Becoming a U.S. citizen is a dream for countless people from countries throughout the world. The process of granting U.S. citizenship to a person born outside the U.S. is called “naturalization.” This process is not always easy, as there are many legal requirements that must be satisfied. However, given the many benefits of U.S. citizenship, it is undoubtedly worth the effort.
There are several requirements that a person must meet before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will approve an application for naturalization (Form N-400). An applicant must show the following:
• They are at least 18-years-old at the time they submit their application;
• They have been lawfully admitted as a permanent resident for at least 5 years;
• They have resided continuously within the U.S. for the last 5 years;
• They have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the 5 years preceding the date they file their application;
• They are able to read, write, and speak English
• They have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government; and
• They are a person of good moral character for the required period.
As part of the naturalization process, each applicant is required to attend a personal interview. One component of this personal interview will be different tests. Each applicant must show that they are able to read, write and speak English, and that they have sufficient knowledge of U.S. history and government.
• Reading Test: An applicant must read aloud one sentence to demonstrate an ability to read English.
• Writing Test: An applicant must write one sentence to demonstrate an ability to write in English.
• Speaking Test: The USCIS officer conducing the interview will determine whether the applicant is able to sufficiently speak English during the course of the personal interview.
• Civics Test: An applicant will be asked a maximum of 10 questions regarding U.S. history and government. An applicant must answer 6 out of these 10 questions correctly to pass this test.
Applicants will have two opportunities to pass all of the tests. If they are unable to pass any one of the tests during their initial interview, they will be rescheduled for a second interview so that they may try again.
Exceptions To Required Tests
The following applicants are not required to demonstrate an ability to read, write or speak English:
• A lawful permanent resident who, at the time they filed their application, is over 50 years old and has been a green card holder for at least 20 years; and
• A lawful permanent resident who, at the time they filed their application, is over 55 years old and has been a green card holder for at least 15 years.
Spouses of U.S. Citizens
The general requirement is that a foreign national may not apply for U.S. citizenship until they have been a lawful permanent resident for 5 years. However, certain spouses of U.S. citizens may be able to apply for U.S. citizenship after only being a lawful permanent resident for 3 years. Applicants seeking to apply as the spouse of a U.S. citizen must show the following:
• They have been lawfully admitted as a permanent resident for at least 3 years;
• They have been living in “marital union” with their U.S. citizen spouse for the last 3 years;
• They have resided continuously within the U.S. for the last 3 years; and
• They have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the 3 years preceding the date they file their application;
Applicants must also meet all of the other statutory requirements stated above.
Simply being married to a U.S. citizen is not enough to be granted U.S. citizenship after only being a lawful permanent resident for three years. You must show that you are living in “marital union” with your U.S. citizen spouse. Typically, this means that you are actually living in the same household with your spouse. It is recommended that you speak with an experienced immigration attorney regarding proving “marital union” as well whether you qualify for an exception to this requirement.
Are You Already A U.S. Citizen?
There are a small number of people who are born outside of the United States but that have automatically acquired U.S. citizenship. This U.S. citizenship may be acquired at birth or through the naturalization of a parent. Please visit those pages of our website for additional information on automatically acquiring U.S. citizenship.
For potential applicants with a criminal past, it is critically important that you know whether your prior convictions have immigration consequences before you submit your application for naturalization. While minor transgression may not negatively affect your application, the USCIS may initiate removal proceeding if your prior offenses constitute “deportable offenses.” It is highly recommended you speak with an experienced immigration attorney if you have concerns.
Reeves Miller Zhang & Diza – Full-Service Immigration Law Firm
The prospect of becoming a U.S. citizen is very exciting! However, there are always potential problems along the way. Therefore, do not jeopardize your dreams of becoming a U.S. citizen, or even risk losing your green card, but applying without the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney. Contact us today for a confidential consultation about your case.