For many, progressing from a green card to citizenship through the process of naturalization is the final step in a long journey. Because of its importance, utilizing the skills of a naturalization lawyer is all the more necessary. If you are considering making the change from your green card to U.S. citizenship, here are some things to know.
Citizenship Through Naturalization
Naturalization is the method that the USCIS uses to grant citizenship to citizens or nationals of foreign countries once they have met all of the congressional requirements laid down in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
In most cases, an applicant for the naturalization process must be a permanent resident (green card holder) before filing. Naturalization can only be granted in the United States with the exception of certain U.S. military members and their dependents.
If you are unsure if naturalization is the appropriate route for you, it is advisable to have a naturalization lawyer assess your circumstances.
How to Apply for Naturalization
In order to be eligible for naturalization, the applicant must first be qualified to file for citizenship. The applicant is then required to complete the N-400 application. Additionally, the applicant will have to attend an assigned interview as well as pass an English and civics test.
Once you have successfully completed these tasks, you reach the final step of becoming a U.S. citizen by taking the oath of loyalty. The purpose of all these tasks and tests is to ensure that those who are genuinely sincere about becoming an American become naturalized.
Who Is Eligible?
You may qualify for naturalization if:
- You have maintained permanent residency within the U.S. and fulfilled all other requirements for eligibility.
- You are the spouse of a U.S. citizen who has maintained permanent residency within the U.S. and fulfills all other requirements for eligibility.
- You have served or continue to serve in the U.S. armed forces and fulfill all other requirements for eligibility.
- Your child may be qualified for naturalization if you, the parent, are a U.S. citizen, the child was born in a foreign country, the child is presently in a foreign country, and fulfills all other requirements for eligibility.
- The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also requires that individuals applying for naturalization are:
- A minimum of eighteen years of age
- Residents who have been physically and continuously present in the United States for at least five years at the time of application
- Of good merit and moral character
Good moral character is an umbrella term that takes your criminal history, financial integrity, and personal life into account. An immigration officer will review factors such as misdemeanors, felonies, taxes and your marriage to determine if you are a fit candidate for citizenship.
A qualified naturalization lawyer can help you get from a green card to citizenship by helping you analyze which factors contribute to good moral character. An attorney can also determine what steps are necessary if any of these factors could keep you from becoming a citizen or interrupt your naturalization timeline.
There are several exceptions to the residency naturalization requirements if there was time spent outside the country. You may also qualify through other paths to naturalization if you do not qualify through the paths described above.
However, if you spend more than a year outside the U.S., you may be in danger of violating your continuous presence. This may or may not have a negative effect on your citizenship eligibility, but the time spent abroad will not count toward your five years of continuous residence.
Here is an example:
Sasha gained her legal permanent residence in 2012. She lived in the U.S. until 2016 as a green card holder before acquiring a re-entry permit and living in her home country for a full year. When she returns, she will not be eligible for citizenship until she has made up the time she spent abroad, meaning that she will need to wait until 2018 to be naturalized, six years after she obtained her green card.
You must also live in the same district or state that you are applying toward in the 3 months leading up to your application. Each district is divided according to the USCIS service office that has jurisdiction in that area.
Note: You may already be a U.S. citizen and not need to apply for naturalization if your biological or adoptive parent(s) became U.S. citizens before you reached the age of 18.
The Naturalization Interview
Once you have filed an application and completed the N-400, you will be scheduled for both an interview and a test that will examine your familiarity with civics or U.S. politics, your grasp of the English language, and your knowledge of the history of the United States.
The interview will require you to answer several questions under oath concerning your eligibility for citizenship. These include questions about:
- Your status as a legal permanent resident
- Your background including your marriage and possible military history
- Where you have lived and worked during your residency
- Your moral character as explained above
- Your relationship with constitutional principles
- Whether you are willing to take a United States Oath of Allegiance
During the interview, your ability to speak the answers in English will also be examined. It is important to speak confidently and clearly to your USCIS officer. Being truthful, however, is even more important. If it is discovered that you were dishonest under oath in your interview, your citizenship will be denied and you may face more serious charges. Therefore, it is advised that you say “I don’t know” rather than lie if you are ignorant of the answer to a question.
The Naturalization Test
To pass the civics examination, you need to answer 6 of the 10 given questions correctly. These 10 questions will be taken from this list of 100 possible questions, so be sure to study before your test. If you are at least 65 years old, your questions will only be taken from the ones that contain an asterisk provided that you have been a legal U.S. resident for over 20 years.
It is important to note that American politics are constantly changing. Make sure that you are up to date with the most recent elected officials to be able to answer the questions correctly.
The reading and writing portion of your English test will require you to read one given sentence as well as write one sentence in a satisfactory manner. Studying vocabulary and understanding the kinds of possible sentences will greatly increase your chances of success.
Needless to say, the interview is very important to the naturalization process. Failure to attend or failure to pass the tests will result in your citizenship case being closed and eventually denied. To avoid this, be sure to reschedule with the USCIS if you cannot make it to your interview. Enlisting the services of a qualified naturalization lawyer can help ensure that the process goes smoothly and without delay.
How Much Does Naturalization Cost?
The standard naturalization cost for filing the N-400 is $640 with an $85 additional biometric fee. This makes the total $725 and the check must be made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Having your biometrics taken simply means that you will be fingerprinted for future identification.
What if I Need a New Certificate?
What are the Advantages of Citizenship
This is a common question asked by many people considering the naturalization process. Since the green card grants permanent residence in the U.S. and the freedom to travel in and out as well as work and study, becoming a citizen seems like an unnecessary process to go through.
However, there are numerous benefits that citizens enjoy over legal permanent residents. Here are a few:
- Citizens can vote in general elections.
- Employment with the federal government is only available to citizens.
- You can only receive financial aid for higher education if you are a citizen.
These are the more commonly know advantages. There are some, however, that you may not think about that are worth considering. For example, once you are a citizen, you cannot be deported. There is no crime or violation of your status that could result in your removal from the country. If you do commit a crime, you will be tried and held in the United States.
Another advantage is the fact that U.S. citizens have a higher preference when it comes to sponsoring family members for green cards. The F-1 is exclusively reserved for the children and dependents of U.S. citizens. The F-2 is for the family members of lawful permanent residents. Additionally, under certain circumstances, the child of a U.S. citizen who is born abroad may automatically be granted U.S. citizenship.
Lastly, there is the cost to consider. Gaining citizenship through naturalization requires a $725 fee while green card renewal costs $540. While this may seem like a disadvantage, it is important to understand that the naturalization fee only needs to be paid once while your green card will need to be renewed every ten years. If you plan to live in the U.S. for several decades, naturalization is the cheaper option.
Why Do I Need a Naturalization Lawyer?
The immigration attorneys at SGM Law Group are experienced in complex naturalization cases. We take great care to ensure that your naturalization application and supporting documentation are prepared accurately and filed with USCIS in a timely and efficient manner.
We will also coach you through test and interview preparation to ensure the best outcome in your U.S. Citizenship journey. Contact us for an immigration consultation to have an experienced naturalization lawyer determine if you are eligible for the process. Please fill out the consultation form the top right side of this page or call us at 1-877-811-3541 for immediate assistance.