Naturalization is the final step in the immigration process and provides individuals with a number of benefits over and above being a lawful permanent resident (LPR).
Typically, an individual will need to be an LPR for five years before applying for citizenship. However, for those who married a US Citizen and have been living with their spouse, these individuals become eligible for Naturalization after just three years.
You must be an LPR, at least eighteen years old, have resided for at least three months in the state where the application is filed and must meet the continuous residence and physical presence requirements. Additionally, you must meet the good moral character requirements.
Continuous residence requirement
You must generally have resided continuously in the U.S. for five years following the acquisition of LPR status (three years if married to a US Citizen).
However, significant time spent outside of the US can disrupt your continuous residence. Absences of six months or more may disrupt the continuous residence unless you can demonstrate otherwise. You may be able to prove the continuity of residence by showing the following:
- You did not terminate your employment in the U.S.;
- You did not obtain employment abroad; or
- You maintained access to a US home while you were gone.
Please note that multiple trips of less than six months may also result in a break in the continuity of residence. For example, if you take multiple trips of five months outside of the U.S. and only spend say a month in the US between trips, an officer is likely to find a break in the continuity of residence.
Absences of twelve months or more shall disrupt the continuity of residence. This is still the case if the applicant applied for and received a re-entry permit.
Physical presence requirement
The physical presence requirement requires that you are in the U.S. for at least thirty months of the aforementioned five-year period or 18 months of the aforementioned three-year period.
Good moral character requirements
This is the area where most applicants find themselves requiring legal advice. When submitting a Naturalization application, applicants must demonstrate that they are a person of good moral character for the five- years prior to submission (three- years if married to a U.S. Citizen).
Several questions on the Naturalization form (N-400) ask about prior criminal history. Answering yes to any of these questions requires you to disclose details of your prior arrests, convictions etc., which can then call into question your good moral character. Certain crimes are a permanent bar to establishing good moral character such as Murder, while other crimes may only be a temporary bar.
DUIs are probably the most common crimes that we come across. Evidence of two or more DUIs raises a rebuttable presumption that you lack good moral character however you may be able to overcome this by providing evidence of “substantial relevant and credible contrary evidence.”
If you have been charged with, arrested or convicted of any crime you should consult with an experienced Immigration Attorney to determine whether to submit your application now or whether it is better to wait until five/three years after the date of your last arrest.
How to apply
If you have determined that you are eligible to apply you will need to submit form N-400 with the appropriate fee and documents to USCIS.
What to expect after you submit your application
Once received USCIS will issue you with a receipt notice listing a receipt number that allows you to track your case. Shortly after you will receive a notice asking you to attend for Biometrics (please note due to COVID the biometric notices have been severely delayed). Once you attend for biometrics the FBI will conduct a background check on you. Once completed you will be scheduled for an interview where you will be required to take an English and Civics test. The Civics test will test your knowledge of U.S. history and government.
After your interview, you will receive a notice of the decision. If approved, you will then be invited to take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. Once you have taken the oath you will hand in your permanent resident card and receive your certificate of Naturalization. With this, you can then apply for a U.S. passport.
Although processing times vary based on where the application is filed you can expect the process to take at least 12-18 months.
What are the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen?
The main difference between being a U.S. Citizen and an LPR is that you have the right to vote.
Another benefit is that once you become a U.S. citizen you cannot lose your citizenship, unless this was obtained through fraud. As an LPR you can lose your green card if you remain outside of the U.S. for too long. Sometimes individuals do not intend to take long-term trips, but COVID 19 has taught us that sometimes short trips turn into extended time outside of the U.S. resulting in individuals remaining outside of the US for more than 1 year. When this happens, the green card is no longer valid for return travel to the U.S.
Individuals can also lose their green cards if they commit certain serious crimes which can result in them being deported. Becoming a U.S. Citizen means that you can truly live in the U.S. on a permanent basis, without fear of deportation.
Furthermore, once you become a U.S. Citizen you are eligible to petition for your parents, siblings, married sons and daughters and can also file a fiancé petition.
If you have questions about becoming a U.S. citizen, please contact PLG Partner Chris Prescott at firstname.lastname@example.org.