So, you have been a Lawful Permanent Resident (i.e., green card holder) for the past five (5) years (or three (3) years if you are married to the U.S. Citizen spouse who petitioned for you). You are now contemplating becoming a U.S. Citizen and whether or not it is the right decision for you.
The short and simple answer is that U.S. Citizenship may be right for you if you plan to live in the United States permanently. However, for some Lawful Permanent Residents, the answer is slightly more complex for various reasons.
How to Become a U.S. Citizen:
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 through a process known as Naturalization.
Naturalization is the legal process through which a citizen of a foreign country can become a citizen of the United States. To be naturalized, the foreign individual must first meet specific criteria to apply for U.S. Citizenship. Then, the individual must complete an application, attend an interview with the USCIS, and pass an English and a Civics test (unless they meet an exception to this requirement). Upon completing these steps, the foreign individual must take an Oath of Allegiance to finalize the Naturalization process and officially become a citizen of the United States.
The Naturalization Process:
Applicants may apply for Naturalization within ninety (90) days before meeting their five (5) or three (3) year residency requirement. Before you can apply for Naturalization in the United States, you’ll need to meet specific eligibility requirements. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides the following criteria for Naturalization applicants:
- The applicant must be at least eighteen years old;
- The applicant must have been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least five (5) years before applying for Naturalization (or three (3) years if you are married to a United States citizen);
- The applicant must have been physically present in the United States for at least five (5) years (or three (3) years) at the time of application.;
- The applicant must be able to understand and speak English (unless they qualify for an exception); and
- The applicant must be of good moral character.
After filing the Naturalization application, the USCIS will schedule your biometrics appointment, when your fingerprints will be taken (typically 1-2 months after filing your application). You will receive another appointment from the USCIS for your Naturalization interview and testing. After completing your interview and testing, you will attend a swearing-in ceremony (final step), where you will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
Applying for U.S. Citizenship with a Criminal Record?
A common issue faced by many green card holders who are ready to apply for U.S. Citizenship is that they are concerned about their applications being denied based on a prior criminal charge or arrest. That is because, to qualify for U.S. Citizenship through the Naturalization process, the law requires that you establish that you’ve resided in the United States for a specific number of years (i.e., often 3 or 5 years) and that during that time, you have been and continue to be “an individual of good moral character.”
Suppose you have been convicted of breaking the law. In that case, whether it be a misdemeanor, felony, or even as simple as receiving a traffic ticket for which you’ve paid a fine, the USCIS can consider that conviction in deciding whether or not to approve or deny your application based on the “good moral character” grounds. As a result, it is often in the green card holder’s best interest to submit their application for Naturalization after three (3) or five (5) years have passed since the incident or date of conviction.
However, there are other options besides postponing your application. Your criminal history may fall under an “exception,” be excused or forgiven through a pardon, or be resolved through alternative post-conviction relief options. Predicting how the USCIS will react to your criminal record is often difficult. Under these circumstances, it is highly recommended to work with an Experienced Immigration Attorney.
If you are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen or 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.