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How to Apply for Naturalization
Becoming a naturalized United States citizen is an important event in the life of an individual. The United States becomes not only your home, but also your country. You are longer be subject to the numerous grounds for deportation (except in the case of revocation of naturalization). Most importantly, you can vote, hold public office, bring family members to the United States, and travel with a U.S. passport.
Below is a brief guide to the naturalization process. It is split into two parts: (I) Eligibility and (II) Procedure. The requirements may be relaxed, as noted below, for certain persons, such as spouses of United States citizens and those who serve in the armed forces.
YOU MUST BE AT LEAST EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE
To file an application for naturalization you must be at least eighteen years of age. Children under eighteen may, however, acquire U.S. Citizenship through other means.
YOU MUST BE A LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENT
Only lawful permanent residents are eligible for citizenship. This requirement may be waived in some instances if you have served in war or during a time of declared hostilities designed through Executive Order by the President. Accordingly, in some instances you could be undocumented and still be eligible for naturalization. Conditional permanent residents qualify even if the condition to residency was never removed, as long as the required residence period has accrued, as discussed below.
YOU MUST MEET THE RESIDENCE AND PRESENCE REQUIREMENTS
You must have resided continuously in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years (three years if you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen) and you must have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the five years immediately prior to your application for naturalization (again, three years if you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen). Additionally, you must have lived in the district in which you will file your application for at least three months immediately prior to filing. This requirement is not always applicable for those serving in the armed forces.
Generally, an absence of less than six months from the United States will not affect continuity for the residence requirement, while an absence of more than six months will create a presumption that residency has been abandoned, and an absence of one year or more will automatically break continuity.
YOU MUST BE ABLE TO SHOW GOOD MORAL CHARACTER
Your eligibility depends upon your ability to show that, during the five-year period (or three years in the case of spouses of U.S. citizens) before filing and up until your final naturalization hearing you have been and still are a person of good moral character. Good moral character does not have a precise statutory definition. Some examples of behavior that will result in a finding that you are not of good moral character include being a habitual drunkard, having committed a crime of moral turpitude, being involved in prostitution, drug trafficking, given false testimony to obtain immigration benefits, and being convicted of any crime and jailed for at least 180 days.
Although the statute governing this matter suggests that you only need to show good moral character for five years prior to filing, crimes committed before that time can preclude a finding that you have good moral character. Aggravated felonies are an example.
ATTACHED TO THE PRINCIPLES OF THE CONSTITUTION
You must show that you are “attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States” and that you are “well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States.” The idea behind this section is to make sure that you are not opposed to the theory behind the United States’ system of government and that you are in agreement with the basic principles of the community. In its practical application, this requirement means that you must reveal information about all of the organizations to which you belong or have belonged in your naturalization application. You will also be required to take an oath, discussed below.
OATH AND WILLINGNESS TO BEAR ARMS
Before you can be a citizen, you will be required to pledge in open court to support and bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States; to renounce all allegiance to any foreign state or sovereign; to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States foreign and domestic; and to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law, or to perform noncombatant service in the armed forces, or to perform civilian work of national importance. The oath may be waived for certain people, such as children or those who are unable to understand due to physical or mental impairment.
MUST DEMONSTRATE KNOWLEDGE OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE, U.S. HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
You must be able to understand, speak, read and write in simple English. You are exempt from this requirement if you are over the age of fifty years and you have lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least twenty years, or if you are over the age of fifty-five years and you have lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least fifteen years.
You must also have a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, and of the principles and form of government of the United States. There is no exemption for people due to age, but if you are exempt from the literacy requirement, you may use an interpreter for this portion of the test.
The following is a brief procedural overview of the naturalization process:
PREPARE FOR THE NATURALIZATION TEST
As discussed above, one requirement for citizenship is that you must demonstrate knowledge of the English language, U.S. History, and Government. To meet this requirement, you must pass the naturalization test. Once you have determined that you are eligible to naturalize, the first thing you should do, even before submitting the application, is prepare for the examination.
FILE FORM N-400, APPLICATION FOR NATURALIZATION
The proper USCIS form for the naturalization process is Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Applicants must be sure to confirm that the form is properly signed, has the required filing fees and is sent to the appropriate USCIS office.
HAVE YOUR FINGERPRINTS TAKEN
After receiving your application and fees, USCIS will send you a letter containing the time, date, and place for you to have your fingerprints taken. The process is simple and usually takes only a few minutes.
APPEAR FOR THE INTERVIEW
Once your fingerprints have been taken, USCIS will schedule your interview. You will receive information regarding the appointment for the interview by mail. You should take your copy of the application for naturalization, as well as your permanent resident card, with you to the interview.
During the interview, you will be asked questions about your application and your background. Then you will take the naturalization test, which is usually given orally. At the end of the interview, the immigration officer will inform you of the status of your case. Your application can be granted, continued (if you failed the naturalization test or if the officer needs additional documents), or denied. In case of a denial, there is an appeal process. Limited time is provided to file an appeal. You must consult with an experienced attorney in the event you received a denial.
TAKE THE OATH
If your application is granted, USCIS will send you a Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony. At the ceremony, you will return your permanent resident card and you will be asked questions covering the period of time since your interview to ensure that you remain eligible for naturalization. You will, finally, take the citizenship oath, and you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization.