Many people find themselves in the U.S. after escaping from their home countries due to war or fear of persecution. Some of these immigrants become refugees and asylees in the U.S.
The U.S. immigration process for a refugee seeking to become an American citizen can be long and difficult to navigate. However, with the help of an experienced immigration attorney, asylees and refugees can fast-track their way to becoming U.S. citizens.
Here is how the U.S. immigration system works, including the steps required to become a lawful citizen.
Obtaining Refugee Status
Foreigners who want to become refugees in the U.S. should apply for refugee status while they are still in their home country. However, asylum seekers can ask for asylum when they are at the U.S. borders, U.S. entry points, or inside the country.
The easiest way to get your U.S. refugee application considered is to be referred to the Refugee Admissions Program. The program gives priority to people referred to them by non-governmental organizations, the U.S. embassy, or other humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations.
Priority is also given to special humanitarian concern groups recommended by the U.S. refugee program. If one of your family members is already in the U.S. on a refugee or asylee basis, you also have high chances of being granted refugee status.
For your refugee application to be approved, you must:
- Show that you cannot stay in your home country due to persecution based on political, nationality, race, or religious factors.
- Provide proof of persecution and give a detailed affidavit explaining why you are afraid to go back to your home country.
- Undergo a medical exam and an investigation to prove you are not a threat to U.S. security.
If your application is approved, you will be issued a visa, which you will use to enter the United States. If your application is denied, you cannot appeal the decision.
Seeking Permanent Residency Status
Before refugees can become U.S. citizens, they become permanent residents or green card holders.
This is usually a lengthy and challenging process. However, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) helps immigrants and refugees to get green cards. An immigration attorney in Dublin, Ohio can also help you with the green card process.
A refugee is eligible to become a permanent U.S. resident if they have been in the country for at least one year. As a permanent resident, they can legally live and work in America.
Eligibility for Citizenship by Naturalization
Naturalization is the process through which a refugee or a foreign national gets U.S. citizenship. However, before a refugee or asylee can qualify to apply for citizenship by naturalization, he or she must have lived in the U.S. as permanent residents for five years.
However, refugees may be eligible to apply for citizenship by naturalization much earlier than asylees as the years of permanent residency are calculated differently. Here is how the process differs.
- The years they have stayed in the United States can be rolled back. This means that their five years of permanent residency can be calculated from the date they entered the country.
- Example: if you have spent five years in the U.S. as a refugee and apply for a green card at the end of those five years*, then you have already fulfilled the five-year permanent residency requirement. This means that you are eligible to apply for citizenship when your permanent residency application is approved.
- *NOTE: According to 8 CFR § 209.1, after being present in the U.S. for one year as a refugee, you must apply for a green card (permanent resident status).
- Only one year of their time in the U.S. before permanent residency is approved can be included in the five-year term required for application for citizenship.
- Example: if an asylee has been in the U.S. for four years and at the end of the fourth year, they decide to apply for permanent residency, once the residency is approved, only one year of the four years will count toward the five-year citizenship requirement. Therefore, the asylee will have to wait four years before they can apply for citizenship.
Don’t Get Confused by the Green Card Date
Your green card will have the date your permanent residency was approved. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recognizes the rollback provision for refugees. Therefore, if you are a refugee, the green card will also have the date you gained entry to the U.S.
If you are an asylee, the card will include a date one year before your permanent residency was approved.
The green card date is a useful guide to know when your five years as a permanent resident in the U.S. elapses. However, you should not rely exclusively on the date to apply for citizenship.
The Early Citizenship Application Rule
The 90-day early citizenship application rule allows you to apply for citizenship 90 days before your five years of permanent residency have passed.
The early application rule is based on the argument that the USCIS may not call you for your citizenship interview until the 90 days have elapsed.
Applying for Naturalization
Once you meet the legal requirements to apply for citizenship, you will need to submit an application form (N-400) together with the necessary supporting documents and the filing fees to the USCIS.
You’ll also need to provide your fingerprints (also referred to as biometric data), so the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Justice can do a background check. Once you are cleared, you will be invited to an in-person interview with USCIS officers.
The USCIS officers may ask you questions related to:
- Your background
- The application
- Your knowledge of the U.S. Constitution
- Your character
- Your willingness to take the oath of allegiance
- Your ability to read, speak, and write in English
Get Help from a Local Columbus Immigration Attorney
If you are applying for refugee or asylum status, an immigration attorney can help you. You can ask the lawyer any questions you have about the process and what is expected from you.
If you are already in the U.S. living as a refugee or asylee, a Sam Shihab & Associates immigration attorney located in Columbus, Ohio can help make your permanent residency application easier. Moreover, the attorney will explain the proper procedure to follow and give you clear options to resolve any pending issues.
Lastly, an immigration attorney will help you complete the application for citizenship by naturalization. The attorney will also guide you on the best way to prepare for your interview.
Contact Sam Shihab today to learn how we can help you.