Voting is a right that not all immigrants can enjoy. In this time of elections, regardless of political preference, a great variety of people who are eligible to become a U.S. citizen have consulted my firm to inquire about the process of Naturalizing.
At first glance the requirements to apply for naturalization are simple. The applicant must:
- Be 18 years old or more;
- Be a lawful permanent resident
- Have resided continuously in the country as a legal permanent resident for five years, or three if married with a U.S. citizen;
- Have been physically present in the E.U. at least the half of the five (three in case of marriage with a citizen American) years before apply for the citizenship;
- Be a person of good moral character;
- Pass the English, history and civics exam; and
- Be willing to take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. and
- Pay the application fee.
The application has a cost established by the Government. There are exceptions to this payment, but they are limited. An example is of the fee waiver is the one that applies to active military members.
Throughout the years that I have been representing individuals with this process and accompanying them to their adjudication interviews, I have realized that many times what seems simple is not so easy. Stated differently, each requirement for naturalizing presents a number of issues that must be evaluated on a case by case basis.
The applicant must be eighteen years of age. The only exception to this requirement is to be an active member of the military and by a presidential order. When someone under the age of 18 consults me to naturalize, I always assess if this individual is already a citizen by operation of law. Someone who is already a citizen cannot become citizen through naturalization.
ADMISSION AS A LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENT:
This is an example of the requirements that appear to be pretty straight forward but that requires a detail evaluation of the immigration history of the applicant in order to avoid a fatal outcome. The lack of a detailed evaluation can result in a denial. It is essential to investigate whether there is evidence of fraud at the time the applicant processed the legal permanent residency to avoid, not only the denial of citizenship, but also the possibility of triggering removal proceedings.
CONTINUOUS RESIDENCE IN THE COUNTRY:
This requirement also presents challenges and is one that presents more problems for many clients. The Code of Federal Regulations defines residence as the domicile or the place of abode of the applicant without taking into account the intention of the person to declare it as their place of residence or the intention to return to live there. For example, if someone interrupts the time of residence in the United States by leaving for six months or more, but with the intention of returning to the United States, the Government does not consider the time outside the country towards the calculation of the continuous residence time. The time of continuous residence in the United States has to be five years or three if married to a United States citizen.
As just mentioned, for Legal Permanent Resident spouses of American citizens, the government requires continuous residency in the United States for three years instead of five. During the naturalization interview, immigration officials require evidence that the marriage continue to be valid and in good faith.
With our global economy any people travel outside the country for business or to visit family so it is crucial to evaluate the travel history of the applicant in order to identify potential interruptions in the residency requirement. It would be waste of time and of money to apply for Naturalization if this element cannot be met. I usually help my clients during the interview with the Government by presenting documentation/evidence that may help the argument that there was no interruption. This element is related to the physical presence in the country which I explain below.
PHYSICAL PRESENCE IN THE UNITED STATES:
In addition of proving continuous residence in the country, the lawful permanent resident applying for Naturalization also has to prove that he/she has been physically present in the United States half of five years of continuous residence or for half of the three years required for spouses of United States Citizens. This is an objective test that can be determined by counting the days. The basis of this determination is a precise number of days. I always recommend to my Legal Permanent Resident clients to keep a log of international travel to determine if they meet this requirement at the time of the application for naturalizaton.
GOOD MORAL CHARACTER:
The individual seeking citizenship through Naturalization has to demonstrate good moral character. Certain crimes, arrests, or behaviors related to prostitution or illegal gambling may render the applicant ineligible. Therefore, it is essential to evaluate the criminal history, financial, family, and personal history of the client to determine if the person can prove good moral character. It is also important to note that some setbacks with the law that may appear as minor crimes in the criminal world, can be fatal for immigrants in the context of immigration. For example, theft and crimes of violence if accompanied by a jail sentence of more than one year.
PASSING THE ENGLISH, HISTORY AND CIVICS TEST:
This test consists of questions related to the history and government of the country. In the interview for naturalization, the officer will make a series of ten questions out of the one hundred that are published in the guide. However, if the applicant answers the first six questions correctly usually, the adjudicator will complete the examination. Investing the time and effort necessary to study will help you achieve passing the test. As part of the examination the applicant also has to write a simple sentence in English and be able to understand and participate in the interview in English.
Some people can take the test in their native language when they have twenty years as legal permanent residents and fifty years of age or if they are over the age of fifty-five only have to prove that they have been legal permanent residents for fifteen years.
UNDERSTAND AND TAKE THE OATH OF ALLEGIANCE TO THE U.S.
This requirement is very important because it is a pledge of loyalty to the Constitution of the United States and its form of Government. Also, the applicant will swear that he/she be willing to bear arms for the U.S. during time of war if required by law. Please note that taking the oath will not prevent you to continue supporting your favorite football team!
PAYMENT OF THE APPLICATION FOR NATURALIZATION:
In this article I mention this requirement at the end but it is really the first one to be met since the application for Naturalization must be accompanied with payment and photos to commence the process.
Every time I have the opportunity to address to the public I recommend that if they cannot afford payment of attorney’s fees and need help, they do it themselves or consult with the government website, but do not go with non- professionals including “notarios” who have caused an infinite number of frauds and have ruined millions of lives. The immigration laws of the Unites States are complex. Applying for Naturalization can seem simple, but it is not just filling out a form. It requires solid knowledge of the issues briefly discussed above. Why waste money and time when a simple consultation can help you determine if you are eligible. Make sure that the application will conclude with a certificate of citizenship and not with a notice to appear with an immigration judge.