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A Brief Q&A on the US Naturalization Process

| Jun 20, 2016 | Immigration Law

What is naturalization?

Naturalization is the legal process whereby a foreign-born individual can become a U.S. citizen. Once you become a naturalized US citizen, you will be eligible for all of the same rights and responsible for all of the same duties as someone who was born a US citizen.

Who is eligible for naturalization?

In order to apply to for naturalization, you must fulfill several requirements. In order to be eligible you must have the following:

  • Hold a green card (be a legal permanent resident)
  • Be a legal permanent resident for at least five years prior to application
    • Spouses of United State citizens need only wait three years from the day your green card is granted.
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be of “good moral character”

How can I become naturalized?

If you meet the basic requirements listed above, you must still meet and complete the following steps in order to be considered for naturalization:

  • Complete an N-400 form, also known as the Application for Naturalization
  • Have two passport-style photographs taken of you to submit with your application
  • Send in your N-400 with any necessary supporting documents
  • Send in the $680 application fee. Permanent residents 75 years of age or older need only pay $595. Keep in mind you may be eligible for a fee waiver available if you are impoverished.
  • Submit to a biometric scan of your fingerprints

What’s next?

Once United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received and processed your application, they will send you a notification in the mail regarding the next steps. You will go to the location listed on the form at the time requested in order to complete an in-person interview with a USCIS officer. You may also need to mail additional documentation if requested by USCIS.

When you go to your in-person interview, be sure to bring identification and required supporting documentation with you. After completing the interview—which will entail a wide-variety of questions on your background, your application, your thought on the US constitution, and more—you will be required to demonstrate your proficiency in English and knowledge of US history and civics by completing tests on both subjects. There are many study materials available online to help you prepare for these tests.

After successfully completing the interview and exam, you will receive a form with the results. Your application for naturalization will either be granted, continued, or denied. If continued you may have to submit more information or return for another interview. If denied, you may be able to appeal.

When do I become a citizen?

When you are approved to become a naturalized citizen, there are several more steps to the process before you officially obtain citizenship status.

  • In the mail, you will receive a letter with the date, time, and location of your naturalization Oath ceremony. Make sure that you are on time and dress nicely in formal attire.
  • At this ceremony, you will turn in your green card.
  • You may be asked further questions such as whether or not you’ve traveled outside the US in the time since your interview.
  • You will then be asked to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States in a formal ceremony.

Once you have taken the Oath of Allegiance, you will be given your official Certificate of Naturalization. Congratulations, you are now officially a citizen of the United States of America!

What if I have a criminal record?

There are a number of barriers that exist that could seriously complicate the naturalization process for you, chief of which is if you have a criminal record. It is important to note that simply having a criminal record does not necessarily preclude you from being able to become a US citizen, but it certainly makes the process more difficult and unpredictable, which is why it is absolutely vital that anyone with a criminal record who is seeking to become a US citizen should always enlist the assistance of a skilled immigration attorney like those at Rotella & Hernandez.

As previously mentioned, one of the key criteria for naturalization eligibility is that the applicant must be of “good moral character”—the definition of which is subjective and can vary based on the USCIS officer reviewing your application and conducting your interview. USCIS officially defines good moral character as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.”  As you may expect, criminal activity is one of the biggest things they will look for as evidence that you are not an individual of good moral character. However, these situations are handled on a case-by-case basis and your ability to become naturalized will depend on a number of factors such as the nature and circumstances of the crime, the amount of time that has passed since you were charged, and whether the crime qualifies as an “aggravated felony.”

Aggravated felonies are severe crimes such as rape and murder which will serve as automatic disqualifiers to good moral character. Nonetheless, it is always wise to consult with an attorney before assuming you are permanently barred from naturalization—no matter the nature of your criminal record.

If you are considering pursuing becoming a naturalized US citizen, please contact the law office of Rotella & Hernandez today and let us guide you throughout the process to ensure you are able to achieve your American Dream! Give us a call today to learn how we can help, especially if you have a complex background that may cause complications in the application process, such as a criminal record or other issues.

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