United States citizenship is what gives a person as many rights as the country has to offer under its laws. A United States citizen has several rights, such as:
- The right to vote;
- The right to petition for other family members to immigrate to the United States in order to become citizens as well; and
- The right to live in other countries without losing the right to return back to the States.
Becoming a citizen also grants many rights and privileges under the United States Constitution, as well as applicable federal and state laws. However, it is important to note that citizenship also imposes a number of obligations, such as serving on a jury when ordered to do so and paying taxes.
How Do I Become A United States Citizen?
Naturalization is the immigration process in which an individual becomes a United States citizen. It is the only way in which an individual can become a United States Citizen if they were not born a U.S. citizen, or if they did not acquire citizenship immediately after they were born.
Only a person who has a permanent visa, which is more commonly known as a green card, may apply for naturalization. Naturalization can be a lengthy and complicated process, as the applicant is required to submit various forms and documents in order to prove their eligibility.
A person is considered to be a United States citizen by birth if they were born within the boundaries of the United States, including U.S. territories such as:
- Puerto Rico; and
- The Virgin Islands.
Additionally, those who are born abroad may be United States citizens at birth if both of their parents are U.S. citizens at the time of their birth. The same applies if at least one of their parents lived in the States at some point during their lifetime. Further, a person may be a United States citizen at birth if one of their parents is a U.S. citizen, although this is subject to additional requirements.
There are several requirements to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. Examples include, but may not be limited to:
- The ability to read, write, and speak English;
- A knowledge and understanding of United States history and government;
- Good moral character;
- An attachment to the ideals of the United States Constitution;
- A generally favorable disposition towards the United States; and
- A continued physical presence or residence in the United States for a specified period, which may vary according to visa specifics.
What Forms Are Required For United States Citizenship? What Is The United States Citizenship Interview?
Generally speaking, an applicant may submit their completed Application for Naturalization, or Form N-400, to the appropriate United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) center. They should also submit any documents as well as any other additional information which has been requested of them. Other forms for citizenship applications include N-600, N-600k, and N-643.
Applicants must fill out the immigration form appropriate to their situation, and submit it along with:
- A copy of their green card;
- Required photographs; and
- Any applicable fees.
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”). Due to the considerable backlog of cases in the BCIS, applicants will most likely receive an interview after at least 90 days have passed since the application was filed.
It is important to note that most applicants do not receive an interview for many months after they apply. Additionally, the interview will be conducted in English, unless the applicant qualifies for a few very specific exceptions.
Prior to September 2002, the agency charged with overseeing immigration issues was the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”). In September 2002, the Homeland Security Act was passed, transferring the powers of the INS to the Department of Homeland Security. The immigration and citizenship service functions of the INS are now placed under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
What Else Should I Know About United States Citizenship?
Depending on when you were born, and which of your parents was a United States citizen, you may have had U.S. citizenship passed to you as previously mentioned. The United States Congress and the United States Supreme Court have changed citizenship laws many times. As such, if you were born during a specific year to one U.S. citizen parent and one non-citizen parent, the laws determining whether you are a citizen can be different than if you were born the year prior.
To reiterate, the naturalization application process may take up to 6 months to complete from the time of application. In order to ensure that your application is not returned to you before it is fully evaluated, it is important to ensure that all requested information is included, such as:
- The naturalization application;
- Having current photographs and fingerprints taken;
- Being interviewed, after which you will know whether your application has been approved; and
- Taking the Oath of Allegiance.
Honesty is an integral part of the naturalization process. If you have been convicted of a crime, even if that conviction has been expunged, the details of such a charge must be disclosed to the USCIS. If you conceal or falsify information, the USCIS may deny your application.
Your time as a lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) begins on the date that you were granted LPS status. This status is indicated on your Permanent Resident Card, which was previously known as the Alien Registration Card.
The amount of time it takes to become a naturalized citizen varies for each individual applicant, but is generally between 5 to 7 years. This is because each applicant must wait 5 years from the date they received their LPR status before they may file for the naturalization process. Once their application has been filed, it can take up to 2 years to complete the naturalization filing process, including the required interviews and tests.
A person becomes a United States citizen on the date that 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.
How Has COVID19 Affected The Citizenship Process?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the U.S. naturalization process in that temporary changes have been made by the USCIS in response to the pandemic. Examples of these changes include:
- Increased health and safety precautions at USCIS facilities;
- An automatic 60 days extension from the original due date for Requests for Evidence (“RFEs”), Notices of Intent to Deny (“NOIDs”), and other such responses; and
- An additional 60 days from the decision date in which to file an I290B Notice of Appeal or Motion, an N-336 Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings, and Motions to Reopen an N-400.
Because of the pandemic, there will most likely be delays in receiving and processing naturalization applications for many years to come. Additionally, copies of certain signatures will be accepted in place of original signatures.
Additionally, temporary changes have been made to naturalization ceremonies in that the actual ceremony is considerably shorter than normal. Also, applicants will receive a flyer with links to videos that they can watch online, as they would traditionally be shown during the ceremony.
Unless the applicant has a disability and requires the assistance of another individual, no other people will be allowed to accompany the applicant to their ceremony. Applicants should visit the USCIS website regularly for updates on COVID-19 related changes.
Do I Need An Attorney For Citizenship Issues?
If you would like to become a United States citizen, working with an experienced and local immigration attorney can make the process easier and increase your chances of success. An immigration lawyer can help you determine which immigration process you are eligible for, as well as assist with paperwork and ensuring documents are submitted in a timely manner.
Your immigration attorney will also be able to represent you in court, should you have any citizenship issues.