Citizenship and Naturalization: Frequently Asked Questions


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If you plan to become a US citizen, you may have a number of questions about the process. This guide covers some of the more frequently asked questions.


What are the Benefits of Becoming a U.S. Citizen?

First, voting. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal, state, and local elections. If you are a permanent resident of the United States and want to have a voice in elections then you should petition to become a citizen. Second, participation and opportunity. As a U.S. citizen, you will not only have the opportunity to vote, but also to run for public office and to be a member of a jury. Additionally, as a U.S. citizen you will be able to qualify for certain government jobs and scholarships. Third, public benefits. As a U.S. citizen you will have more access to public benefits than as a permanent resident. This includes payments of social security. Fourth, immigration of immediate relatives. As a U.S. citizen you are in a better position to help your immediate relatives come to the United States and become lawful permanent residents themselves.


How Long Must I Be A Lawful Permanent Resident Before Being Eligible For Naturalization?

In most instances a person must be a Lawful Permanent Resident ("Green Card Holder") for five years before becoming a citizen. However, spouses of U.S. citizens are eligible for naturalization after three years of being a Lawful Permanent Resident. In special circumstances the period might also be shorter than five years (for example, being a member of the armed forces).


Do I Have To Wait Until I Am Eligible For Citizenship Before I Apply For Citizenship?

No, you do not have to wait until you are eligible. You can apply up to 90 days before you become eligible. Therefore, if you become eligible five years after you obtain lawful permanent residency, you can apply after four years and approximately 280 days. Likewise, if you are eligible after three years of being a lawful permanent resident, you can apply after two years and approximately 280 days.


What Does Good Moral Character Mean and Why Is It Important?

To be eligible for citizenship, a person must demonstrate that they are of good moral character. The government determines if a person has good moral character by reviewing the applicant's previous actions. Good moral character might not be found if a person has committed certain crimes, given false testimony to gain an immigration benefit, been involved in prostitution, been involved in smuggling a person or persons into the U.S., practiced polygamy, earned income principally from illegal gambling activities, willfully failed to support dependent family members, committed adultery causing the break-up of a family, failed to register for Selective Service, or failed to file or pay income taxes. Other factors might also be used to determine good moral character. Speaking with an immigration attorney will help an applicant determine whether a concern about his or her good moral character can be overcome.


Why Do I Need A Lawyer To Help Me With My Application?

Peace of mind. Many individuals do not use a lawyer and succeed in their naturalization applications - many do not. The naturalization process can quickly deteriorate if not handled correctly or if filed by someone who is deemed ineligible. Deterioration of the process can cause delays, and often, denial. Increasingly, individuals who are denied naturalization are placed in removal proceedings. Thus, individuals who are one step away from citizenship often find themselves being removed from the United States after a failed naturalization application.


What is the Physical Presence Requirement?

To qualify for naturalization, applicants must demonstrate that they have meet the physical presence requirement. The requirement is met if an applicant has been physically present within the United States during at least half of either the five or three year period of lawful permanent residency by which the applicant is basing the naturalization application.


What Is Continuous Residency? And Why Is It Important?

In addition to the physical presence requirement, a naturalization applicant must also demonstrate continuous residency in the United States since becoming a lawful permanent resident. If continuous residency has not been maintained, an applicant may be considered to have abandoned lawful permanent residency status. If, since becoming a lawful permanent resident, an applicant has been outside of the United States for more than six months at one time, it is advisable to consult an immigration attorney to ensure that you have not broken your continuous residency. Likewise, lawful permanent residents planning to be outside of the United States for over six months should contact an immigration attorney to ensure that continuous residency is not broken.


My Parent Became A U.S. Citizen After I Was Born, Am I Automatically A U.S. Citizen?

In certain circumstances, a person automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when that person's parent becomes a U.S. citizen. Because the law has changed multiple times through the years, making a determination is very fact specific and it is highly suggested that an immigration lawyer is consulted. If a person has automatically become a U.S. Citizen, s/he will need to submit form N-600 to receive a certificate of citizenship from the U.S. government.


What is on the English Reading, Writing and Speaking Part of the Naturalization Test?

Reading Section - The applicant must read one sentence out of three that the interviewing official will give to the applicant. Writing Section - The applicant must write one out of three sentences that the interviewing official will give to the applicant. Speaking Section - The interviewing official will determine an applicant's eligibility by listening to the applicant's responses to the questions normally asked during the naturalization interview. The USCIS provides vocabulary lists and flash cards for use in preparing for this section of the naturalization test. A link to these vocabulary lists can be found at the end of this guide. If an applicant initially fails, the applicant will be able to retake the failed portion of the test between 60 and 90 days after the failure.


What is on the Civics and Government Part of the Naturalization Test?

The applicant will be asked ten questions and is required to answer six of those questions correctly. The ten questions come from a list of 100 naturalization test questions that the USCIS has created. The list of questions can be viewed in English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. A link to all of these questions can be found at the end of this guide. Generally speaking, an applicant does not need to buy or use any additional study guides besides those provided by the USCIS. If an applicant initially fails, the applicant will be able to retake the failed portion of the test between 60 and 90 days after the failure.


What Is The Most Important Thing To Remember During The Naturalization Process?

Always tell the truth.

Additional Resources

American Citizenship Lawyer

Free Civics Citizenship Test Questions

Free Vocabulary List for Citizenship Test

USCIS Citizenship Web page

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