Five Reasons to Naturalize Now
- US citizens are NOT deportable. Certain crimes or illegal activity could get a green card holder deported, whereas a naturalized US citizen will not. If you meet the citizenship requirements but have developed a criminal record since obtaining your green card, contact an immigration attorney to discuss whether it is safe for you to apply for citizenship.
- US citizens can sponsor other immigrants immediately. Currently, the waiting list for green card holders who petition for their spouses to become green card holders is approximately five years. US citizens may sponsor spouses and minor children immediately. As a green card holder, an adult son or daughter is not allowed to sponsor a parent. As a US citizen you may sponsor your parent immediately.
- Travel outside the US on your own terms. A green card holder may risk losing their residency if they remain outside of the United States for more than six months. As a US citizen, your travel abroad or your choice to live abroad will be unrestricted.
- Green card holders cannot vote in federal elections. Only US citizens have the right to vote in federal elections (and most states and local elections).
- Naturalization processing times are amazingly short right now. Currently, the average time to complete the naturalization process is 4 months. In past years, it was not uncommon to wait up to a year or longer.
Am I eligible to naturalize?
- Statutory Period. If you obtained your residency through a U.S. citizen spouse and you are still married, you must wait three years after you obtain your residency to apply for citizenship. All other applicant’s must wait five years (certain exceptions apply to those who serve or have served in the military;
- Moral Character. You must have good moral character for the statutory period (3 years if married to a US citizen, five years for all other applicants);
- Age. Applicant must be 18 years or older.
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An individual may obtain US citizenship in one of three ways. The vast majority of American citizens obtain their US citizenship by having been born in the United States. The second group of American citizens are those people who are born abroad to at least one American citizen parent. The final group gains their USA citizenship through a process called naturalization. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants get US citizenship through naturalization each year.
The journey to US citizenship through naturalization typically begins when a foreign national obtains lawful permanent residence (green card) in the United States. After a number of years, a green card holder may be eligible to apply for citizenship. Gaining US citizenship will give you rights such as voting in federal elections, holding federal employment, and being able to travel and live outside the US without restriction. Furthermore, US citizens have the added protection of not being deportable upon commission of certain acts.
In order to obtain US citizenship through naturalization, an applicant must be at least 18 years of age and meet certain citizenship eligibility requirements such as length of permanent residence, length of time physically present in the US, good moral character, basic knowledge of the English language and basic knowledge of US civics. Spouses of US citizens may take advantage could be eligible for citizenship in just three years. Other immigrants must wait five years.
Once it has been determined that the individual meets the citizenship requirements, he or she can apply for citizenship with USCIS by submitting Form N-400, along with the required documentation and fees. However, one should take care in ensuring that they are not subject to deportation for prior immigration or criminal violations before sending anything to immigration officials. Occasionally, an individual will discover that they are deportable or no longer a permanent resident only by submitting an N-400. If the case is denied, the applicant risks being placed in deportation proceedings. Having your citizenship application prepared by a qualified naturalization attorney can help prevent a potentially devastating outcome and reduce long delays caused by improperly or incompletely prepared packages.
Once USCIS deems the citizenship application to be complete, the applicant will be asked to submit fingerprints for a background check and an interview will be scheduled. At the citizenship interview, the applicant will likely undergo a basic English and US civics exam (certain elderly or disabled applicants may be able to waive some or all of these requirements). A citizenship lawyer is permitted to attend the citizenship interview with the applicant and is often helpful in advocating for the applicant, especially when there are things in the applicant’s background that could prevent him or her from being found to possess good moral character. It is important to be fully prepared for the citizenship interview to avoid denials and re-applications.
Why should I hire an immigration attorney?
An immigration attorney assists in filing out the often confusing citizenship application forms. Failure to properly complete the application form could result in immigration officials believing that you misrepresented or lied to them. However, the naturalization application process consists of more than just filing the N-400 form. Some applicants do not realize that if they do not possess the good moral character required for naturalization they may be placing themselves in danger of being deported and/or losing their green card if they apply for naturalization! The best thing a potential applicant can do is to consult with an immigration attorney to make sure it is okay to proceed with the application. A qualified immigration attorney will interview their client thoroughly prior to preparation of the naturalization application package in order to minimize the chances that the client will either be found to not possess good moral character or be deemed deportable and lose their green card. Further, an immigration attorney can accompany an applicant to his or her citizenship interview and address any issues that may arise concerning residency, physical presence, or moral character.
How can I become a United States citizen?
A person may become a US citizen by birth or through naturalization. Generally, people are born US citizens if they are born in the United States or if they are born to a US citizen. If you were born in the United States (including, in most cases, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), you are an American citizen at birth (unless you were born to a foreign diplomat). Your birth certificate is proof of your citizenship.
What is Naturalization?
The act of making a person a citizen of the United States who was not born with that status. An application for citizenship is an application for Naturalization.
How do I become a naturalized citizen?
If you are not a U.S. citizen by birth, you may be eligible to become a citizen through naturalization. People who are 18 years and older use the “Application for Naturalization” (Form N-400) to become naturalized. Children who are deriving citizenship from naturalized parents use the “Application for a Certificate of Citizenship” (Form N-600) to become naturalized.
What are the requirements for naturalization?
You may apply for naturalization if: (1) you have been a lawful permanent resident for five years, (2) you have been a lawful permanent resident for three years, have been married to a US citizen for those three years, and continue to be married to that U.S. citizen, (3) you are a lawful permanent resident child of United States citizen parents, or (4) you have qualifying military service. Children under 18 may automatically become citizens when their parents naturalize.
How long will it take to become naturalized?
If you meet the requirements for naturalization, the process can take 4-8 months.
If I am naturalized, is my child a citizen?
Usually if children are Permanent Residents they can derive citizenship from their naturalized parents. In most cases, your child is a citizen if all of the following are true:
- The other parent is also naturalized, or
- You are the only surviving parent (if the other parent is dead), or
- You have legal custody (if you and the other parent are legally separated or divorced), and the child was under 18 when the parent(s) naturalized, the child was not married when the parent(s) naturalized; and the child was a Permanent Resident before his or her 18th birthday
Is it possible to be a dual citizen of the United States of America and another country?
Yes. If you have been a dual citizen from birth or childhood, or you became a citizen of another country after already having US citizenship, you may qualify for dual citizenship. As long as the other country in question does not have any laws or regulations requiring you to formally renounce your US citizenship before US consular officials, then current US law unambiguously assures your right to keep both citizenships for life.
Will criminal convictions make me ineligible?
Maybe. In fact, some criminal convictions could put you at risk of being deported. If you have any criminal issues as a lawful permanent resident it is very important you speak with a qualified immigration attorney before you renew your green card, before you travel outside the United States, and before you submit your application for naturalization. By taking any of those steps you will risk being placed into deportation proceedings.
What kind of criminal convictions will put me at risk for deportation?
Certainly a conviction for murder will make you deportable. Also, any aggravated felony resulting in a conviction on or after November 28, 1990. Crimes classified as aggravated felonies may include rape, sexual abuse of a minor, or drug trafficking, among others. Even misdemeanors classified as crimes of moral turpitude, such as theft, may make a green card holder deportable.
What crimes could prohibit a showing of good moral character during the statutory period?
The following convictions, occurring within the statutory period, will bar an alien from having good moral character: (1) crimes involving moral turpitude (such as theft), (2) controlled substance violations, (3) two or more offenses where the total sentence imposed was 5 years or more, (4) any offense where confinement was 180 days or more, and (5) two or more gambling offenses. Even if there was no formal arrest or conviction, if the applicant admits to committing the above acts, s/he will be found to lack good moral character and the application for naturalization will be denied.
What conduct could prohibit a showing of good moral character?
The following conduct within the statutory period will bar an alien from having good moral character: (1) earning income from illegal gambling, (2) engaging in prostitution, (3) engaging in alien smuggling, (4) being a habitual drunkard, (5) practicing polygamy, (6) refusing to support dependents, (7) giving false testimony under oath to obtain immigration benefits, or (8) engaging in any unlawful act that adversely reflect upon the alien’s good moral character. The last ground is a catch-all for any unsavory conduct not falling within the previously enumerated offenses.
Any prohibited conduct or conviction occurring within the statutory period automatically bars good moral character. However, USCIS is not limited to examining the alien’s conduct or conviction within the statutory period. It may also consider conduct outside the statutory period which deems relevant in determining the alien’s current moral character. If a potential applicant has questionable conduct or convictions which occurred outside the statutory period, it is essential a qualified immigration attorney analyzes the potential risks with applying for naturalization.
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* Total fee depends on the complexity of the case. Most naturalization cases are priced at $1500 divided into three monthly payments.