positions, and even run for public office. However, individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes should NOT apply for naturalization. If you have ever been convicted of a crime, you should meet with an immigration attorney to discuss whether it is advisable for you to apply to naturalize. In addition, while naturalizing usually enables an individual to sponsor additional family members for immigration and/or shorten the time for the relative to immigrate, there are occasional exceptions. Particularly if you have already sponsored a family member to “follow to join” you, this is an important fact to discuss with an attorney before applying to naturalize.
Who is eligible to apply for naturalization?
Naturalization requirements include:
- Age: Applicants must be at least 18 years old.
- Residency: Applicants must be legal permanent residents (LPR) of the United States. Applicants will be required to present an I-551, “Alien Registration Receipt Card,” also known as a “green card,” as proof of their permanent resident status.
- Physical Presence and continuous residence: To be eligible to naturalize, most applicants must have continuously resided in the U.S. as lawful permanent residents for at least five years. During the five-year period, applicants must have been physically present in the United States for at least half the time — 30 of the previous 60 months. Any absence from the U.S. between six months and one year breaks the requirement for continuity of residency unless applicants can prove that they did not abandon their residence during that period. An absence of more than one year will break physical presence except for limited circumstances where the individual has received permission to remain outside of the US for more than one year in advance. Finally, applicants must have resided in a particular state or district for at least three months prior to filing.
- Certain individuals, primarily those who have been married to U.S. citizens for at least three years at the time of naturalizing, may be eligible to naturalize after three years, rather than five. Applicants are permitted to file 90 days before completion of the full five-year or three-year period. Time as a “conditional permanent resident” is counted toward the relevant period of time.
- Good Moral Character: Applicants must prove that they have been people of good moral character during the relevant five-year (or three-year) period. USCIS looks particularly at the individual’s conduct during this period, examining whether applicants have complied with legal obligations. The government will examine tax returns, child support payments, selective service registration, court records, truthfulness of all statements made on the application, and other evidence of moral character. However, USCIS does not limit itself to examining only the specified period when examining the moral character of an applicant. For example, applicants convicted of an aggravated felony are ineligible for naturalization at any time. Applicants who committed lesser crimes may also be ineligible. In fact, applying to naturalize may, in some circumstances, alert government authorities to the existence of an old criminal conviction that would make an individual subject to deportation. For this reason, it is essential that any individual with a criminal record carefully review all court and police documents with an immigration lawyer before applying to naturalize.
- Language: Applicants must demonstrate their ability to read, write, speak, and comprehend the English language. Applicants who are older than 55 and have been a permanent resident for at least 15 years or who are older than 50 and have been a permanent resident for at least 20 years are exempt from this requirement.
- Knowledge of United States Government and History: Applicants must demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of United States history and government, also known as civics. There is a list of 100 questions, from which the applicant will be asked ten questions. The applicant must get at least six questions correct.
- Oath of Allegiance: Applicants must take oaths of allegiance, in which they swear to: (1) support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States; (2) renounce any foreign allegiances and/or foreign titles; and (3) bear arms in the U.S. armed forces and/or perform non-combatant services to the U.S. government if required by law to do so.
Exemptions from English and/or Civics Requirements.
Elderly or disabled individuals who are not able to pass the English or history requirements may be eligible for exceptions. The English requirement is waived for individuals at least 50 years old who have been lawful permanent residents (LPR’s) for at least 20 years, or for those at least 55 years old who have been LPR’s for at least 15 years. These individuals may take the civics test in their native language.
Those over 65 who have been LPR’s for at least 20 years have a list of only 20 civics questions to study.
Individuals who suffer from a serious medical condition that prevents the individual from passing the naturalization exam may qualify for a waiver of the testing requirements. The medical condition must be serious, and must be directly related to the inability to pass the exam. A separate application must be filed for this waiver and presented by a medical or osteopathic doctor licensed to practice medicine in the United States or a clinical psychologist licensed to practice psychology in the United States (including the United States territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands).
Special Cases (Expedited Naturalization)
Certain applicants have more flexible physical presence and continuous residence requirements for naturalization. For example, as explained, a lawful permanent resident who has been married to a U.S. citizen for three years may file for naturalization early, provided that the couple continues to reside together in an intact marriage. Individuals granted permanent residence (or those who file Form I-751) under VAWA who are or were married to abusive U.S. citizens are permitted to naturalize after three years despite no longer being in an intact marriage. Immigrants who have served or are serving in the U.S. military may be entitled to expedited naturalization. Expedited naturalization is also possible for individuals married to U.S. citizens employed by the government or some other employers, if the permanent resident must travel overseas to accompany or follow the U.S. citizen spouse stationed abroad.
The Naturalization Process
Becoming a citizen of the United States begins with an applicant filing Form N-400 and obtaining a receipt notice. Shortly thereafter, the applicant will receive a biometrics notice, and must have fingerprints and photos taken at an assigned location. Then the individual will be scheduled for an interview. An immigration official will review all information on the application form, and will administer the English and civics tests. The USCIS officer will verify the applicant’s compliance with legal obligations such as payment of taxes and child support, and selective service (draft) registration if required. If there is any criminal record, that will be carefully examined. If the application is approved, USCIS will issue a notice for an oath ceremony where the applicant will turn in the permanent resident card, be sworn in as a U.S. citizen, and receive a Certificate of Naturalization. Please note that the applicant does not become a U.S. citizen until after taking the oath of citizenship. Falsely claiming U.S. citizenship can have extremely severe consequences.
Automatic Citizenship of Children
If a child under 18 years old is a legal permanent resident when a parent naturalizes, the child will become a U.S. citizen “automatically” without having to apply for naturalization. (This was not always true in the past). Certain LPR children adopted abroad may also become citizens “automatically.” However, the rules regarding adopted children are extremely complex, and they vary based on the date of the adoption, the age of the child, and the country of origin. Children who become citizens automatically through action of law (or their parents, on the children’s behalf) should apply for a U.S. passport, and a Certificate of Citizenship.
How can Bromberg, Kohler Maya & Petre, PLLC help you?
Bromberg, Kohler Maya & Petre, PLLC has a long history of assisting clients in successfully becoming naturalized citizens of the United States. Our attorneys and support staff are capable of assisting you in all stages of the naturalization process, including:
- Helping you determine if and when you are eligible to file for naturalization.
- Assisting you with the accurate and thorough completion and submission of form N-400.
- Documenting eligibility for expedited naturalization, good moral character, or qualifying for an exemption to the English or civics requirement, as appropriate.
- Monitoring the progress of your application and its status with USCIS.
- Preparing you thoroughly for the interview.
- Accompanying you to your interview to provide legal support and ensure that the process runs smoothly.
- Assisting you in securing documentation of citizenship for any eligible children.
Once you become a US citizen, our office can also assist you in sponsoring relatives for immigration to the United States.
Further Sources of Information
USCIS Naturalization Homepage