The ultimate goal of many foreign nationals, once they become permanent residents of the U.S., is to become a U.S. citizen. Naturalization is the process by which foreign nationals (someone who was neither a citizen nor a national of the U.S. at the time of birth) apply for and obtain U.S. citizenship.
Let’s begin our exploration of this topic by looking at who qualifies to file for naturalization and the basic requirements or qualifications for naturalization.
1. Who Qualifies To Become A Naturalized U.S. Citizen?
Before you can begin the process to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you have to fall into one of the following categories:
1.You have been a lawful permanent resident of the US for 5 years (the vast majority of applicants will fall into this category);
2.You have been a lawful permanent resident for 3 years, you are married to and living with a US citizen, and you have been married to and living with the same US citizen for the past 3 years;
3.You are in the Armed Forces and have served for at least 1 year (or you are applying within 6 months of an honorable discharge) and you will be or are a permanent resident on the date of the interview;
4. You are a foreign national who served honorably in the US armed forces during a specified period of armed conflict. The following period have been designated under this provision:
a.World War I (November 11, 1916 – April 6, 1917)
b.World War II (September 1, 1939 – December 31, 1946)
c.Korean Conflict (June 25, 1950 – July 1, 1955)
d.Vietnam Conflict (February 28, 1961 – October 15, 1978)
e.Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (August 29, 1990 – April 11, 1991)
f.On or after September 11, 2001
g.Any other period which the President, by Executive Order, has designated as a period in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or were engaged in military operations involving armed conflict with hostile foreign forces;
5. You were married to a US citizen who died during a period of honorable active duty service in the US Armed Forces and you are or will be a permanent resident on the day of the interview;
6. You are a U.S. national who has become a resident of any US state;
7. You served on a vessel operated by the US or a ship registered in the US and owned by a US citizen(s) or a US corporation and have been a US permanent resident for the past five years;
8. You are an employee or an individual who is stationed or employed abroad under contract to the US Government and have been a US permanent resident for the past five years;
9. Are a person who performs ministerial or priestly functions abroad for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization with a valid presence in the US, and have been a US permanent resident for the past five years; or
10. You are spouse of a US citizen who is stationed or employed abroad, and who is one of the following:
a.A member of the US Armed Forces;
b.An employee or an individual under contract to the US Government;
c.An employee of an American institution of research recognized by the Attorney General;
d.An employee of a public international organization of which the United States is a member by law or treaty;
e.An employee of an American-owned firm or corporation engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce for the United States; or
f.A person who performs ministerial or priestly functions for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization with a valid presence in the United States.
2. US Naturalization Requirements
The basic requirements for naturalization are to:
- Live in the US as a permanent resident for a specific amount of time (Continuous Residence).
- Be present in the US for specific time periods (Physical Presence).
- Spend specific amount of time in your state or USCIS district prior to filing.
- Behave in a legal and acceptable manner (Good Moral Character).
- Know English and information about US history and government (English and Civics).
- Understand and accept the principles of the US Constitution (Attachment to the Constitution).
NOTE: Continuous Presence, Physical Presence and/or residence in a US state requirements may be waived or is not required for several of the categories of applicants described above.
Because most people qualify for Naturalization under the first 2 categories described above, we will focus on the requirements for these individuals. Let’s take a look.
3. Continuous Residence
The immigration laws have clearly defined “continuous residence.” It means that you must live in the US as a permanent resident for a specified period of time.
Lawful permanent residents must be able to show that they have been continuously present in the U.S. for 5 (or 3, where applicable) years, with no trips outside the U.S. for 6 months or longer.
NOTE: For refugees, the five years is counted from the date of entry into the U.S. For asylees, the five year can be counted from one year before the grant of permanent residence.
If there is an absence of more than 6 months but less than on year, you may still be eligible for naturalization if you can show that you didn’t actually disrupt your residence in the U.S. Evidence could include:
- Documentation showing that your absence was due to circumstances beyond your control;
- Documentation that you kept your employment in the U.S. and was not employed abroad;
- Documentation showing that your immediate family remained in the U.S. and that the applicant always had complete access to their US home.
If you are outside the US for 1 year or longer you automatically have a break in your continuous residence and the five-year clock is reset on the date of your return. If denied for Naturalization because of a 1 year absence, you may be able to reapply for Naturalization in this instance after you have been in U.S. for four years and one day.
4. Physical Presence In The United States
As with continuous presence, the immigration laws have clearly defined “physical presence.” Applicants for naturalization must be able to show that they have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one-half of the continuous residence period. This means that for those qualifying based on 5 years of permanent residency, the physical presence requirement is 30 months or 913 days. If it’s based on 3 years, the physical presence requirement is 18 months or 548 days.
5. Time As A Resident In The States or USCIS District of Filing
Prior to filing the application, the applicant must have been living within the state or USCIS service district for at least 3 months.
Students who are away at college can apply for naturalization either where they go to school or where their family lives (if they depend on their parents for support).
6. Good Moral Character
The law requires that to be eligible for naturalization, you must be a person of good moral character for the statutory period of five or three years, but USCIS may certainly look beyond this period.
An applicant who was convicted of murder or an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990 or have been involved in persecution, genocide, torture or severe violations of religious freedom are permanently barred from naturalization.
For conduct that occurs outside the statutory period, USCIS is going to look to see if the applicant’s character has been reformed or if the past conduct is relevant to their current moral character. It is important that a denial for lack of good moral character should not be solely based on the action that occurred outside the statutory period without an examination of how the individual may have changed since that time.
Behaviors that might show a lack of good moral character:
C.Solicitation or other prostitution offenses
D.Lying to gain immigration benefits
E.Failing to pay court-ordered child support
F.Smuggling of persons
Most of these do not even require a conviction — simply engaging in the activity is sufficient for a finding that you are not a person of good moral character.
7. Education Requirements – Knowledge of English And Civics
To become a naturalized United States citizen, you must be able to read, write, and speak basic everyday English. You must also have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and civics. At your interview for naturalization, you will be required to pass an English test and a test of US history and civics.
The English Test
The English Test has three parts – Speaking, Reading and Writing.
- Speaking Test: For all practical purposes, the USCIS officer conducts speaking test by simply conducting the naturalization interview. You must be able to respond to questions that an officer would normally ask during a naturalization interview. The applicant can ask the officer to speak slowly or repeat questions, but the applicant must be able to communicate and converse in English, at least at a basic level.
- You will fail the Speaking Test if you cannot understand enough English to be take the oath or answer the eligibility questions on the naturalization application.
- Reading Test: The USCIS officer will ask you to read up to three sentences in English and you must be able to read at least one sentence. The sentences are generally simple and not too long.
- You will fail the Reading Test if you leave out a content or important word or substitute one of the content words, you take too many pauses or pause for too long, or you make enough pronunciation or intonation errors that the officer can’t understand the sentence.
- Writing Test: The USCIS officer will ask you to write up to three sentences in English that are dictated to you and you must be able to write at least one correctly. The sentences are simple and not too long.
The Civics Test
The test of civics is to examine your knowledge of U.S. history, the constitution, and our form of government. The U.S. government has decided that if an individual understands how decisions are made, and which elements of American history have contributed to making the country what it is today, he or she will be more able to make sound decisions in the public arena when voting, and voicing his/her opinion, thus making him/her a better citizen.
The USCIS officer will ask you up to 10 questions out of a preset pool of 100 questions. You must get at least 6 questions correct to pass.
Note: You will be given a booklet and CD containing the civics questions and common English words you should be familiar with when you appear for the Biometrics appointment after you apply.
8. Exemptions To The English And Civics Tests
Certain permanent residents who have lived in the US for a long time and have reached a certain length and those with certain medical disabilities can have one or both tests waived.
|If You Are||Exemptions|
|Aged 50 or older, and have lived as a permanent resident in the US for 20 years||You are exempt from the English test. You must take the Civics test, in your language of choice using an interpreter|
|Aged 55 or older, and have lived as a permanent resident in the US for 15 years||You are exempt from the English test. You must take the Civics test, in your language of choice using an interpreter|
|Aged 65 or older, and have lived as a permanent resident in the US for 20 years||You are exempt from the English test. You must take the Simplified Civics test, in your language of choice using an interpreter|
|Eligible for a Medical Disability (Form N-648)||You are exempt from either the English or Civics Test, or both|
9. Attachment To The Constitution
Upon becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, you must be willing to support and defend the United States and its Constitution. You declare your “attachment” or loyalty to the United States and the Constitution, and renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title, when you take the Oath of Allegiance.
Male applicants who were in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 26 and were not in nonimmigrant status are required to register for Selective Service. The willful or knowing failure to register will result in the denial of the application if you are between 18 and 26 or within 5 years of being 26.
10. The Oath of Allegiance And Naturalization Ceremony
Once you are determined to have passed the English and Civics Test and are found to otherwise qualify for naturalization, the final step in becoming a U.S. Citizen is the Naturalization Ceremony and taking the Oath of Allegiance.
Most applicants will receive a notice at the interview or in the mail (Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony) informing them of the time and place of the Oath Ceremony. It is important to contact USCIS if you need to reschedule. The N-445 also acts as a questionnaire which you should complete before the ceremony. Some applicants will be able to take the Oath of Allegiance on the day of the interview (this is usually dependent on the resources available at the USCIS office).
At the Naturalization Ceremony, you will be asked to check in so that a USCIS officer can review the questionnaire and to receive your lawful permanent resident card.
You will then be asked to take the Oath of Allegiance. You are not a U.S. citizen until you have recited the Oath at the Naturalization Ceremony.
At the end of the ceremony, you will be given a Certificate of Naturalization. It’s very important that you review the Certificate before leaving the ceremony so that USCIS can be immediately informed of any errors.
The Oath of Allegiance is:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
In certain cases, where the applicant can show that he or she is opposed to any type of service in the armed forces based on religious teaching or belief, USCIS will permit these applicants to take a modified oath with the following phrase removed:
“. . . that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; . . .”
Naturalization is a privilege extended to foreign nationals who meet the requirements, and you will be granted US citizenship and a Certificate of Naturalization. The naturalized American citizen may vote, serve on state and federal juries, petition to bring family members to the U.S., obtain U.S. citizenship for children born abroad, and will become eligible for many federal jobs and many more government benefits.
If you are thinking about becoming a naturalized U.S. Citizen, or have any questions regarding your eligibility, Schedule A Free Immigration Attorney Consultation Today >>. Our top immigration lawyers will be happy to assist you.
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