Becoming an American citizen is a dream for many people. Foreign nationals who wish to become citizens of the United States may do so through the naturalization process, which is administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The process is governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Citizenship confers many advantages. These advantages include the right to vote, protection from the government, access to certain jobs and benefits, and the option to hold public office. However, specific eligibility requirements should be met before filing a naturalization application to become a naturalized citizen.
Overview of Naturalization Requirements
This article will provide information about various aspects that need to be met to become a naturalized citizen. In summary, to become a U.S. citizen you must:
- Be at least 18 years of age and a lawful permanent resident
- Have lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years; three years if married to a U.S. citizen
- Been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months of the last five years; 18 months out of three years for those married to a U.S. citizen
- Live in the state or USCIS district where you plan to apply for at least three months before beginning the application process
- Demonstrate good moral character
- Read, write, and speak English
- Demonstrate understanding of U.S. history and the Constitution
Applicants must complete Form N-400 to start the naturalization process. A biometrics appointment must also be scheduled to collect the applicants' photographs, fingerprints, and signatures. The biometrics information will be used to do a background check and verify the applicant's identity. You must bring a valid photo ID to this appointment, such as your permanent residence card or driver's license.
Age Criteria and Exceptions
U.S. citizenship applicants must be at least 18 years old. Older applicants may qualify for a waiver of some other requirements.
The English language requirement does not apply to those who are:
- 50+ years old at the time of filing and who have lived in the United States as permanent residents for at least 20 years. This rule is known as the “50/20" exception.
- 55+ years old at the time of filing and have continuous residence in the U.S. for at least 15 years. This rule is also known as the “55/15" exception.
Despite the 50/20 and 55/15 exemptions, all applicants must take the civics test.
If the applicant for U.S. citizenship is 65+ years old and has lived in the U.S. for at least 20 years, they are given special consideration about the civics test requirement.
Elderly applicants are likewise allowed to take the test in their native language. The applicant must bring an interpreter if the test is not in English.
Lawful Permanent Residence Requirements
An applicant for citizenship naturalization must hold a lawful permanent resident status (green card holder). Qualification for the green card also has various requirements, depending on each category.
As part of the residency requirements, an applicant must demonstrate continuous residence and physical presence in the country before applying for naturalization. Generally, the condition is at least 30 months out of the preceding 5-year period, but certain exceptions apply to applicants married to a military service member or a spouse of a U.S. citizen.
Demonstrating Good Moral Character
One of the requirements in the citizenship application is good moral character (GMC). This measures the applicant's character on whether it is up to the standards of average citizens in the community where the applicant lives. A background check will also be done during the citizenship process.
The applicant must demonstrate a continuous GMC throughout filing and up to the Oath of Allegiance. Although USCIS determines if an applicant meets the GMC requirements, certain types of criminal acts prevent applicants from establishing GMC.
A USCIS officer will review various aspects to see whether someone meets the GMC requirements, including:
- The applicant's criminal record
- Statements provided in the citizenship application
- Oral testimony provided during the naturalization interview
Note that specific jurisdictional case law may affect each case status.
An applicant may also face deportation if fraud or misrepresentation is committed. Deportation removes a foreign national from one country and returns them to their country of origin. The U.S. Code lists in detail the grounds for deportation.
Taking Oath of Allegiance
U.S. citizen applicants must show commitment to supporting the U.S. Constitution. The applicant will declare this commitment upon taking the Oath of Allegiance.
The Secretary of Homeland Security may administer the Oath. The Secretary can also delegate this authority to other officials of the DHS or other employees of the United States.
Immigration judges may likewise administer the Oath of Allegiance during naturalization ceremonies. The judge in a proper jurisdiction will have exclusive power to administer the Oath.
English Proficiency and Language Exceptions
Citizenship applicants must be able to speak, read, write, and understand the English language. However, there are exemptions to this requirement.
Understanding U.S. Government and History
The applicant must also understand the fundamental principles of the United States government and its history. However, the same disability exception applies to applicants with mental or physical impairments affecting their understanding of these concepts.
Consult an Immigration Attorney
The process of becoming a United States citizen can be meticulous and time-consuming. Thus, it is best to seek an immigration attorney to help you understand the complexities of immigration law.
Immigration attorneys can guide you through each step of the process and assist you in protecting your legal rights. They can also assist you in processing the N400 form or citizenship of your family members.
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