U.S. citizenship is what gives a person as many rights as the U.S. offers under their laws. Among other rights, a U.S citizen has the right to:
- Run for specific offices;
- Petition for other family members to immigrate to the U.S. in order to become citizens; and
- Live in other countries without losing their right to return back to the U.S.
Citizenship also imposes a number of responsibilities on a person, such as serving on a jury when ordered to do so, and paying taxes.
Citizenship can be acquired through birth, or through naturalization. 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 those who have a permanent visa, which is also known as a green card, can apply for naturalization.
Naturalization can be a lengthy and complicated process. The applicant is required to submit various forms and documents in order to prove their eligibility before going through the interview process.
A person is considered to be a U.S. citizen by birth if they were born within the boundaries of the United States. This definition includes territories such as:
- Puerto Rico; and
- The Virgin Islands.
Additionally, those who are born abroad may be considered U.S. citizens at birth if both of their parents are U.S. citizens at the time of their birth. This is also true if at least one of their parents lived in the U.S. at some point during their lifetime. An individual may be considered a U.S. citizen at birth if one of their parents is a U.S. citizen, although this is subject to additional requirements.
What Are Citizenship And Naturalization Requirements?
It is important to note that the immigration process, as well as citizenship and naturalization requirements, can vary with each individual presidential administration. As such, it may be helpful to discuss the matter with an immigration attorney in order to determine what the current process requires.
Before applying for citizenship or naturalization, an applicant must meet specific requirements. Keep in mind that these are different from the document requirements associated with the citizenship application form (Form N-400, Application for Naturalization). Generally speaking, in order to be eligible for citizenship, a person needs to meet the following eligibility requirements:
- The applicant has been a permanent resident for at least 5 years, or has been a permanent resident in the U.S. for at least 3 years and is able to file as the spouse of a U.S. citizen;
- The applicant was present in the U.S. for half of those years;
- The applicant is aged eighteen or older;
- The applicant did not make any other country their permanent home during the time in which they resided in the United States;
- The applicant has served in the U.S. military and has met various requirements associated with service and citizenship; and/or
- The applicant meets various other requirements related to being the child of U.S. citizens.
The citizenship process also involves other steps and requirements, such as interviews and a naturalization test, which will be further discussed below.
Some other requirements for naturalization include:
- 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; and
- A favorable disposition towards the United States at large.
There is no concrete definition of “good moral character” for the purpose of an immigration proceeding. The term has been interpreted to mean that your behavior meets the moral standard of the average citizen in your community. Under this definition, customs and expectations relating to good moral character differ according to locality.
There are various factors that will affect a determination of your moral character. Some examples of poor moral character include, but may not be limited to:
- Refusing to pay court-ordered child support;
- Failing to file or to pay income taxes;
- Neglecting to register for Selective Service if you are required to do so;
- Lying to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to attain
- immigration benefits;
- Driving drunk or habitual drunkenness;
- Engaging in illegal gambling as a means of earning primary income; and
- Committing adultery.
An applicant may submit their completed Application for Naturalization, or Form N-400, to the proper USCIS) center. They should also submit any documents and any other additional information which has been requested of them. Something to note is that an applicant should be sure to make copies of their application and all documents submitted for their records. Meaning, the applicant should not send their original documents with their application unless an original signature is required.
What Is The Naturalization Test?
As previously mentioned, obtaining U.S. citizenship through naturalization requires taking a naturalization test. It is the final step in becoming a naturalized citizen, before taking the Oath of Allegiance after passing the test. It may also be referred to as the “citizenship exam.” The naturalization test is intended to determine whether an applicant meets the English and Civics requirements in order to be considered a citizen.
The naturalization test is composed of two parts: the English Test, and the Civics Test. The English test is composed of writing, speaking, and reading components. The Civics Test challenges the applicant’s knowledge of U.S. history and culture.
The English language component of the exam tests an applicant’s English language proficiency. This ability to speak English is determined by a USCIS officer during the applicant’s interview. For the reading portion, the applicant must read one out of three sentences correctly. For the writing portion, the applicant must write one out of three sentences correctly.
There may be waivers available for the naturalization test, depending on the applicant’s background. These waivers are generally associated with the applicant’s age and medical condition. Applicants can be exempt from taking the English proficiency test, but not the civics test, under the following circumstances:
- They are 50 years or older, have a valid green card, and have lived in the United States for at least 20 years; or
- They are 55 years or older, have a valid green card, and have lived in the United States for at least 15 years.
The civics portion of the exam tests the applicant’s knowledge of U.S. history and government. During the naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will ask 10 civics questions from a list of 100 questions. In order to pass, the applicant must answer 6 of the 10 questions correctly. The questions are not multiple choice. Some examples of commonly asked questions include:
- Who is the current U.S. President?
- What is the name of the current Vice President?
- What is the political party of the current U.S. President?
- How many U.S. Senators are there?
- What are the first 10 Constitutional Amendments called?
- What branch of government does the President head?
All applicants are given two opportunities to pass the naturalization exam. If they fail any of the tests, they may be retested on that portion of the test between 60 and 90 days from the date of their initial interview. If you pass one part of the exam but not the other, they can take the exam they did not pass within the specified time frame.
Do I Need An Attorney For Help With U.S. Citizenship Requirements?
If you have any questions regarding U.S. citizenship, or are experiencing issues associated with the subject, you should consult with an experienced and local immigration lawyer.
They can help you understand current laws and requirements, and determine the best path to citizenship based on your specific needs. Should any issues arise, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.