–by Brandon Gillin
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive in practicing in immigration law is whether an individual is eligible for naturalization to the United States. The answer is not always simple. In this article, I hope to demystify the process to a certain degree.
Very generally, if you are not a U.S. citizen by birth (such as by being born in the United States or to a U.S. citizen), you may still become a U.S. citizen through the naturalization process. The following are the basic requirements for naturalization, sorted into categories:
- Green Card. You are at least 18 years old and have been a Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder) of the U.S. for at least 5 years (reduced to 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen);
- Armed Forces.
- You are in the U.S. Armed Forces and have served for at least 1 year;
- You were in the U.S. Armed Forces less than 1 year and are at least 18 years old;
- You performed Active Duty Military Service in one of the major U.S. wars from the time of World War I to the present; or
- You are at least 18 years old and were married to a U.S. citizen who died during a period of honorable active duty service the U.S. Armed Forces;
- US Nationality. You are at least 18 years old and are (a) a U.S. national and (b) a resident of any State;
- Service on Vessel. You are at least 18 years old and served on a vessel operated by the U.S. or one registered to the U.S. and owned by a U.S. citizen or corporation;
- You are at least 18 years old and are an employee or are otherwise under contract with the U.S. Government;
- You are at least 18 years old and perform certain leadership activities for a religious denominational or nondenominational group with a valid presence in the U.S.;
- You are at least 18 years old and are employed by either (a) a U.S. research institution recognized by the Attorney General; (b) a U.S. company engaged in foreign trade / commerce for the U.S.; or (c) a public international organization of which the U.S. is a member by law or treaty; or
- You are at least 18 years old and have been employed for at least 5 years by a U.S. nonprofit organization that principally promotes the interests of the U.S. abroad and through the communications media;
- Spouse. You are at least 18 years old and are the spouse of a U.S. citizen who is one of the following:
- A member of the U.S. Armed Forces;
- #5(a), above;
- #5(b), above;
- #5(c), above.
Under these categories of eligibility, you must also:
- Be of good moral character;
- Possess English and U.S. civics knowledge;
- Swear allegiance to the U.S. Constitution;
- Sometimes be able to prove Legal Permanent Residency in the U.S. for a designated period of time;
- Sometimes be able to prove continuous presence in the U.S. for a designated period of time;
- Sometimes be located within a specific State or USCIS Service Center region for a designated period of time; and
- If petitioning as a spouse of a U.S. citizen, sometimes be required to physically have been with your spouse for at least 1 year at the time of your petition.
Some of the above requirements, such as “continuous residence” and “good moral character”, have their own specific guidelines in order to be satisfied. Those guidelines are beyond the scope of this article.
If you determine that you may be eligible for naturalization, you may want to seek the advice of a qualified immigration lawyer. Petitioning for U.S. naturalization when you are not eligible is a waste of time and money. When you are ready to file your petition for naturalization, double-check the USCIS web site for the most up-to-date forms and procedures, as the laws and regulations in U.S. immigration are changing constantly.