NATURALIZATION TO OBTAIN U.S. CITIZENSHIP
Are You Eligible to Apply for Naturalization?
Applying for U.S. citizenship through naturalization is the final step in your immigration journey. U.S. citizenship is the highest status in our immigration laws and there is no difference under the law between people who were born citizens and those who naturalized.
In order to apply for naturalization, you will have to meet the following criteria:
- 1. You MUST be a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) and at least 18 years old.
- 2. You MUST have continuous residence in the U.S. after becoming a Permanent Resident for a period of 5 years.
- 3. You MUST have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half the time out of the last 5 years.
- 4. You MUST have resided in the state where your are filing your application for at least 3 months.
- 5. You MUST reside continuously in the U.S. from the DATE of filing the application to the date of citizenship (oath ceremony).
- 6. You MUST be a person of Good Moral Character for the 5 years prior to filing your application and up to the time of citizenship.
- 7. You MUST be able to speak and understand English and pass a civics test (however, there are exceptions of this requirement for people with disabilities or permanent residents of a certain age that meet certain residency requirements).
- 8. For spouses of U.S. citizens, who live with their U.S. citizen spouse in marital union, the period of time required from them to apply for U.S. citizenship is 3 years instead of 5 years. Likewise, the requirements in #2, #3 and #6 above may be calculated based on 3 years instead of a 5-year calculation.
The most common hurdles in getting a naturalization application approved are the requirements for good moral character, continuous residency, and physical presence. For instance, if you have been arrested at any time in the past, it is best to consult an experienced immigration attorney to evaluate whether you should begin filing for naturalization. Perhaps you travel extensively outside of the United States – if this is the case, discuss with an immigration attorney how your travel schedule may affect your eligibility for naturalization and chances of approval.
Naturalization and Good Moral Character:
Whether you are able to show good moral character will primarily depend on your criminal record. Generally, a clean criminal history shows good moral character. If you have a criminal history, our immigration lawyers must first evaluate your complete record. It is very important for you to disclose all your arrests and convictions to your attorney. It does not matter how long ago you were arrested or convicted. Disclose your charges even if your charges were dismissed, or if you have completed all the conditions of your sentence.
Knowing your full criminal history will allow us to determine if this is the right time for your application. Immigration officers will scrutinize your criminal record and you will have the burden of showing that you are still eligible for naturalization even with past criminal convictions. There are certain types of convictions and conducts that would prevent an individual from showing good moral character for 5 years, and some criminal cases that prohibit someone from naturalizing for life. However, even if you have not committed any of those offenses, the immigration officer evaluating your case still has discretion to decide if you meet the requirement for good moral character.
If you have a criminal history, it is always best to meet with an experienced immigration attorney before submitting your application. With criminal convictions – and in certain cases, even without – USCIS has the discretion to deny your case and place you in removal or deportation proceedings.
Continuous Residency Requirement for Naturalization:
The continuous residency requirement is an important aspect of being a Lawful Permanent Resident in the United States. Lawful Permanent Residents are presumed to be living permanently in the United States in order to maintain this privilege, or they may lose it. Absent certain exceptions, if you relocate outside of the United States for an extended period of time, you can lose your green card status.
Trips abroad of over 180 days typically break the continuous residency required for naturalization, and very few exceptions apply. Therefore, if you have left the U.S. for more than six months during the required 3- or 5-year period, you must show strong ties to the United States to overcome the presumption that you broke the continuity of residency. In making this determination, an immigration officer will consider a few factors such as place of employment, place of residence, and where your immediate relatives live – in the U.S. or overseas. In other words, avoiding extended absences is key if you wish to apply for naturalization successfully.
Physical Presence Requirement for Naturalization:
Physical presence for at least half of the 3- or 5-year period is a separate requirement for an applicant to be eligible for naturalization. For the 5-year/60-month requirement, one must have been in the U.S. for at least 30 of those months. For the 3-year/36- month requirement, one must have been in the U.S. for at least 18 months. In order to meet this requirement, you will have to calculate the exact number of days you have been outside of the United States for the applicable time period.
You would have to go back to every trip you have taken outside of the country and count the days you were physically absent from the United States. If you do not meet the required half-time physical presence then you might need to wait to file your application until you’ve spent more time in the the country
If you meet the above criteria and successfully file your application, you will be scheduled for an interview. At your interview, an immigration officer will review your application to make sure all the information is correct and then proceed to administer the English and civics tests. The English test is a quick evaluation of your ability to read, write, and understand English. The civics test assesses your understanding of U.S. history and government. There are study guides available in preparation for both tests. If you pass the tests and are eligible for approval, you will be scheduled for an oath ceremony.
As with any other immigration application, you should approach naturalization after considering all the eligibility requirements. We have seen individuals put their Lawful Permanent Resident status at risk for filing a premature naturalization application, or failing to disclose any criminal history. If you suspect you might have a problem in satisfying any of the requirements, you should consult with an experienced immigration attorney who will be able to advise you on case strategy and increase your chances for approval. Call our immigration experts today to discuss your options!