Disclaimer: this handout is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Always consult an attorney before applying for any immigration benefit.
If you have been a legal permanent resident for a certain number of years, are a person of good moral character and meet additional requirements or qualify for certain waivers as discussed below, you may want to consider applying to become a United States Citizen. This is because once you become a United States Citizen, you are no longer subject to immigration laws and, absent, extraordinary circumstances, you are protected from deportation. You can also vote and access public benefits available only to U.S. Citizens. You can travel on a U.S. passport for long periods of time without losing your status.
Ways to become a United States Citizen
You are a United States Citizen if you are born in the United States. You may also derive citizenship if you were born in another country and one or both of your parents are United States citizens. Or, you may become a naturalized citizen after a period of legal permanent residence status in the United States. This handout is going to focus primarily on becoming a naturalized citizen.
Requirements for Naturalization
In order to become a naturalized citizen you must, with some exceptions discussed below, have been a legal permanent resident in the US for at least 5 years, have resided continuously in the US for the five years prior to applying, be 18 years old and a person of good moral character for the five years of residency. LPRs who gained their LPR status through VAWA or by marrying a US Citizen may apply after three years of LPR status and continuous residence.
Children of LPRs who naturalize acquire derivative citizenship without having to apply on their own. Therefore if you do qualify to become a citizen and have minor children, it is a good idea to naturalize before the children turn 18 so that they may also acquire citizenship without submitting a separate application.
Continuous residence means no absences longer than six months. Absences between six and 12 months do not automatically disqualify an applicant from applying, however, absences longer than six months create a rebuttable presumption of a break in continuous residence. It is advisable that if you are going to leave the country and intend to apply for citizenship, you do not leave for more than six months.
You also must reside in the state where you intend to apply for three months before filing and you must maintain physical presence in the US after applying until the application is approved.
Special Exemptions for Members of the Armed Services and their Families
Members of the armed forces, serving in times of hostility only have to show service for one year. Members may apply after one year of services but must apply while still serving or within six months of being honorably discharged.
Good Moral Character
As mentioned above, you must maintain good moral character for the five years of required residence (or 3 for LPRs through VAWA or USC or 1 year for military). What is good moral character? If you have any arrests, convictions, accusations of fraud or false claims, domestic violence, drug or alcohol problems or other issues, you may be found to lack good moral character. This can be very subjective by USCIS.
Its very important to consult with an attorney to determine if you have any issues in the past that may lead USCIS to determine you lack good moral character prior to submitting an application. This is because by applying, you may alert USCIS to something in your past that would make you removable and get you placed in deportation proceedings.
English and Civics Requirements
In order qualify for Citizenship you must have a minimum level of English proficiency in speaking, reading and writing, and you must pass a civics exam which is a general US History exam. There are exemptions to the English language requirement if you are over 50 and have 20 years as an LPR or if you are over 55 and have 15 years as an LPR. If you are over 65 and have been an LPR for 20 years or more you may ask to be exempt from the civics test.
How to File
To file you file an application with the USCIS called an N-400. The fee for this form as of 5/17/19 is $640. Rumor is that the form application fee will soon be increased to $1000 so now is the time to apply. You may apply 90 days before your residency requirement is met.
Contact C.R. Wannamaker Law, PLLC for more information or to start the naturalization process!