There is little that gives the immigration attorneys at Heartland Immigration more satisfaction than watching one of our clients take the oath of allegiance and become a U.S. citizen. It represents the culmination for many people of an often very long and exceedingly difficult journey. For most it’s a dream many years in the making, and is only made possible by great determination, patience, and indeed, sacrifice. Getting there can be tough. The immigration lawyers at Heartland Immigration will be by your side through this process, walking you step-by-step through the vexing legal framework that stands between you and American citizenship.
The Benefits of Naturalization
U.S. citizenship carries with it unique and important privileges. Some of the primary benefits of naturalization include:
- The ability to petition for permanent residence for more family members without long wait-times
- As a legal permanent resident (LPR) you are very limited in for whom can petition to get a green card, and there exists a significant waiting period before those persons can come to the U.S. or adjust status. As a U.S. citizen you broaden the class of persons for whom can petition, and you eliminate any wait-time at all for immediate relatives, including your spouse, unmarried children under age 21, and parents.
- You cannot be deported
- Unless you obtained your naturalization through fraud, you can’t be deported as a naturalized U.S. citizen, as where you can be as an LPR.
- You can live abroad indefinitely
- You will likely lose your LPR status if you stay outside of the U.S. for more than a year (and in some cases for even shorter periods of time), meaning you would have to apply for a nonimmigrant visa to even visit the U.S. at all, and you could not work or stay there long-term unless you received LPR status again. As a U.S. citizen, you can refrain from setting foot in the United States for decades or longer but still retain the right to go back and live and work permanently in the U.S. if you later choose to do so.
- You can transmit U.S. citizenship to your children, even if they are born abroad
- As long as certain residency requirements in the U.S. are met (generally five years of physical presence, at least two of which must be after your fourteenth birthday), your child born abroad will be a U.S. citizen
- You can have a louder voice in your community
- As a citizen you have the right to vote, hold office, and serve on juries
A Possible Downside to Naturalization
It is important to note that there can be a huge downside to applying for naturalization if something in your history makes you deportable. If you are eligible for deportation and you apply for naturalization, it is likely you will in fact be placed in deportation proceedings. You should carefully consider before applying for naturalization whether you may be a candidate for deportation. Many people who believe they may be and who are eligible for naturalization decide not to apply for naturalization, opting not to bring themselves to the attention of the immigration authorities.
How does one become a U.S. citizen?
A person becomes a U.S. citizen in one of two ways:
- by birth
- on U.S. soil or that of certain outlying U.S. territories or possession, or
- to U.S. citizen parents abroad where certain conditions are met (in this case, to acquire recognition of citizenship and a passport for the infant, a parent should apply with Form FS-240 to the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest them for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad
- through naturalization, the process by which American citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after he or she meets the requirements established by the U.S. Congress, as set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act
Who can naturalize?
To naturalize, a person generally must:
- Be 18 years old to apply
- Children can gain citizenship derivatively through a naturalizing parent
- Be a legal permanent resident (LPR, i.e., green card holder)
- Have at least five years (or just three for the spouse of a U.S. citizen) of continuous residency in the U.S. as an LPR
- The five (or three) years must be immediately prior to filing the Application for Naturalization
- Continuity of residence will be broken by long trips outside of the U.S., meaning a person has start all over in counting five (or three) years of continuous residence:
- A trip abroad of more than six months creates a presumption that you have abandoned your residency in the U.S., thereby breaking continuity, but individuals can sometimes rebut this presumption
- Trips of a year or more break continuity of residence (An exception exists for certain classes of people, who can preserve their continuous residence despite being away for more than a year, using Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes)
- Have physical presence in the U.S. for at least half of the time of your five (or three) years of continuous residency as an LPR (i.e., the person must have 2.5 or 1.5 years of physical presence, depending on whether they are the spouse of a U.S. citizen)
- The physical presence requirement looks at the actual number of days a person was in the U.S. during the period in question, as where the continuous residence requirement asks whether a person “resided lawfully” in the U.S. without any single absence long enough to break continuity
- Have resided for at least the past three months at the time of application in the U.S. state in which the Application for Naturalization is filed
- Be attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution
- This is demonstrated during the naturalization interview and by reciting the Oath of Allegiance at the naturalization ceremony
- Have a basic understanding of the English language
- A basic understanding is demonstrated in an oral and written test as the ability to read,write, and speak simple words and phrases in ordinary usage
- Persons of a certain age who have resided in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for a certain amount of time do not have to meet the language requirement, and exceptions are made for persons with disabilities
- Have a basic knowledge of U.S. civics (i.e., history and government)
- A person must know and understand the fundamentals of the history, and of the principles and form of government, of the United States
- Exceptions to this requirement are made for persons with disabilities
- Be a person of “good moral character”
- The main time-frame at which immigration authorities will look is the five (or three if a person is married a U.S. citizen) years preceding the filing of the Application for Naturalization, as well as up to the time of actual naturalization, but they can look further back into a person’s history in making this determination
- Here are a few of the acts U.S. immigration law views as possibly showing a lack of good moral character:
- Any crime against a person with intent to harm; Two or more crimes for which the aggregate sentence was 5 years or more; Violating any controlled substance law; Prostitution; Lying to gain immigration benefits; and Failing to pay court-ordered child support or alimony payments
How does the naturalization process work?
To apply for naturalization a qualifying legal permanent resident must file Form N – 400, Application for Naturalization, with the USCIS. After you have sent the Application, supporting documents and a fee to USCIS, they will inform you where to go to have your biometrics taken. This process consists of being fingerprinted at a USCIS facility. The fingerprints are sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a background check.
You will next receive a notice from USCIS telling you when and where to go for your interview and civics/English test. You generally find out the results at the end of the test. If you are successful, you will be invited to attend a swearing-in ceremony, where you will turn in your green card, say the oath of allegiance and receive a Certificate of Naturalization. You can use this document as proof of your U.S. citizenship, including to apply for a U.S. passport.
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