Applying for Citizenship – Lawyers

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 What Is Citizenship?

U.S. citizenship conveys many benefits to foreigners who can attain it. These include the right to vote, freedom to travel outside the country without fear of losing one’s immigration status, freedom from deportation, eligibility for government jobs, access to certain government benefits, and the right to petition to have family members qualified as U.S. permanent residents.

U.S. citizenship is granted automatically to people born in the United States or a U.S. territory (for example, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Children of U.S. citizens also qualify automatically for citizenship, no matter where they were born.

For all others, citizenship must be requested, and they must qualify for it. The process of becoming a citizen is called “naturalization.” Naturalization can be a lengthy and complicated process.

Who Qualifies for Citizenship?

Only a person with a permanent residence visa, more commonly known as a green card, may apply for naturalization. At least 5 years must have passed from the date they received their green card before they may file for the naturalization process (or at least 3 years if the applicant is applying as the spouse of a U.S. citizen). The applicant must be at least 18 years old.

There are several other requirements to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. The applicant must demonstrate the following:

  • The ability to read, write, and speak English (there are exceptions)
  • Knowledge and understanding of United States history and government (again, there are exceptions possible)
  • Good moral character
  • An attachment to the ideals of the United States Constitution
  • A generally favorable disposition towards the United States
  • Before applying, a continuous physical presence or residence in the United States for a specified period, which varies according to visa specifics

How Do I Begin the Naturalization Process?

To initiate the naturalization process, a person must file Form N-400 (“Application for Naturalization”) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Along with the application, they must submit the following:

  • A copy of their green card
  • Required photographs if they live outside the U.S.
  • The fees
  • If they are applying as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, they must submit
    • Evidence that the spouse is a U.S. citizen (e.g., a birth certificate or copy of a U.S. passport)
    • Marriage certificate
    • Proof of termination of any prior marriages (e.g., death certificate or divorce decree)
    • Documents evidencing that they and their spouse are, in fact, together as a married couple, such as birth certificates of children with both parents’ names, U.S. tax returns, or bank or other financial records that show joint ownership of accounts

Other documents are required depending on special circumstances, such as explaining any time spent living outside the U.S. while a permanent resident, being in the U.S. military, or having a criminal record. Male applicants must show they registered with the Selective Service or file a form with Selective Service (and a copy with USCIS) explaining why they did not register.

After applying for citizenship, the applicant will be scheduled for an interview with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration (“BCIS”) (formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or “INS”). The interview will be in English unless the applicant qualifies for a few limited exceptions. The interview will be conducted in English, unless the applicant qualifies for a few very limited exceptions.

The applicant will be required to take an exam that tests their knowledge of U.S. history, the U.S. Constitution, and reading, writing, and speaking English. The USCIS offers a practice test online for the civics and history portion of the test. During the citizenship interview, the officer will ask 10 questions on civics, and the applicant must provide correct answers to 6 out of 10.

A person becomes a United States citizen when they take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This Oath is generally administered in a formal ceremony, and the date will be recorded on the citizen’s Certificate of Naturalization.

What Will Happen When They Have Completed All the Requirements?

USCIS will mail a notice of the decision to them. If they filed their application form online, they could also access the electronic notice through their online account. The decision will indicate that the application is:

  • Granted – USCIS will approve their Form N-400 (application form) if the evidence in the record establishes that they are eligible for naturalization.
  • Continued – USCIS may continue the application if they need to provide additional evidence/documentation, fail to provide USCIS with the correct documents, or fail the English or civics test.
  • Denied – USCIS will deny Form N-400 if the evidence in the record establishes they are not eligible for naturalization.

What Are Some Tips for Me When Applying for Citizenship?

Some tips when applying for citizenship include:

  • Gather documents and make a citizenship document checklist.
  • Make a note of anything that might disqualify you from the application. Did you leave the United States for a long time while you were a permanent resident? Have you had any criminal violations on your record? It will help to clear these up before spending time and resources on the application.
  • Check for updates and recent changes in the law. Immigration laws and procedures are subject to frequent change, so you may want to check if any major changes recently might affect your application status. It may be necessary to consult with a lawyer if you need additional information or guidance.
  • Try not to make any errors or omissions on your forms. These can slow down the application process greatly. Also, an error can cast doubt upon an application and may result in the immigration authorities investigating to determine whether any fraud is involved.
  • Go online and read the current civics questions asked during the interview. It is important to be up to date on the names of the current President and other elected officials.

This last point is very important. If authorities conclude that there is fraudulent intent in the immigration application, they may deny it. Also, you may be subject to other consequences, such as deportation or criminal charges.

Lastly, do not give up. If your citizenship application has been denied, or you have failed the exam portion of the application, it may be possible to request an appeal of your case. Depending on your case, applying again later may also be possible. Consult with an immigration lawyer to determine what your options are.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help When Applying for Citizenship?

The citizenship application process can often be complex as it involves many steps. If you or a loved one would like to become a United States citizen, working with an experienced and local citizenship attorney can make the process easier, increase your chances of success, and help minimize delays or errors.

An immigration lawyer can help you determine which immigration process you are eligible for, assist with paperwork, and ensure applications and documents are submitted on time. Your immigration attorney will also be able to represent you in court should any issues arise concerning the citizenship application.


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