Becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization is a significant milestone for immigrants. As immigration attorneys, it’s our privilege to guide individuals through this process. In this article, we’ll explore the key requirements and guidelines for naturalization, shedding light on the path to becoming a proud U.S. citizen. Please don’t hesitate to share this with others considering applying.
- Permanent Residency: To apply for naturalization, an applicant must be a current green card holder (permanent resident status).
- Physical Presence: Applicants must maintain continuous residence in the United States during the entire period of their required permanent residency before applying for naturalization. In most cases, the standard physical presence requirement is five years of permanent residency. This means that an applicant must have held a green card and resided in the United States for a continuous five-year period. However, if the applicant is married to a U.S. citizen, they may be eligible to apply after just three years of permanent residency.
- Continuous presence: Continuous residence means that the applicant has not made any trips or extended absences from the U.S. that disrupt their eligibility. It’s important to note that even short trips abroad can affect continuity in the aggregate, so applicants should be cautious about travel during this period. If an applicant takes an extended trip abroad during the required residency period, it can disrupt their continuous residence. USCIS may consider these trips as a break in the continuous presence, which can affect eligibility. In some cases, applicants may need to wait until they have reestablished continuous residence before applying.
- Good Moral Character: The “good moral character” (GMC) requirement assesses whether an applicant for U.S. naturalization has maintained a positive and upstanding moral character during the statutory period leading up to their application. The GMC requirement focuses on the five-year period (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen) immediately preceding the naturalization application. This means that USCIS examines an applicant’s behavior, conduct, and actions during this time frame. USCIS reviews various aspects of an applicant’s life to determine their moral character. These factors may include:
- Criminal history: Any history of serious crimes, such as felonies or aggravated felonies, can raise significant concerns. It’s essential to disclose all criminal incidents, even if they were expunged or sealed. Having a criminal record doesn’t necessarily disqualify an applicant from naturalization, but it can complicate the process. USCIS considers the nature, severity, and recency of the offense when assessing GMC.
- Immigration violations: Violations of immigration laws, such as visa overstays or unauthorized employment, can affect GMC.
- Tax compliance: Filing and paying taxes in accordance with U.S. tax laws is important. Delinquent taxes can be a factor in GMC evaluations.
- Outstanding child support: Failing to meet financial obligations for child support may raise GMC concerns.
- Fraudulent acts: Engaging in fraudulent activities, including immigration fraud, can negatively impact GMC.
- Substance abuse: Ongoing drug or alcohol abuse may be seen as a lack of good moral character.
- False statements: Providing false information on immigration forms or during interviews can be viewed as dishonesty and affects GMC.
- English Language Proficiency: Applicants must have a basic understanding of the English language, including the ability to read, write, and speak English. However, there are exemptions and accommodations for certain age and residency combinations. These exemptions are:
- 50/20 Exemption: Applicants who are at least 50 years old and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years are exempt from the English language requirement. They can take the civics test in their native language.
- 55/15 Exemption: Applicants who are at least 55 years old and have been permanent residents for at least 15 years are also exempt from the English language requirement. They can take the civics test in their native language.
- Individuals with certain medical disabilities that prevent them from learning or demonstrating knowledge of English may be eligible for accommodations. USCIS may grant a medical disability exception, allowing these applicants to take the civics test in their native language and be exempt from the English language requirement.
- Civics Knowledge: Knowledge of U.S. government and history is tested through a civics examination during the naturalization interview. USCIS provides study materials and resources to help applicants prepare for this test.
- Oath of Allegiance: Candidates must be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This oath signifies their commitment to becoming a U.S. citizen and renouncing allegiance to any foreign governments. There are certain exceptions to the Oath of Allegiance requirement for naturalization in specific situations:
- Religious Beliefs: Some individuals may have sincere religious beliefs or principles that prevent them from taking an oath. In such cases, they can request a modified oath or a waiver of the oath requirement. Instead of swearing or affirming to bear arms or perform military service, they may be allowed to modify the oath to exclude those clauses while retaining their commitment to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States.
- Conscientious Objectors: Individuals with strong conscientious objections to bearing arms or participating in military service due to deeply held beliefs can seek an exemption from those specific parts of the Oath of Allegiance. They may still need to take the remainder of the oath and fulfill all other naturalization requirements.
- Physical or Mental Disabilities: Individuals with certain physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from understanding or participating in the oath ceremony may be eligible for accommodations or waivers. USCIS may make accommodations to facilitate their participation, or they may be exempt from the ceremony.
These are the primary eligibility criteria for naturalization. However, there are exemptions and special considerations for certain groups, such as members of the U.S. military, elderly or disabled applicants, and refugees or asylees. Additionally, applicants may face challenges related to factors like criminal records, tax compliance, or extensive travel abroad, which may require legal assistance to address. It’s important to consult with an immigration attorney to assess your specific situation and ensure you meet all the necessary eligibility criteria before applying for naturalization. While the requirements may seem daunting, guidance and support are available. Navigating the path to U.S. citizenship is a journey filled with hope and opportunity, and we are here to assist every step of the way. If you or someone you know is considering naturalization, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. Together, we can make the dream of U.S. citizenship a reality.