Applying for naturalization and citizenship can be tricky, so it’s best to seek sound legal advice. A number of law firms offer US citizenship and naturalization services.
In order to become a citizen at birth, a person must have been born in the United States or certain territories that are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, or have a parent or both parents who were citizens at the time of the person’s birth (if born abroad) and meet other requirements, including obtaining a Consular Report of Birth Abroad as an official record of the child’s claim to US citizenship.
If you were not born in the United States or to parents who are US citizens, you may be able to become a US citizen through naturalization. Naturalization is a process in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a US citizen. In most cases, a person who wants to naturalize must first be a permanent resident (“green card” holder). By becoming a US citizen, you gain many rights that permanent residents or others do not have, such as the right to vote in elections.
Generally, in order to be eligible for naturalization you must:
- Be age 18 or older;
- Be a permanent resident for a certain amount of time: usually 5 years, but less for some individuals, e.g. 3 years for those who are married to US citizens;
- Be a person of good moral character;
- Have a basic knowledge of US history and government;
- Have a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the US; and
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English. There are exceptions to this rule for someone who:
- Is 55 years old and has been a permanent resident for at least 15 years; or
- Is 50 years old and has been a permanent resident for at least 20 years; or
- Has a permanent physical or mental impairment that makes the individual unable to fulfill these requirements.
In order to apply for naturalization and citizenship, you have to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, along with all necessary documents. For example, if you have taken any trip outside the US that lasted 6 months or more since becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident, you will need to submit evidence that you (and your family) continued to live, work and/or keep ties to the US during that time. After filing Form N-400, you will receive a biometrics appointment letter from USCIS. You will need to go to the fingerprinting location and get your fingerprints taken. After completing your fingerprints appointment, you will receive an appointment for your interview. Processing times for naturalization applications vary by location. USCIS has announced its intentions to modernize and improve the naturalization process and to decrease the time it takes to be naturalized to an average of 6 months after Form N-400 is filed.
Most naturalization applicants are required to take a test on:
- Civics (US history and government)
During the interview at a USCIS office, you will need to answer questions about your application and background, and take the English and civics tests. Sample interview questions may concern your background; evidence supporting your case; your place and length of residence; your character; your attachment to the US Constitution; and your willingness to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. During your interview, a USCIS officer will also test your ability to read, write, and speak English (unless you are exempt from the English requirements). Even if exempt from the English test, you will need to take the civics test in the language of your choice or qualify for a waiver. You will be asked up to 10 questions regarding US history and government from the list of 100 questions. You must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test. You can prepare for both tests by studying materials available on the USCIS website.
If your application for naturalization is approved on the day of your interview, a ceremony date will be scheduled for you, where you will take the Oath of Allegiance and receive your Certificate of Naturalization. In some cases you may be able to take the Oath on the day of your interview. If you fail one or both of the tests, the USCIS will schedule you to come back for another interview, usually within 60-90 days of the first interview. At that time, you will be tested again. If you fail one or both tests again, your application will be denied. The USCIS may also request additional documents in your case. If you do not provide the requested documents, your application will be denied.
While every charge, conviction or arrest will serve as a negative factor in your naturalization and citizenship case, not all of them will cause denial of your case. Generally, some criminal history, such as Driving Under Influence DUI or DWI, will not make you ineligible for citizenship. Yes, it will create questions and you will have to disclose your court disposition records, but the USCIS will not generally deny your citizenship application simply because you were charged or convicted of a DUI or similar offense. If your DUI is combined with some other offenses, or if there are multiple convictions, your citizenship may be denied. Therefore, it is very important to carefully analyze your eligibility and to properly present your case to the USCIS. For example, quite often the officers make mistakes denying citizenship based on criminal history. In such a case, you should file for a rehearing and definitely hire an experienced attorney who will prove your eligibility.
In any case, you must always disclose all information about every criminal case you had, even if the records have been sealed or expunged. In fact, this is one of the most frequent pitfalls for citizenship applicants. Sometimes the applicants for naturalization have past arrests or charges, which their criminal lawyers got expunged. When completing the naturalization and citizenship application form N-400, some of the applicants fail to disclose those past cases, thinking that they don’t have to because the records have been expunged. Not so. The information must still be disclosed, no matter what. If you do not disclose it, the USCIS will find out no matter what and will then deny your application based on lack of moral character for lying in your application. Therefore, if you have ever been charged, arrested or detained, you must disclose such information, even if the case was dismissed or records expunged.
One other common mistake is when asylees fail to disclose their arrests or detentions when applying for citizenship. Form N-400 asks for information about all arrests, citations, and detentions anywhere in the world, not just in the US. And often, the applicants who got their green cards based on asylum, forget to list their arrests or detentions in their home countries. The asylum-based green card holders must know that, when they apply for citizenship, the USCIS re-reviews and re-checks all of their prior immigration history, comparing the information in their asylum applications to the information provided in the green card applications and citizenship applications. And if there are discrepancies, USCIS may reconsider or even revoke the applicant’s asylum status. Before approving the citizenship application, USCIS will go through the applicant’s entire immigration history one last time. Therefore, the task of preparing forms and documents for naturalization and citizenship should not be taken lightly, especially if you got your green card through asylum.
USCIS may also deny your application. (For example, your application may be denied if USCIS discovers that you have lied on your application and/or during your interview, or that you have not fully disclosed information about your criminal records.) In this case yu will receive a denial letter explaining why your application was denied. If you feel that USCIS was wrong to deny you citizenship, you may request a hearing with a USCIS officer within 30 days after you receive a denial letter. If, after an appeal hearing with USCIS, you still believe you have been wrongly denied naturalization, you may file a petition for a new review of your application in a US District Court. In some cases, if USCIS denies your application, you may reapply for naturalization. If you are denied naturalization and citizenship because you failed the English or civics test, you may reapply whenever you believe you have learned enough English or civics to pass both tests.
Attorneys at I.S. Law Firm offer US citizenship and naturalization services, and have helped many permanent residents become US citizens. If you are interested in applying for naturalization and citizenship and want to avoid anxiety and uncertainty about your case, please contact us at +1-703-527-1779 or via e-mail: [email protected].