by Brandon Gillin, Immigration Lawyer at Genesis Law Firm
In general, to be eligible for naturalization to the U.S. you must:
- Have had a green card (lawful permanent residency) for five years (or three years if your green card was issued to you based on a marriage to a U.S. citizen). There is an expedited naturalization process for people who have honorably served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
- Have been physically present in the U.S. for over half of the required residency period;
- Be a person of “good moral character” (a legal term of art);
- Be willing to take an oath of loyalty to the U.S. (support the U.S. Constitution, etc.);
- Be able to speak, read and write basic English (there are exceptions for the elderly and disabled);
- Pass a test on U.S. history and government.
- Not have any statutory bars to eligibility (certain crimes, etc.); and
- Be able to convince a USCIS adjudicator to exercise favorable discretion in your case (this is why an immigration attorney is important).
Naturalization is not an option for lawful permanent residents who have been convicted of certain crimes. If you have been convicted of an “aggravated felony” (a legal term of art) at any time in your life, you are statutorily barred from being granted U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Individuals who apply for naturalization with these crimes on their record can and will be removed from the United States. In practice, this removal be initiated at the naturalization interview, where USCIS will issue a Notice to Appear (“NTA”) in immigration court, where an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) attorney will argue that you are removable based on your crime(s). If the Immigration Judge (“IJ”) agrees, the IJ will order you removed and you will be sent back to your country of citizenship. We screen each naturalization applicant for risk of removability, and will advise our clients not to apply for naturalization if they are statutorily removable.
U.S. citizenship may also be acquired or derived at birth or while a minor, even if an individual is born outside the U.S. or is living outside the U.S. as a minor. Citizenship acquisition or derivation is accomplished through a U.S. citizen parent or grandparent.
Once you are a U.S. citizen, you become prima facie eligible for many government benefits, you gain the right to vote in U.S. elections, and you may take a U.S. federal government job. You also become eligible to sponsor your spouse, parent(s), children, and siblings for lawful permanent residence in the U.S. Green card holders may also sponsor certain family members, but the waiting time is oftentimes much shorter for U.S. citizen sponsors.
To apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization, you must file Form N-400 along with the required documentation and USCIS filing fee. The immigration lawyers at Genesis Law Firm, PLLC have years of experience assisting clients complete their N-400 applications, preparing for the naturalization interview and accompanying clients to the naturalization interview.
Citizenship and Naturalization Articles, Publications and Guides:
- How Long Does It Take for USCIS to Decide My Naturalization Case?
- A Brief Guide to United States Naturalization
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad (for acquisition of U.S. citizenship for a child born abroad to U.S. citizen parent(s)
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