Citizenship entitles a person to the full protections and benefits of U.S. law. Citizenship is granted automatically if a person is born in the U.S. Non-citizens may obtain citizen status through naturalization. Naturalization is available after the person has migrated to the U.S. and obtained lawful permanent resident status.
Citizenship provides a person with rights such as the right to vote and work in the U.S. Citizenship can also be acquired through other means, such as marriage. U.S. citizens are also responsible for specific duties, such as serving in the military when needed.
What Is a U.S. Citizenship Application?
A citizenship application begins the process of naturalization. Naturalization is available for persons who have already been granted the status of a lawful permanent resident. To begin this process, the person needs to obtain and submit Form N-400 to immigration authorities. This form is called “Application for Naturalization.”
Completing the form requires the submission of various documents, such as:
- Photocopy of Permanent Resident Card
- Two color photographs (identical)
- Check/money order for the application fee ($595 + $85 biometrics fee, totaling $680)
Depending on the person’s background and marital status, they may need to submit additional documents, such as:
- Birth certificate
- Marriage documents (if applicable)
- Military service documents (if applicable)
- Legal and criminal records, if any
- Tax returns and bank account info
What Else is Required When Applying for U.S. Citizenship?
The naturalization process also involves other steps besides filling out and submitting the N-400 form and documents.
For instance, the candidate for citizenship will be required to complete an interview and may be further investigated by immigration authorities. At the end of the process, the person will participate in a ceremony in which they renounce their allegiance to other nations and are granted full citizenship.
What Can an Immigration Lawyer Do For Me?
If you’re unsure exactly how to fill out the N-400 Application for Naturalization form, what documents you need, or whether you meet the good moral character and other eligibility requirements, an immigration lawyer can help.
An immigration lawyer also knows the law. If there’s a problem with your eligibility for citizenship, a lawyer will recognize it before you get started on your application. For example, some people are shocked to realize that a long trip they took outside the U.S. might have reset the clock on how long they have to wait to apply for citizenship.
In some cases, this could save you money. If you pay a filing fee for the application (currently $725 for most people as of 2022), you can’t get it back if you are denied because you weren’t actually eligible for citizenship.
An immigration lawyer can save you the time it would take you to figure out how to apply and also the time you might waste if you make a mistake in applying or don’t send the right type of document.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) government agency in charge of naturalization will ask you for more evidence before it approves your application. At the worst, the USCIS could deny your application and make you start all over again.
A lawyer can fill out the N-400 application form for you based on the information you give them, collect necessary documents from you, and make sure the USCIS gets everything it needs for a proper application.
Throughout the process, if USCIS needs something from you or needs to tell you something, it will send your lawyer a copy of any notice it sends you. Your lawyer will deal with USCIS as your representative.
A lawyer can also attend your citizenship interview with you to take notes about what happens during the interview in case you are denied. A lawyer can speak up on your behalf if the USCIS officer needs clarification or asks you inappropriate questions.
What An Immigration Lawyer Can’t Do
If you hire an immigration lawyer, don’t expect to sit back and watch the lawyer do everything.
You have to provide all the information about yourself necessary for the lawyer to fill out the form, answer the lawyer’s questions about things that may have happened in your past, and gather documents that the lawyer asks you for. You’ll need to submit various forms of documentation both with the N-400 and at your interview.
You have to come up with the money for any filing fee you have to pay, and you have to go to a USCIS office to have your fingerprints taken. You’ll have to have your fingerprints taken again for your citizenship interview.
There aren’t many immigration lawyers who will help you with your English or your knowledge of U.S. history and government if you need test-preparation help. The best a lawyer can do is tell you where to find the resources to study and learn. If you don’t have to take the English test at the interview due to age or disability and prefer to use an interpreter at the interview, it’s usually your responsibility to find an interpreter. The lawyer may be able to suggest one or tell you if your local USCIS office will provide one for you.
In the American system, an immigration lawyer does not have any special influence over the government’s decision. There is nothing outside the law a lawyer can do that will make your application process go faster or make it more likely that you will get your citizenship. However, a lawyer will know everything that is legally possible to make your application process go as quickly and successfully as it can.
Your lawyer cannot tell you how to answer any questions on the application form, although they can explain the questions to you so you understand how to answer. At your citizenship interview, your lawyer cannot give you help with the English or civics tests or answer any of the questions the officer asks you unless the officer asks for your lawyer’s help in clarifying something.
How Can I Decide Whether to Hire an Immigration Lawyer?
Whether it’s worth it to hire a lawyer to help you with your citizenship application is a question of how much you think you need the help, how much money the lawyer wants, and how much you’re willing to spend. You might try calling several immigration lawyers in your area to see how much they charge. Find out how experienced they are with citizenship applications when you call.
It might be possible to hire a lawyer for the application part of the process and not to attend the interview with you, in order to get a lower price. Even a simple review creates a lawyer-client relationship and all of the responsibilities that come with it. Most lawyers will want to have complete control over the work product if they are going to take on the lawyer-client responsibilities.
When you’re ready to hire a lawyer, make sure the lawyer-client agreement says exactly what the lawyer is or isn’t going to do for you.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Citizenship Applications?
Applying for citizenship is an extensive process and requires many different steps and documents. You may wish to hire an immigration lawyer if you need help filing for citizenship. Your attorney can provide you with advice and guidance during the process. Also, if you come across any legal issues, your lawyer will be able to help you resolve any problems.