Naturalization is the immigration process through which an individual becomes a U.S. Citizen. It is the only way 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 an individual who has a permanent visa, known as a green card, can apply for naturalization.
Naturalization may, in some cases, be a lengthy and complicated process. The applicant is required to submit various forms and documents that prove their eligibility.
An individual is a U.S. citizen by birth if they were born within the boundaries of the United States. This includes territories such as:
- Puerto Rico; and
- The Virgin Islands.
In addition, individuals who are born abroad may be U.S. citizens at birth if both of their parents are U.S. citizens at the time of their birth or if at least one of their parents lived in the U.S. at some point during their lifetime. In addition, an individual may be a U.S. citizen at birth if one of their parents is a U.S. citizen, subject to additional requirements.
What are the Benefits of Naturalization?
There are many benefits to naturalization. A naturalized citizen is given various privileges, which include the right to:
- Register and vote;
- Hold a United States passport; and
- Serve on a jury.
What is Required to Become a Naturalized Citizen?
There are several requirements to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. The requirements for naturalization include:
- The ability to read, write, and speak English;
- A knowledge about and understanding of United States history and government;
- Good moral character;
- An attachments to the ideals of the United States Constitution;
- A favorable disposition towards the United States; and
- A continued physical presence or residence in the United States for a specified period.
An individual may submit their completed Application for Naturalization, or Form N-400, to the Proper United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) center. An individual should also submit any documents and any other additional information which has been requested.
An individual should be sure to make copies of their application and all documents submitted for their records. It is important to note that an individual should not send their original documents with their application unless an original signature is required.
What is the Naturalization Process Like?
The naturalization application process may take an average of 6 months to complete from the time an individual applies. In order to ensure that an individual’s application is not returned to them before it is fully evaluated, it is important to ensure all requested information is included, such as:
- The naturalization application;
- Having current photographs taken;
- Having fingerprints taken;
- Being interviewed, after which the individual will know whether or not their application has been approved; and
- Taking the Oath of Allegiance
Honesty is an integral part of the naturalization process. If an individual has been convicted of a crime, even if that conviction has been expunged, the details must be disclosed to the USCIS. If an individual conceals or falsifies information, the USCIS may deny their application.
An individual’s time as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) begins on the date that they were granted LPS status. This status is indicated on their Permanent Resident Card, which was previously known as the Alien Registration Card.
The time period it takes to become a naturalized citizen varies for each individual applicant, but it varies between 5 to 7 years. This is because each individual must wait 5 years from the date they received LPR status before they may file for the naturalization process. Once the application has been filed, it may take anywhere from 1 to 2 years to complete the naturalization filing process including the required interviews and tests.
An individual becomes a United States citizen on the date that they take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This Oath is typically administered in a formal ceremony and the date will be recorded on their Certificate of Naturalization.
Does COVID-19 Affect the Naturalization Process at All?
Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on the U.S. naturalization process. There are temporary changes which have been made by the USCIS in response to the pandemic. These changes include:
- Health and safety precautions at USCIS facilities;
- Automatic 60 days extension from the original due date for Requests for Evidence (RFEs), Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs), and other responses;
- An extra 60 days from the decision date 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; and
- Other temporary case processing policies in place in response to the pandemic.
As a result of the pandemic, there will likely be delays in receiving and processing naturalization applications. Copies of certain signatures will be accepted in place of original signatures.
There are also temporary changes to naturalization ceremonies. The ceremony will be much shorter than normal. In addition, applicants will receive a flyer with links to videos they can watch online which would traditionally be shown during the ceremony.
Additionally, unless the applicant has a disability and requires the assistance of another individual, no other individuals will be allowed to accompany the applicant to the ceremony. It is important to visit the USCIS website regularly for updates on COVID-19 related changes.
Can I be a Naturalized Citizen if I am in the U.S. Military?
If an individual is serving with the United States Armed Forces, they may apply for citizenship if they fulfill the required criteria. While certain conditions must be met for an individual to qualify as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, they may be exempt from satisfying the required residence and physical presence obligations as well as from paying the naturalization filing fee.
What if My Naturalization Application is Denied?
If an individual is denied naturalization, they can appeal and request an administrative review of their applications, which includes a hearing with an immigration officer. The details of the process and the paperwork requirements, Form N-336, are disclosed in the denial letter.
In addition, an individual may be able to reapply at a later date. Although they will have already turned in a full application, they are still required to submit a new application form, pay the application fee, and retake their photographs and fingerprints.
What are My Responsibilities Once I Become Naturalized?
Once an individual becomes a naturalized citizen, they are required to uphold certain duties pledged to in the Oath of Allegiance. The Oath of Allegiance is the final step to citizenship. Pursuant to the Oath, all applicants must promise to:
- Give up allegiances to other countries;
- Support and defend the United States Constitution and United States laws;
- Swear allegiance to the United States; and
- Serve the United States when required.
Do I Need an Immigration Lawyer?
Yes, it is essential to have an immigration attorney for any immigration issues you may be facing. A lawyer is best equipped to help you through the naturalization process and to answer any questions that you may have about your citizenship status.
Your lawyer can help you prepare for your interview and prepare the documents that are required for your naturalization application. If your application is denied, your attorney can help you with the appeal process, if available.