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The Basics of Naturalization

Many people dream of becoming American citizens. Naturalization is the legal process through which a foreign citizen or national can become a U.S. citizen. To be naturalized, applicants must first meet specific criteria.

This criteria includes having a green card. The green card allows a foreign citizen to have lawful permanent residence in the United States. Individuals may get green cards through many types of visas. These visas include employment-based or family visas.

The naturalization process involves:

  • Completing an application
  • Attending an interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer 
  • Passing a basic English and civics test, which covers topics like the U.S. Constitution and U.S. history
  • Taking an oath of allegiance

These legal requirements help the immigration service ensure that only those people who are sincere in their desire to become U.S. citizens through naturalization. This article will discuss eligibility for naturalization and the application process.

Eligibility for Naturalization

Before you can apply for naturalization, you'll need to meet specific eligibility requirements. The USCIS also provides a Naturalization Eligibility tool. This tool helps applicants determine whether they are eligible to apply.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states that applicants for naturalization must be:

  • At least 18 years of age
  • lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least five years before applying for naturalization
  • Physically present in the United States for at least 30 months of the last five years; 18 months out of three years for those married to a U.S. citizen
  • Able to understand and speak English
  • Of good moral character
  • Demonstrate understanding of U.S. history and the Constitution

Once you meet these eligibility requirements for naturalization, you can apply. Applicants will also undergo background checks during the naturalization process.

Certain exemptions also apply to specific people. For instance, an active U.S. military service member's spouse with a green card can live abroad with them. Living overseas will still count as continuous residence in the U.S.

The U.S. government provides a range of publications to explain the naturalization process in detail. FindLaw also provides comprehensive articles about this topic.

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.

Background Checks

The USCIS officers will also ask you to attend a biometrics appointment. The biometrics appointment is a part of the background check. If the applicant committed certain crimes, it could affect the naturalization application.

The USCIS refers to these factors as "conditional bars." The conditional bar can be triggered by specific activities, offenses, convictions, or circumstances within the naturalization period.

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.

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.

Completing Your Application

It's essential to complete your naturalization application accurately.

For this part of the process, green card holders must:

  • Get two photographs of yourself that meet immigration service requirements (pose, size, lighting, etc.)
  • Collect the necessary documents. This includes proof of continuous residence and any applicable waivers.
  • Send your application, documents, and filing fees to the appropriate Service Center, or file directly online

Remember that once you file your application, you must maintain continuous residence in the United States. Depending on your case, this residency will be five or three years. USCIS officers will count the period of continuous residence from the filing date until the naturalization ceremony.

U.S. Naturalization Filing Fee

The application fee for a citizenship application is around $725. This includes $85 for biometrics services. But the fee is set to increase sometime in 2023.

You must send this fee with your application. You can pay the fee with a check or a money order payable to the Department of Homeland Security or with a credit card using the USCIS form G-1450. These fees are nonrefundable regardless of the outcome of your application.

Getting Fingerprinted

As part of the naturalization application, you'll need to be fingerprinted.

For this step of the process, you will:

  • Receive an appointment letter from USCIS
  • Go to the fingerprint location and get your fingerprints taken
  • Mail more documents if requested

This security step ensures that no fraud is perpetrated on USCIS. This process will also confirm the applicant's good moral character and continuous residence in the United States.

Being Interviewed and Tested

The next step to becoming a naturalized citizen is a naturalization interview.

The following are the steps you should expect in this process:

  • Receive an appointment for your interview
  • Go to your local office at the specified time
  • Bring identification and any relevant documents. This includes proof of residency requirements, waivers, etc.
  • Answer questions about your application and your background.

Once you've completed the interview and tests, you should receive a decision about your application for naturalization.

Taking the Oath of Allegiance

You can proceed to the final step if you've passed the background check, naturalization interview, and civics tests. The last step will be taking an oath of allegiance.

Expect the following process in this final stage of naturalization:

  • Receive a ceremony date
  • Check in at the ceremony
  • Answer questions about what you've been doing since your interview
  • Take 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.

Naturalization Fraud

An applicant may also face deportation if they commit fraud or misrepresentation. 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.

More Questions About the Basics of Naturalization in Your Case? Get Legal Help Today

Naturalizing in the United States requires a thorough understanding of the steps involved. Each case status may vary, so consulting an immigration attorney will be helpful.

If you want to learn more about the naturalization process or get a Certificate of Citizenship, you can consult an immigration attorney near you. An immigration attorney can answer questions relating to immigration law.

They can also help you prepare for your naturalization interview and citizenship process. An immigration attorney can also help you process your certificate of naturalization or guide you in becoming a citizen of the United States.

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