Guide to U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization

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Understanding Naturalization

Naturalization is the legal process by which a foreign national can become a U.S. citizen. This opportunity is available to those who have held a green card (permanent residency) for at least 3 to 5 years, or who meet certain military service qualifications.

Defining Citizenship

Citizenship is conferred upon those born to U.S. citizens or through the successful completion of the naturalization process. Acquiring U.S. citizenship offers numerous benefits and introduces specific civic responsibilities.

Naturalization Process Timeline

Current Wait Time for Naturalization

From submitting the citizenship application (Form N-400) to participating in the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, the entire process currently takes about 5 months.

Cost of Naturalization

Application Fees for Naturalization

The total cost to apply for U.S. citizenship is $845. This includes a $760 processing fee and an $85 fee for biometric services.

Fee Exemptions:

  1. Military personnel are exempt from both the application and biometrics fees.
  2. Applicants 75 years of age or older are not required to pay the biometrics fee.
  3. A $50 discount is applied to those who opt to file the N-400 form online instead of via mail.

Naturalization allows eligible immigrants to fully integrate into the civic life of the United States as citizens, bearing both its privileges and duties. Understanding the timeline, cost, and specific requirements of the application process is essential for a smooth transition to U.S. citizenship.

Eligibility Criteria for U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization

Overview of Naturalization Eligibility

Eligibility for naturalization in the United States primarily depends on how long you have had your green card and the amount of time you've physically resided in the U.S. Here’s a breakdown of the common categories of individuals eligible for naturalization and the specifics of when they can apply:

  1. Standard Green Card Holders: These individuals can apply for naturalization after living physically in the U.S. for 30 months (2.5 years) and holding a green card for a total of 5 years.
  2. Green Card Holders Married to U.S. Citizens: If married to a U.S. citizen, these green card holders need to have lived in the U.S. for at least 18 months (1.5 years) and can apply after being a green card holder for 3 years.
  3. Widow or Widower of a U.S. Citizen Who Died in Military Service: Eligibility to apply for naturalization is available at any time; there is no required physical presence if the U.S. citizen spouse died honorably while serving in the military.
  4. Green Card Holders with at Least 1 Year of Peacetime Military Service: These individuals can apply for naturalization while in active duty or within 6 months of honorably separating from the military, with no specific requirement for physical presence in the U.S.
  5. Green Card Holders with Less than 1 Year of Peacetime Military Service: They must meet the standard requirement of living in the U.S. for 30 months (2.5 years) and can apply after holding a green card for 5 years.
  6. Green Card Holder with Over 1 Year of Military Service Discharged More Than 6 Months Ago: They follow the standard civilian path, needing to live in the U.S. for 30 months (2.5 years) before applying after 5 years as a green card holder.
  7. Members of the Military with Any Period of Wartime Service: They can apply for naturalization at any time, regardless of green card status, without a requirement for physical presence in the U.S.

Requirements for U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization

Basic Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for naturalization as a United States citizen, applicants must meet specific criteria, some of which vary depending on whether the application is based on military service or standard permanent residency:

  1. Age Requirement: Applicants must be at least 18 years old.
  2. Continuous Residence: Applicants should not have taken any trips outside the United States lasting six months or longer during the qualifying period (three or five years, depending on the case).
  3. State Residency: Applicants must have lived for at least three months in the state or USCIS district where they plan to apply.
  4. Good Moral Character: Applicants need to demonstrate good moral character, meaning no major crimes on their record, and honesty in dealings with the U.S. government.
  5. Naturalization Test: Applicants must pass a two-part naturalization test consisting of English language skills (reading, writing, and speaking) and U.S. civics (knowledge of U.S. history and government).
  6. Oath of Allegiance: Applicants must be willing to serve in the U.S. military or perform civilian service for the U.S. if required, and commit to defending the U.S. Constitution.
  7. Selective Service Registration: Male applicants who have lived in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 25 must register with the Selective Service System.

Exceptions to Standard Requirements

  1. Disability Exceptions: Applicants with certain physical, developmental, or mental impairments can seek an exemption from the English and civics tests by submitting Form N-648, certified by a medical doctor.
  2. Military Service Exceptions:
  • a) Peacetime Military Service: Those with at least one year of peacetime military service are exempt from the continuous residence and state residency requirements. They must show good moral character for the last five years.
  • b) Wartime Military Service: Applicants with wartime military service are exempt from the age, continuous residence, and state residency requirements. They must demonstrate good moral character for at least one year prior to application.

Special Requirements for U.S. Military Personnel

Green card holders who are current or former members of the U.S. armed forces are subject to specific criteria in their application for U.S. citizenship:

  1. No Desertion: You must not have deserted the U.S. military before being honorably discharged.
  2. No Discharge Due to Non-U.S. Citizen Status: You must not have received a discharge or an exemption from service based on your non-U.S. citizen status.

Addressing Inability to Afford Filing Fees

If you find the filing fees for the naturalization process prohibitive due to income limitations, you can apply for a fee reduction or a complete waiver. This ensures that financial constraints do not hinder eligible applicants from pursuing U.S. citizenship.

Steps to Apply for U.S. Citizenship

Step 1: Filing the Application for Naturalization

  1. Complete the Form N-400: Begin your path to citizenship by filing the Application for Naturalization (Form N-400). This can be done by mailing a paper application or by completing it online. However, to file online, you must first create an account with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  2. Exceptions for Online Filing: If you are applying based on military service, applying from abroad, or applying for a fee reduction or waiver, you must mail your application to the designated USCIS office.
  3. 90-Day Early Filing Rule: You are allowed to submit your Form N-400 up to 90 days before you meet the three- or five-year residency requirement as a green card holder. While this lets you initiate the process early, you must still complete the full residency period to qualify for citizenship.

Step 2: Biometrics Appointment

After your application is submitted, the next step involves scheduling a biometrics appointment. USCIS will take your fingerprints to conduct a comprehensive background check. This appointment is usually scheduled about a month after your application is received.

Step 3: Citizenship Interview and Exam

The Interview

Approximately 14 months after filing, you'll be scheduled for a citizenship interview, although timing can vary based on the USCIS field office assigned to you. This interview confirms the accuracy of your application's information and usually occurs at your nearest USCIS office, a U.S. embassy, or consulate if you are abroad, or possibly at a military facility for those on active duty.

The Exam
During the interview, you'll also undergo a two-part naturalization test, unless exempted. The English language test assesses your abilities in reading, writing, and speaking English. The civics test evaluates your knowledge of U.S. history and government. USCIS provides study materials, and you'll have two opportunities to pass each part of the test.

Post-Interview Outcomes

If you pass, the USCIS officer may approve your application immediately. Alternatively, additional documentation might be requested, or a second interview scheduled. Failing the test leads to either a denial with the option to appeal or reapply, emphasizing the importance of thorough preparation.

Step 4: Oath of Allegiance

Finalizing Citizenship

Once approved, you will participate in an Oath of Allegiance ceremony, which is the final step in the naturalization process. You'll receive a notice by mail with details about the ceremony's time and location. At this event, you will surrender your green card and, upon completion, receive your Certificate of Naturalization.

Benefits of Naturalization

Becoming a U.S. citizen opens up several significant advantages previously unavailable as a green card holder:

  • Voting Rights: You can vote in federal elections, influencing national policy and leadership.
  • Eligibility to Run for Office: Citizenship allows you to run for political office, offering a chance to actively participate in and shape government policy.
  • Freedom from Immigration Paperwork: Say goodbye to USCIS forms, renewal fees, and status checks.
  • Employment Opportunities: As a citizen, you're eligible for federal jobs, which often offer competitive pay and benefits.

Completing the naturalization process grants you full citizenship rights, including participating in elections, seeking public office, and accessing federal employment opportunities. It represents a significant milestone, marking your full integration into U.S. civic life.

Additional Benefits of U.S. Citizenship

Expanded Access to Government Assistance Programs

As a U.S. citizen, you gain full access to federal assistance programs that may be restricted or unavailable to green card holders. This includes Social Security benefits, Medicare, and federal college assistance programs, enhancing your financial security and educational opportunities.

Immunity from Deportation

Once naturalized, you are protected from deportation, similar to native-born U.S. citizens. This protection holds even in the event of arrest or conviction. The only exception is if your citizenship is revoked due to fraud discovered in your initial naturalization application, which is exceedingly rare.

Family Sponsorship Opportunities

Naturalization empowers you to sponsor relatives such as siblings, parents, and adult children for lawful permanent residence in the U.S. This can significantly expedite their own immigration processes.

Automatic Citizenship for Children

Children born to you, whether within or outside the U.S., automatically receive U.S. citizenship, even if born abroad. It's important to register their birth with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to ensure they receive all entitled citizenship benefits.

The Power of the U.S. Passport

Owning a U.S. passport as a citizen comes with considerable advantages:

  1. Visa-Free Travel: You can travel without a visa to over 180 countries and territories, which facilitates easier and more spontaneous international travel.
  2. Consular Support Abroad: In emergencies abroad, access to U.S. consular services provides a critical safety net.
  3. Unrestricted Travel: The U.S. imposes no limits on the duration or frequency of your travels abroad, offering vast freedom for global exploration. Always verify visa requirements of the destination country before travel to ensure compliance with entry rules.

Achieving U.S. citizenship through naturalization opens a host of significant benefits, from increased access to social programs and protection against deportation to enhanced global mobility and the ability to bring family members to the U.S. These advantages contribute to greater security, freedom, and opportunity in both personal and professional realms.

Key Responsibilities and Considerations for U.S. Citizenship

Before embarking on the path to U.S. citizenship, it is crucial to understand the responsibilities that come with being an American citizen. Here are some important duties and considerations.

Dual Citizenship and Renunciation

Renunciation Requirements: While the United States allows dual citizenship, you may be required to renounce your citizenship in another country depending on that country’s laws regarding dual nationality.

Travel Requirements: As a U.S. citizen, you must use a U.S. passport for entering and leaving the United States.

Country-Specific Rules: Countries like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom permit dual nationality, whereas others like India and Japan do not. It's advisable to verify the policies of your home country if you wish to maintain dual citizenship.

Military Service Obligation

Selective Service Registration: All male U.S. citizens and green card holders who have lived in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System.

Potential Draft: Though the draft was discontinued in 1973, reinstatement could require citizens to serve if called upon.

Jury Duty

Mandatory Participation: Being summoned for jury duty is a duty you must fulfill if called, though actual service on a jury depends on selection by court officials.

Exemptions: Certain professionals like active-duty military members, fire and police department personnel, and some public officers are exempt from federal jury duty. Other exemptions may apply based on recent jury service, age, or volunteer first responder status, varying by district.

Tax Obligations

Global Tax Responsibility: U.S. citizens must file U.S. income tax returns regardless of their country of residence.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion: You may exclude a significant portion of your foreign earnings from U.S. taxes, with the current exclusion limit over $100,000. Income above this threshold is subject to U.S. taxes.

Criminal Record Implications

Your criminal record will undergo thorough review during the naturalization process. Crimes that could lead to deportability, such as immigration fraud, drug abuse, or domestic violence, necessitate seeking legal advice before applying for citizenship.

Getting citizenship in the United States is a big deal and entails a lot of legal requirements. All aspiring citizens must comprehend these obligations, which range from managing dual citizenship to performing civic duties like jury duty and military service to abiding by US tax regulations. When submitting an application for citizenship, it is imperative to take the legal ramifications of your past and present circumstances into account.

Last Updated 05/16/24 01:46:52AM

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