In this article we will take a look at the fundamentals of naturalization. We will address the basic requirements for naturalizing as well as uncover some pro-tips that may clarify the process for many. To lay a foundation, naturalizing is a legal course one must take to become a U.S. citizen, if not born in the United States. Becoming naturalized consists of several preceding requirements that need to be met to initiate the process.
Let us begin by establishing that to apply for naturalization you must already be a legal permanent resident for at least three years, if the basis of status was through a spouse, and five years, if the basis of status was through other means. Like most legal matters, a naturalization applicant must be at least 18 years old, however, if the applicant has military involvement they may qualify as an exception. In the case that there is a minor who is already a legal permanent resident, and their legal permanent resident parent naturalizes, the child may be able to naturalize with the parent before turning 18 years old. Though legal permanent residence status is necessary, it is not in and of itself the only requirement to meet as a potential naturalization recipient.
There are conditions one must comply with to truly be eligible to apply for naturalization. These conditions include but are not limited to, having resided at least three months in the State or USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) district with jurisdiction over applicant’s place of residence; having good moral character – meaning you have not participated or been charged with any illegal activity; being able to pass a civics examination and in many cases an English examination; as well as agreeing to oath allegiance to the United States. On certain occasions, people born abroad may become U.S. citizens through a U.S. citizen parent. For this instance one or both parents can be U.S. citizens, however, the rules differ for both. If one parent is a U.S. citizen and the other a foreign national, then the U.S citizen parent must have resided in the U.S for a fixed period prior to the birth of the child. If both parents are U.S. citizens, then only one U.S citizen parent must show proof of having resided in the United States.
Along with preparing for a naturalization interview, it is important to prepare for a civics and English examination. However, it is helpful to know that there is an exception for the English examination if the applicant is 50 years old or older at the time of filing for naturalization and has lived as a legal permanent resident for 20 years, or if the applicant is 55 years old or older at the time of filing for naturalization and has lived as a legal permanent resident for 15 years. Even if these exceptions apply to an applicant, they must still take the civics test, which can be taken in the applicant’s native language. In the case the applicant is 65 years old or older and has been a legal permanent resident for at least 20 years at the time of filing, the applicant will be given special consideration regarding the civics test requirement. In the case that an applicant has a physical or developmental disability or has a mental impairment, they may be able to qualify for an exemption of both examinations.
Keep in mind that the naturalization process takes time to be thoroughly reviewed by immigration officers and that it is at the officer’s discretion to approve any application according to the conditions and requirements being met for the process. There are situations in which a person may have already reached their 5-year requirement as a legal permanent resident, however, their green card may be coming up to its expiration date. In this case it is important to not only file your naturalization application but also your legal permanent residence renewal as well. If your naturalization application is submitted within 6 months of your green card expiring, then it is very possible for your application to be denied.
There are many things that can factor into how long you may wait for a response from immigration once you have filed your naturalization application. Therefore, it is important to pay close attention to what is being filed with your application and when you are filing. The waiting time is commonly referred to as “processing time”. Processing time is an overall estimate of how long you will wait, from the time you filed, before getting any kind of decision from immigration. Currently, the processing time is 11 months to 18 and a half months.
Please consider that this process will many times require legal assistance, it is best to be fully aware of your options and aware of what may arise during this process before filing for naturalization. Legal guidance may help you preserve and not jeopardize your current legal status in the case that something may arise. If you are interested in applying for naturalization, please give us a call to help you by reviewing your case.