After certain eligibility requirements are satisfied, Lawful Permanent Residents earn the opportunity to become naturalized citizens of the United States. Deciding whether to apply involves weighing the potential benefits and privileges against the responsibilities and obligations of citizenship. (For a general look at some of the benefits, please refer to my earlier post on the benefits of United States Citizenship.) The process of becoming naturalization should not be confused with the act of acquiring citizenship or deriving citizenship. Unlike acquisition or derivation, naturalization involves applying before the Department of Homeland Security, appearing for an examination, and taking an oath of allegiance to the United States upon approval. Acquisition or derivation, on the other hand, occur upon certain conditions or events occurring.
I. Am I Eligible to Apply for Naturalization?
You are eligible to apply for naturalization if:
1. You are at least 18 years old;
2. You have been a Lawful Permanent Resident living in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years since the date your permanent residency was granted, or you have been a Lawful Permanent Resident for at least three years, and are married to and have resided with a U.S. citizen spouse for at least three years;
3. You satisfy the physical presence requirements;
4. You satisfy the continuous residence requirements;
5. You have the ability to read, write, and speak English; *
6. You have knowledge of U.S. history and government; *
7. You demonstrate good moral character (GMC) during the statutory period.
* There are certain classes of people who are exempt from the English language requirement, although they will still be expected to take the civics test in their native language:
· “50/20” exception: If an applicant is age 50 or older when filing for naturalization, and has been a lawful permanent resident for at least 20 years, he or she may qualify for the English Waiver.
· “55/15” exception: Similarly, if an applicant is age 55 or older when filing for naturalization, and has lived as a permanent resident for at least 15 years, he or she may qualify for the English waiver.
II. How Do I Apply for Citizenship?
If you meet the eligibility requirements to apply for citizenship, you must prepare and file form “N-400”, which can be downloaded for free off the USCIS website (USCIS.gov). The form must be filled out completely; an incomplete form may delay the application, or worse, result in the application being denied. Along with the N-400 form, you must also submit two US passport-sized photographs taken within 30 days of filling out the application.
The application should be mailed out to the appropriate USCIS location along with the two passport-sized photos; a clear copy of your green card (front and back); any other documents relevant to the application (ie., certified dispositions); and a check or money made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” to cover the filing fee, which is currently $680.
After you submit the application, you will receive an I-797 Notice of Action which serves as your receipt notice and contains your receipt number. Before you are scheduled for your interview, you will also receive a notice for your biometrics appointment, during which you will be fingerprinted for criminal background check purposes. Only after you have completed this step will you receive an interview notice.
III. What Should I Expect at the Interview?
You will be notified of your interview date a few weeks following your biometrics appointment. You might want to check the USCIS website for official processing times. During this waiting period, it is advisable to study the basic material that you will be tested on. Practicing your English verbal, reading, and writing skills, as well as studying the 100 U.S history and government questions are essential. During your interview, you will meet with an immigration services officer (“ISO”) who will ask you questions regarding your N-400 application, review your eligibility, and administer the English and Civics tests. (You must correctly answer at least 6 out of the 10 U.S. history questions.)
At the conclusion of the interview, in most cases, the ISO will either recommend approval or denial of the application. If your application has been granted, you will attend a naturalization ceremony during which you will take the Oath of Allegiance and receive your Naturalization Certificate, an official document signifying that you are a U.S. Citizen. One of the benefits for residents of New Jersey is that New Jersey is one of the few states that currently conducts the oath ceremony the same day of the interview. So, in most cases, lawful permanents residents who live in New Jersey and pass their interviews in New Jersey will become naturalized citizens the same day!
If you have failed a component of the test, whether it be reading, writing, speaking, or the civics test, you will be given another opportunity to demonstrate the required proficiency at a second interview. You will not have to pay for the second interview, and it will ordinarily be scheduled within a few weeks after your initial one. If, however, you fail the second interview, your application for naturalization will be denied, although you do have the right to appeal the decision (an appeal involves filing form N-336 with the appropriate filing fee).
IV. Is Hiring an Attorney Necessary?
While the citizenship procedure may seem pretty straight forward, hiring an immigration attorney to help in preparing your applications as well as accompanying you to your citizenship interview can be beneficial, based on your circumstances.
I have addressed this issue in a previous post, so if you are interested in what I have to say about this, kindly refer to that post. Suffice it to say, there are issues that can be potentially complex.
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