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Overview of Citizenship and Naturalization

Posted by attorney Karen-Lee Pollak

America's history and greatness is deeply rooted in diversity and the contributions of generations of immigrants from around the world. Immigrants - and immigration - have provided significant fuel for America's growth and prosperity since our country was founded over 200 years ago. Becoming a U.S citizen is one of the most important and rewarding decisions one can make. This guide provides a general overview of citizenship and naturalization. General Path to Citizenship Generally, permanent residents (green card holders) age 18 or older who meet all eligibility requirements for naturalization may submit a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. There are various naturalization provisions that allow permanent residents (green card holders) to become U.S. citizens. The most common of these provisions is section 316(a) of the INA which allows a person who has been a permanent resident for at least 5 years to apply for naturalization. Eligibility Requirements

  • Must be 18 years old
  • Must have Permanent Residence Status (Green Card) for five years subsequent to application. If married to a U.S. Citizen, the permanent residency requirement is three years.
  • Must have resided for at least three months within the state the petition was filed.
  • Must be physically present in the U.S. for at least one-half of the five years (one half of the three years for spouse of a Citizen).
  • Must have resided continuously within the U.S. from the date the application was filed up to the time of admission to citizenship.
  • Must not be absent for a period more than one year during the period residence is required. (Five years or three years)
  • Must be a person of good moral character.

Common Reasons for Denial of Citizenship - Applicant cannot speak/write English: Applicants are required to speak, understand and write in the English language. An exception exists where the applicant is at least 50 years old and has maintained permanent residency for at least 20 years, or is at least 55 years old and has maintained permanent residency for at least 15 years. Here, the applicant may have the examination performed in his or her native language. The applicant may also apply for a Waiver if he or she is unable to learn English due to a medical condition. - Arrests: An applicant may be denied citizenship if he or she is on probation for any crime committed at the time of interview. An applicant may also be denied Citizenship if he or she committed a crime involving moral turpitude.

Application Procedure Application should be filed at the regional Service Center where the applicant is permanently residing. The Application is submitted on a N-400 form with three photos. Fingerprints are no longer submitted with the application. The applicant will be scheduled for fingerprinting and an interview subsequent to filing the application. Applicants can file their citizenship applications up to three months before meeting the residency requirements.

Additional resources provided by the author

The USCIS is a terrific source for additional information. Below are links to several resources available on its website.

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