U.S. citizenship carries with it many rights, privileges, and benefits. Generally, anyone born within the borders or to U.S. citizens are automatically citizens of the United States. Another way to become a citizen is through naturalization. The process can be cumbersome and time-consuming, but not always.
Lear Immigration Law, PC helps clients become U.S. citizens through expertise, guidance, and clear communication. We believe that informed clients make the best choices for themselves, so call us today at 303-578-9083 to schedule a zoom or in-person consultation and learn more about the naturalization process and how you or a loved one can become a U.S. citizen.
Citizenship and Naturalization Process
If you are not born inside the borders of the United States, there are two pathways to U.S. citizenship:
- Acquisition, which is for children born outside of the United States to a U.S. citizen parent; or
- Naturalization, which is for lawful permanent residents (green card holders) who meet certain eligibility requirements.
Because acquisition requires birth to U.S. citizens, naturalization is the only means to obtain U.S. citizenship for most people.
The Naturalization process involves several steps.
1. Eligibility. To apply for naturalization, you first need to confirm your eligibility.
2. The Application. You then file a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, with the necessary supporting documents and filing fee with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS may ask you to attend an appointment to provide fingerprints for criminal background checks if you haven't already done so.
3. The Interview. USCIS will ask you to attend an interview, where they will assess your level of English and knowledge of U.S. history and government. After the interview, USCIS can:
- grant or deny your application
- request further documents
- give you more time to retake the English or civics test if you failed either.
From start to finish, the naturalization process generally takes 12 -18 months but could take longer.
Eligibility for Naturalization
The eligibility requirements and timeframes for naturalization depend on the circumstances, including the type of green card you have.
Most naturalization applications involve green card holders without any special status or those married to a US citizen.
If you hold a standard green card without any special status, you can apply for naturalization five years after receiving your green card. To qualify, you must show you have:
- Had continuous residence in the United States for at least five years before filing your application; and
- Been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months of those five years.
If you are a green card holder married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply after three years. You must have had:
- Continuous residence in the United States for at least three years before filing an application; and
- Been physically present in the United States for at least 18 months.
Eligibility requirements vary, depending on whether or not you are married to a U.S. citizen or have a special status, like a disability, age-related, or military affiliation.
The following is a list of general eligibility criteria for naturalization.
- You must be 18 years old or older.
- You must have established residency in the state (typically at least three months residency) or USCIS district where you plan to apply for citizenship.
- You must be a person of “good moral character," which generally means you have no criminal convictions, have paid taxes, and have not been accused of dishonesty or fraud.
- You must pass an English and Civics test. To note, some applicants are exempt from the English test requirement based on age and duration of the green card: if 50 or older, you must have had a green card for at least 20 years, or if 55 or older, you must have had a greed card for at least 15 years. Also, applicants 65 or older only need to study 20 rather than the typical 100 questions for the Civics test.
- You must be willing to serve in the U.S. military, if required; and, if you are male and lived in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 years, you must register with the Selective Service System.
- You must be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance and commit to defend the U.S. Constitution.
In addition, for non-U.S. citizens who served in the U.S. military or for the widows/widowers of U.S. citizens who died while serving, the timeframes to apply are shorter and the eligibility criteria are often less strict.
If you are considering applying for naturalization, our immigration lawyer at Lear Immigration Law, PC will confirm your eligibility based on your unique situation and help you plan how best to move forward.
Three Common Obstacles to U.S. Citizenship
Generally, becoming a U.S. citizen should be pretty straightforward if all eligibility requirements are met and the process is properly followed. Challenges, however, often arise, and when they do, they can put your eligibility into question. Here are a few common obstacles to keep in mind if you intend to apply for U.S. citizenship.
1. Lack of Good Moral Character
One of the most common reasons naturalization applications are refused is because the applicant fails the “good moral character” test. A previous criminal conviction may result in failure of this test, but a criminal record is not the only potential factor. In fact, there are more common but less known reasons you may be cited as not having good moral character. For example, if you owe outstanding taxes to the U.S. government, this can also cause potential issues with your application. It is important to address any tax issues immediately and demonstrate that you are taking steps to resolve the issue by entering into a payment plan or another satisfactory solution. In addition, there are other reasons why applicants are found to lack good moral character.
2. Lying in the Application
Some people worry that an event in their past may prevent them from becoming a citizen, so they lie or provide false information or evidence in their naturalization application. Evidence of dishonesty in your application or during your interview jeopardizes your chances of becoming a citizen. If you are concerned about something in your past, speak to an immigration lawyer to discuss how to include the information in your application. Creative ways exist to effectively address your concerns so that you do not have to lie and risk a denied application.
3. Incorrect or Missing Documents
It is essential to complete your naturalization application accurately and provide thorough supporting documentation. Any irregularities with these documents, especially if they are obtained overseas, can result in delays or even the refusal of a naturalization application.
If your naturalization application is refused, you can request a review by filing a Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings. You may also be able to reapply.
But also, when an obstacle arises, you may be at risk of removal or deportation. A lawyer can help you navigate these issues, as well as guide you on the best way to approach a negative decision.
Benefits of Naturalization
The benefits of naturalization are many more than the potential obstacles you may face. Here's a brief list of what those benefits are:
- Naturalization protects you and your children from deportation.
- Your children who are lawful permanent residents and under the age of 18 at the time you naturalize will become U.S. citizens if they meet certain residency and physical presence requirements.
- As a U.S. citizen, you can petition for additional family members to come to the United States (like parents, siblings, or married adult children).
- You become eligible for jobs with or in the federal government.
- You have the freedom to travel without the restrictions you had while a green card holder.
- You can vote in elections and become an elected official with the exception of the U.S. presidency.
- You can obtain other federal benefits only available to U.S. citizens.
So, for these and more reasons, becoming a U.S. citizen grants you many rights and privileges.
Contact Lear Immigration Law Today
U.S. citizenship offers many rewards and benefits, but the process can be time-consuming and demanding. The procedures are strict and there are many requirements. However, with the right guidance, you can be successful.
Contact our naturalization and citizenship lawyer in Colorado today by using the online form or calling us at 303-578-9083. During the zoom or in-person consultation, we will review your case and provide appropriate guidance and legal options.