With the 2024 New Year quickly approaching, many Lawful Permanent Residents (i.e., green card holders) commonly add U.S. citizenship to their New Year’s resolutions list.
After being a green card holder for the past five years (or three years if you are still married to the U.S. citizen spouse who petitioned for you), you may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship through the Naturalization process.
You may be contemplating whether becoming a U.S. citizen is the right decision for you. For eligible green card holders, U.S. citizenship may suit you if you plan to reside in the United States permanently (or at least long-term). However, for some green card holders, deciding whether or not to pursue U.S. citizenship through Naturalization may be more complex for various reasons.
About U.S. Citizenship and the Naturalization Process:
U.S. citizenship can be obtained in several ways, such as through birth in the United States, being the child of a United States citizen (even if you were born in another country), or, as mentioned above, through Naturalization. In this article, we will focus solely on the Naturalization process.
Naturalization is the legal process through which green card holders may apply with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to become a citizen of the United States, even though they currently hold citizenship in another country.
Eligibility for Naturalization in the U.S. depends on the green card holder’s ability to meet specific criteria, such as:
- Being at least 18 years old at the time you submit your application for Naturalization;
- Having been lawfully admitted to the U.S. as a Lawful Permanent Resident;
- Demonstrating that you have continuously resided in the U.S. during the applicable period;
- Showing that you have been physically present in the U.S. during the relevant period;
- Proving that you have lived for at least three months in a state or USCIS district having jurisdiction over your place of residence;
- Showing that you are a person of good moral character during the applicable period;
- Demonstrating an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution;
- Ability to read, write, and speak basic English;
- Having knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. Civics; and
- Taking an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
Going through the Naturalization Process from Beginning to End:
Eligible green card holders may apply for Naturalization within ninety (90) days before their five- or three-year green card “anniversary.” After reviewing your eligibility for Naturalization (as discussed above), you may begin the application process.
STEP ONE- Submit your Form N-400 and pay your USCIS filing fee(s)
To apply for Naturalization with the USCIS, applicants must submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and pay the applicable filing fee(s). Applicants should be sure to submit all relevant documentation with their application package. The most commonly submitted documents are as follows:
- A copy of your green card (front and back);
- A copy of your marriage certificate and evidence of your bona fide marriage (if applying based on marriage to a U.S. citizen for the past three years);
- Copies of your criminal and arrest records and evidence to support your Good Moral Character (if applicable);
- Two passport-styled photographs.
You may need to submit additional evidence for your application based on individual factors, which may include but is not limited to proof of your or your spouse’s military status, evidence of your U.S. citizen spouse’s employment abroad, or proof of your medical certification for disability exceptions to name a few.
For a successful Naturalization process, it is imperative to seek the assistance of a knowledgeable immigration attorney to help prepare your application package.
STEP TWO- Attend your biometrics appointment (if applicable)
The Biometrics appointment is commonly known as the “fingerprint appointment.” The USCIS will send a biometrics appointment notice via mail or through the applicant’s online USCIS account to inform the applicant of the time, date, and location of their appointment.
At the scheduled appointment, a designated representative of the United States government will be present to collect the applicant’s fingerprints and capture a photograph. The applicant’s biometrics are required for the U.S. government to conduct a thorough background check, a standard procedure for identification purposes. The applicant should bring their original biometrics appointment notice and a valid photo identification to the appointment.
In some cases, the USCIS may waive the biometrics appointment if they can use the applicant’s previously collected biometrics.
STEP THREE- Attend your Naturalization interview
An immigration officer will conduct the Naturalization interview. During the appointment, the officer will review your application package with you and ask you questions based on the information provided within your application. It is imperative that you check your application package beforehand and ensure that all information provided is accurate and truthful.
Additionally, the officer will administer the Civics and English tests. During the English test, the applicant must demonstrate their competency in the English language through speaking, reading, and writing. Similarly, during the Civics examination, the applicant must answer questions about the American government and history. To prepare for the Civics exam, the applicant should visit the official USCIS website for a copy of the Civics study guide.
Some applicants may be eligible for an exemption or modification to the Civics and English examination depending on age, time as a green card holder, or medical disabilities. You should consult with an immigration attorney to determine whether you qualify for any exceptions or modifications.
STEP FOUR- Wait to receive a decision from the USCIS regarding your application
Once the immigration officer has gone over your application package and administered the examinations, the officer may either render a decision in the application to either approve the application, deny it, or request the applicant to submit additional evidence by a specified date. Otherwise, the immigration officer will end the interview and instruct the applicant to wait for the final decision to arrive via mail.
While most applicants receive a decision within 2-4 weeks, by law, the USCIS has 120 days after the interview to render a decision.
STEP FIVE- Wait to receive a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance
Suppose the immigration officer has decided to approve your application for Naturalization. In that case, you will receive notice of your appointment to attend the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, also known as the “Oath Ceremony.” The Ceremony notice will inform the applicant of the time, date, and location of their appointment.
STEP SIX- Attend your Oath of Allegiance Ceremony and become a Naturalized U.S. citizen
When taking the Oath of Allegiance, the applicant agrees to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the United States against its enemies, give up allegiance to any other nation or sovereign, and renounce hereditary or noble titles (if applicable).
During the Ceremony, USCIS officials will request the applicant to surrender their green cards, as the cards will no longer be required. In return, the applicant will receive their Naturalization Certificate as evidence of their new U.S. citizenship. The applicant should present their Naturalization Certificate when updating their record at the DMV and when applying for their U.S. passport.
It is essential to check your Naturalization Certificate to ensure that all information, such as your name, date of birth, and A-number, are listed correctly. If any corrections are required, promptly address them with a USCIS official before leaving the Ceremony.
After the Ceremony has concluded and you’ve received your Naturalization Certificate, you’ll officially be a U.S. citizen!
Applying for Naturalization with a Criminal Record
A common issue faced by many green card holders interested in becoming U.S. citizens is their concern about their Naturalization application being denied based on a prior criminal conviction or arrest. As mentioned above, one of the essential requirements for Naturalization is that the applicant establishes that they have been and continue to be “an individual of good moral character” during the applicable five or three-year statutory period.
For applicants with a criminal record, whether a misdemeanor, felony or even as simple as receiving a traffic ticket for which they’ve paid a fine, the USCIS can consider that record when deciding whether or not to approve or deny the application. Having a criminal record can negatively affect an applicant’s Good Moral Character.
The USCIS defines Good Moral Character as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community where the applicant resides.” In other words, establishing Good Moral Character means proving you are an upstanding member of society.
When applying for Naturalization, having a criminal record can be a significant concern. As a result, it is often in the green card holder’s best interest to submit their application for Naturalization after five or three years have passed since the incident or date of conviction. However, options are available besides simply postponing your application, such as seeking an “exception,” obtaining a pardon, or utilizing alternative post-conviction relief options.
It’s worth noting that the weight that USCIS places on your criminal record can be challenging to predict. That’s why it’s crucial to work with an experienced immigration attorney who can provide the guidance and support you need to make the best decisions for your particular situation. With the right attorney on your side, you can feel confident in navigating the complex process of applying for Naturalization.
If you are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, or if you are on the fence about it and would like to gather additional information, please get in touch with the Law Office of Olivia C Cummings to schedule a detailed and informative consultation with our experienced attorney. We will guide you through the entire process and answer your questions.
Attention: This article was written to provide general information, which should not be construed as legal advice. If you are seeking advice on a specific legal matter, you are encouraged to contact our law firm directly and schedule a consultation with our Immigration Attorney for a thorough review of your case.