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Naturalization is the process whereby one can become a citizen of the United States (hereafter “US”). One usually has to have a green card (lawful permanent resident status AKA “LPR”) and has to meet eligibility requirements before one can naturalize.

1. What are the eligibility requirements?

The eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • One has to be 18 years of age;
  • One has to be able to demonstrate good moral character;
  • One has to be a lawful permanent resident for a minimum of five years (there are some exceptions for refugees, asylees, spouses of US citizens, and U.S. military staff) Spouses of US Citizens can apply for naturalization after being a lawful permanent resident for 3 years;
  • One has to have resided in the US without interruption for five years prior to filing of the application (there is a presumption of breaking continuous residency and abandonment of lawful permanent resident status if one has been outside the US for more than one year during this time);
  • One has to be physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the five years prior to filing their application or in the case of spouses of US Citizens at least half of the three years prior to filing their application;
  • One has to live for 3 months in the state where the application was filed;
  • One has to be able to speak, read, and write in English (there are some exceptions for persons with disabilities and those who have resided in the US for a long time and meet certain age requirements);
  • One should be able to pass a test based on U.S. history and Civics (there are exemptions for individuals with certain medical disabilities), and
  • One has to be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance and support the structure of the US government.

2. What is the Process?

In general , the naturalization process is as follows. One has to complete Form N400 (Application for Naturalization) and provide supporting documents such as a copy of the green card, passport sized photographs, marriage certificate (if applicable) and a filing fee of $680. There may be other documentation needed depending on one’s specific case. (Applicants 75 years or older are not charged a biometric fee, and the fee for their application is $595. One may also apply for a fee waiver if eligible. The filing fees can be paid via money order, personal check, or via a credit card.) Once the application is filed, there is a biometrics appointment (for finger prints and photos). This typically takes place 60-90 days after the application is filed. The next step is an in-person interview. The purpose of this interview is to go over the naturalization application and ensure eligibility. There is also a test on US History/Civics along with a test on one’s ability to speak, read and write English. (There some exemptions for those with certain medical disabilities.)

If the applicant passes the test and meets the eligibility requirements, he/she is scheduled to attend an Oath ceremony. During the Oath ceremony the applicant must pledge their allegiance to the United States. They also have the opportunity to change their name free of charge during this time and after the ceremony a certificate of naturalization is provided. This certificate is proof that the applicant is now a US citizen.

Something to keep in mind is that during the naturalization process the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has the ability and does look at the applicant’s entire immigration history. If lawful permanent resident status (Green Card) was secured improperly, then one would not only be subject to denial of naturalization but one could be stripped of lawful permanent status. Also, if one has had a criminal conviction, it would make sense to seek counsel from a qualified immigration attorney prior to filing the application.

3. What are the Benefits?

There are many benefits to becoming a US citizen. First, one has the ability to vote and hold elected office (except for the office of the President of the United States). Second, one can petition for family members (spouses, children, parents, siblings) to immigrate to the United States. Third, one can reside outside the US without the fear of being able to return or needing a visa to reenter the country. Fourth, one is eligible for an extensive range of government benefits. Fifth, one does not need to update their address with USCIS every time they move within the US. Also, one may still maintain dual citizenship. (Presuming the home country allows for dual citizenship.)

(Attorney Shobhana R. Kasturi, Kasturi Law, LLC) The content of this article is general in nature and not meant to constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. Recipients of this article should refrain from taking action based on the information and should seek appropriate legal advice from an attorney licensed to provide such advice.

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