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    Fighting for
    We’re in Your Corner
    Your Future is Worth
    Fighting for
    We’re in Your Corner

    What Is Naturalization?

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    This is the final step in a successful immigration journey. Naturalized citizens enjoy the same rights as those born here, such as citizenship for their children and voting rights in federal elections. But as with most immigration procedures, it is a slow process, often frustrating.

    There are four major avenues to citizenship:

    • Being the child of a US citizen
    • Marriage to a US citizen
    • Lawful permanent resident status for five years
    • At least one year of honorable service in the US military

    Basic Eligibility Requirements

    All candidates must meet basic eligibility requirements to apply for naturalization. You must:

    • Be at least 18 years old when you file. Minors gain citizenship through their parents (with an exception for military service). Children who are permanent residents can gain it through parents who become naturalized citizens.
    • Be a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the US for at least 5 years. However, an applicant seeking citizenship through marriage only needs to have been an LPR for 3 years.
    • Not have left the US for more than 18 or 30 months before applying. This can be complicated—see below.
    • Not have left the US for a trip of 1 year or longer during their statutory residence period. Absence of 6 months or more can also disqualify you unless it is approved.
    • Have resided for at least 3 months in the state or district from which you are applying.
    • Read, write, and speak basic English. However, applicants over 50 who have lived in the US as LPRs for at least 20 years—or 15 years for those over 55—can apply in their native language. The requirement can also be waived due to disability.
    • Understanding of the fundamentals of US history and principles of its government. This requirement can also be waived for disability.
    • Have “good moral character” (GMC). See below.
    • Have registered with the Selective Service—if you are a male who was in the US between the ages of 18 and 26. There are certain mitigating circumstances, including presence as a lawful non-immigrant at the time.
    • Never have deserted from the US Armed Forces or been expelled on the grounds of being an alien.
    • Be willing to undertake military or civilian service for the US, if required by law.
    • Support the US Constitution.
    • Take an oath of allegiance to the US. This occurs at a naturalization ceremony, completing and celebrating your citizenship process.

    Further Details

    Period of Presence in the US

    US government employees and certain contractors can treat their time spent on duty abroad as residence in the US. The physical presence requirement is waived for that time. If they apply within six months of their year of service, military members do not have to fulfill residence requirements. Military spouses can treat the time they spent with their deployed spouses abroad as both residence and physical presence in the US.

    Some religious workers (e.g., missionaries abroad) may also apply to abate the physical presence requirement. Workers on certain US ships can also be exempt from the residence and physical presence requirements during that time. Working abroad for some American corporations may allow you to fulfill the residence requirement, although not the physical presence requirement.

    These can be complex matters, and it is wise to consult an attorney about how a situation could qualify.

    Good Moral Character

    USCIS will review your criminal record for a “statutory period,” roughly the same period of required residence for naturalization plus the period of your pending application. It will not hold juvenile charges against you unless you were tried as an adult. It does review offenses in other countries, although charges for “purely political offenses” from hostile governments can be explained as such.

    Offenses involving “moral turpitude,” such as sexual crimes and most drug offenses, disqualify an applicant. These are not limited to criminal convictions. Even admissions to criminal behavior—without any charges—can count against you. Not all offenses are even illegal. An extramarital affair can be a bar to establishing GMC, although you may be able to prove “extenuating circumstances”—for example, spousal acknowledgment and forgiveness.

    It is certainly possible to overcome a criminal record in the naturalization process. You must show an overall history of law-abiding behavior, community involvement, lengthy presence in the US, and other evidence to show you have GMC.

    The Naturalization Process

    Once you have confirmed your eligibility, you can prepare and submit your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. There is an extensive list of supporting documents required. The filing fees and biometrics fee total $725 as of this writing. Military members apply for free, and applicants over 75 do not owe the biometrics fee of $85.

    Once your form is received, you will receive a biometrics appointment, where they will collect your signature, fingerprints, and photograph. You will also be scheduled for an interview with a USCIS officer. This officer will ask you questions under oath about your application. They will also test your ability to read, write, and speak English. You will take a civics test on American history and government. To pass, you must answer six questions correctly out of ten.

    Finally, you will receive notice that your application was granted or denied. If you failed the civics test or need additional supporting documents, the application may also be continued.

    How We Can Help

    In 2023, the average processing time for naturalization cases in the Miami office was nine months. You don’t want all this time to end in denial because of a mistake you could have avoided. Our attorneys can advise and guide you through this process, representing you in appeals if necessary. Call us at 954 833-1454 to schedule a free case review in our Hollywood, Florida office today.

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