For our clients and everyone who migrates to the United States, the ultimate American dream is becoming a U.S. citizen through the process of Naturalization. Naturalized citizens have the same rights and responsibilities as U.S.-born citizens, including but not limited to the right to vote and the ability to sponsor immediate family members to be able to come to the United States. Most importantly, once obtained, U.S. citizenship cannot be abandoned or lost by spending extended periods outside of the United States, and U.S. citizens cannot be deported (as is the case with permanent residents). Let’s go over the basics of Naturalization and what to expect in the process.
What Is Naturalization?
It is the process by which a lawful permanent resident applies for and is granted U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizenship is a legal status that offers many benefits and responsibilities, including the ability to vote in U.S. federal elections, serve on a jury, travel with a U.S. passport, and bring family members to the United States.
Applying for citizenship is a very personal decision as it comes with a great deal of responsibility. When you become a U.S. citizen, you are taking an oath to support the principles of the U.S. Constitution, to renounce allegiance to a foreign state, and to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law. In some cases, obtaining U.S. citizenship may mean losing the citizenship of your home country.
For many people, the naturalization process is relatively simple. However, if you are unable to meet all the naturalization requirements highlighted below, you should speak to an attorney before making the important decision to apply for U.S. citizenship.
What are the Basic Requirements for Naturalization?
- Be at least 18 years old
- Be a lawful permanent resident for at least five years or three years if you obtained your “Green Card” through your U.S. Citizen spouse.
- Be able to demonstrate physical presence in the United States for at least 30 months out of the last five years before filing (or 18 months out of the last three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen)
- Be able to demonstrate continuous residence in the United States
- Have resided for at least three months in the state where you are filing the naturalization application
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English
- Understand the fundamentals of U.S. history and government
- Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance
- Meet the good moral character requirements
What Is Good Moral Character?
Demonstrating good moral character means that your character measures up to the standards of the average citizen in your community. You must show that you have good moral character during the five-year period immediately preceding your application for naturalization and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance. However, USCIS may also look at conduct prior to the five-year period in certain circumstances.
Some examples of conduct that demonstrates a lack of good moral character and could make you ineligible for naturalization include but are not limited to:
- Having been convicted of murder
- Having been convicted of certain aggravated felonies, which include crimes of violence, money laundering, alien smuggling, and document fraud, to name a few
- Committing a crime involving moral turpitude
- Violating a controlled substance law (whether in the United States or abroad)
- Being involved in prostitution
- Earning income principally from illegal gambling activities
- Willfully failing or refusing to support dependents
- Being a habitual drunkard
What is the Naturalization Process Like?
When you submit the Naturalization application (Form N-400) to USCIS with the appropriate government filing fee, you will receive a receipt notice as confirmation that your case has been received and is being processed. This notice contains a number that allows you to track your case online. Weeks to months later, you will receive a biometrics appointment notice asking you to have your fingerprints and photo taken at your local USCIS office. After some time, you will be scheduled for an interview. At the interview, an officer will test your knowledge of English and U.S. civics.
If you pass the test and meet all the other requirements for naturalization, you will be scheduled for a naturalization ceremony, which is where you will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and officially become a U.S. citizen.
As always, we advise seeking the help of an immigration attorney to go over your individual situation and help you through this process, especially if you don’t meet all the naturalization requirements.