Get Adobe Flash player

U.S. CITIZENSHIP – THE PROCESS OF BECOMING A NATURALIZED CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES

Font Size:

Hi everyone! In the last article, I wrote about the benefits of becoming a U.S. Citizen. This week's article will review what is required to become a U.S. Citizen through the process of “Naturalization”. Because there are many benefits to becoming a US Citizen, I wholeheartedly suggest anyone who is eligible, to apply. As I mentioned in the previous article, some of the benefits of US Citizenship include: the ability to travel without limits and without worrying about whether or not you may lose your legal status for staying out of the country for lengthy periods of time, your right to vote, and your ability to bring family members to the United States by petitioning for their immigration. Now that we know what the benefits of US Citizenship are, lets now go over the requirements.

Introduction to Naturalization

Under U.S. Immigration law, a Citizen of the United States is the highest status someone can have. Either by birth or by naturalization (the process whereby an immigrant attains U.S. Citizenship), the status of being a U.S. Citizen affords you more protections, rights and benefits than compared to Green Card status only.

In order to become a U.S. Citizen, there are 4 main steps: (1) you must meet the basic eligibility requirements, (2) be finger printed and pass a background check, (3) attend an interview and pass some tests, and lastly (4) Swear-in to officially become a Citizen of the United States.  My office can assist you with any or all of these steps. Although there are several different paths to naturalization, I will cover the most common method: by way of green card; that is, if you are currently a lawful permanent resident (“Green Card” holder) and want to become a U.S. Citizen.

Requirements to Becoming a U.S. Citizen - for Both Married and Single Applicants

(1) Meet the Basic Requirements:

Age

You must be at least 18 years old to apply. This requirement applies to both those Green Card holders who are married or not. An exception exists for applicants under the age of 18, if one of his or her parents is a citizen or becomes a citizen of the United States.

Continuous Residency: 3 or 5 Years in Lawful Permanent Status

The “continuous residency” requirement is often an issue for applicants. Under this requirement, you must either have “continuously” resided in the US for at least 5 years (if you are a Single applicant) or 3 years (if you are Married to a US Citizen spouse, or meet some other exception*) immediately before the filing of your naturalization application.

Please understand that continuous residence is not the same thing as being physically present here. You can actually be physically outside the United States for a certain amount of time and yet, still be considered continually residing in the U.S. for naturalization purposes. However, on the other side of this, is if you have traveled and remained outside of the United States for a lengthy period, you may be found to have disrupted your continuous residency for naturalization purposes. Depending on the circumstances, some trips over 6 months but less than 12 months are acceptable if you can show that you maintained ties to the United States.  For travel and outside stays over 1 to 2 years, you will most likely have to show proof that you obtained a re-entry permit for that period in addition to maintaining ties to the U.S. In both cases, you must have maintained your legal status as a lawful permanent resident / Green Card holder of the United States and not have abandoned it. If you plan on being outside of the U.S. for more than a few months, I usually would advise obtaining a travel document prior to departing.  For more information about how to preserve your Green Card status and not lose it through abandonment, you can read my article from last week or contact the office so that we can assist you.

Physical Presence in the United States

Actual physical residence – You must have lived within the state and at your current residence during at least the 3 months immediately before filing for US citizenship.

Physical presence – You must have been physically in the United States for a total of at least one half of the period of required continuous residence. As previously mentioned, single applicants must have “continuously” resided as a Green Card holder for 5 years to file, therefore, for single applicants, they must have been physically in the United States for two and a half years. And for those married to U.S. Citizens, the Continuous residency requirement to file is 3 years, therefore, applicants under this circumstance must be have been physically in the U.S. for one and a half years.

(2) Pass Background Check and Be of “Good Moral Character”

After you submit your petition, you will be scheduled for fingerprinting. USCIS will run a background check on you to see whether you have any criminal records, etc. You must be a person of “good moral character”; that is, character which shows you are a person of good morals and have an affinity for the principles of the US Constitution. This character is evidenced by your behavior before applying for US citizenship. Some examples of good moral character include, but is not limited to, having a clean criminal record, filing and paying your taxes, etc. This requirement will be examined by the answers you provide in your application, as well as during the background check and interview.

(3) Pass the Naturalization Interview/Test

(a) Ability to Read, Write and Speak Basic English

Once USCIS has reviewed your application and has conducted the necessary background check, you will be scheduled for the Naturalization Interview/Test. During this interview, the immigration officer will test your ability to read, write and speak ordinary, basic English. The exception to this is if you are either: (1) physically unable to do so due to a disability such as being blind or deaf, or suffer from a developmental disability or mental impairment, or (2) are exempt due to age and # of years of being a Green Card holder. (Ex: You do not have to take the English test if you are over 50 years old and have lived here for a total of at least 20 years after admission as a Green Card holder, or if you are over 55 and have been a Green Card holder for at least 15 years).

(b) Pass a Civics Test (US History and Government)

The second area examined during your Naturalization Interview/Test will cover your basic understanding of the fundamentals of US history and government.

(4) The Final Step: The Swearing-In Ceremony

Once you successfully pass the Naturalization interview, you'll receive an appointment to a swearing-in ceremony. Congratulations! It is at this ceremony that you formally become a United States Citizen. After you take an oath, you will receive a “Certificate of Naturalization” to prove your citizenship. Protect it and show it off with pride! 

So that’s it! If you feel you meet the aforementioned requirements of becoming a U.S. Citizen, I recommend that you take the next step and apply to become one.

As always, my office and I are here to assist you. When you are ready to apply, please contact my office at (818) 846-5639, or directly in Thai at (818) 505-4921.

*If you have any questions that you would like to be answered in future articles, please email me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit my website at: WWW.JC4LAW.COM for general information regarding many other topics such as Immigration, Business, Property, and others.

Disclaimer: The information contained herein have been prepared for informational purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice unless otherwise specified. If you have a specific question regarding your personal case, please contact the Law Offices of Joseph Chitmongran for a full consultation.