Naturalization is the process of going from immigrant status to US Citizen status. This guide gives an overview of the process and how to qualify.
Who Qualifies for Naturalization?
You must i) continuously hold a green card for 57 months (33 months if the green card was obtained through marriage to a US Citizen, and 45 months if the green card was obtained through Asylum), ii) have knowledge of the English language, iii) have familiarity of US Civics and History, and iv) be of good moral character. You may apply for a reentry permit if you wish to spend 1-2 years outside the US, but spending 1 year outside the US will break continuity of residence. Trips of 6 months to 364 days may also break continuity, but you may have an opportunity to prove that continuity was not broken.
Re-Entry Pemit and Breaking the Continuity
There are exemptions from the English language test. If you are 50, and have been a green card holder for 20 years, you may be exempt. If you are 55, and have been a green card holder for 15 years, you may also be exempt. There are also disability exemptions. For those who are at least 65, and have been a green card holder for 20 years, a simplified civics and history test may be administered. There are also disability exemptions to the civics and history test. Good moral character is somewhat subjective, and the reviewing officer will take into consideration things such as declarations others, community service, arrests, convictions, habitual drunkenness, etc. The standard for good moral character is that of the average citizen in the community where you live.
When can I Obtain Citizenship Through Naturalization?
You may apply for naturalization after 4 years and 9 months (57 months) from the date you received your green card, or 2 years and 9 months (33 months) if you received your green card through marriage to a US Citizen, or 3 years and 9 months (45 months) if you received your green card through Asylum. You must have been physically present in the US for 30 months or 18 months if you received your green card through marriage, just as long as you did not break continuity of your residence in the US.
What are the Benefits and Limitations of Applying for Naturalization?
Naturalization is ideally the goal of nearly all immigrants in the US. You may apply to obtain a US passport as soon as you become a US Citizen through naturalization. As a US Citizen, you can not be deported or lose citizenship, even if you commit a crime or choose to live anywhere else in the world, for any amount of time. US Citizens can also have more options to petition for green cards for close relatives. You also become eligible to vote in elections and apply for government jobs restricted only to US Citizens. Naturalization is not irreversible, however. If it is discovered that you were not eligible for naturalization, or that you were not eligible for a green card at the time you acquired it (for example, marriage fraud or asylum fraud), then your citizenship may be revoked and you may be subject to removal. Also, if your home country does not recognize dual citizenship, you could lose citizenship in your home country.
What is the Attorney's Role in a Naturalization Case?
In a straightforward naturalization case where there are no complications, often people find that they may apply for naturalization without the help of an attorney. Some people still feel somewhat uncomfortable facing a USCIS officer alone, and would like someone to attend the interview with them. A naturalization applicant may only bring in an interpreter if necessary and an attorney. For some people, applying for naturalization might actually create problems, so in cases where there are complications (arrests/convictions, breaks in continuity), it is highly recommended that the case is at least reviewed by an immigration lawyer.
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