Naturalization & Citizenship
There are two ways to obtain US citizenship. One is automatically conferred where a person is born in the United States or born to United States parents abroad. The other is through naturalization. There are special derivative benefits for eligible children whose parents naturalize, in which case, citizenship is conferred by operation of law.
Caution: If there is a problem of inadmissibility or a deficiency in your permanent resident status, filing an application for citizenship could uncover the legal problems in the permanent residency status resulting in the USCIS starting deportation proceedings.
- To qualify for citizenship, in virtually all cases, you must have first held a green card and been physically present in the United States for a certain period of time.
- If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you must reside in the United States for three (3) years. Having held a conditional green card for two years counts towards the three years.
- Refugees and asylees wait only four years from the date of their approval for permanent residence to file their application for naturalization.
- If you are married to an American citizen who is employed abroad by the U.S. government and you will be joining him/her, you may apply for naturalization as soon as you receive your green card.
- Otherwise, residence in the United States must be for a period for five years.
- You are eligible to apply ninety days prior to fulfilling the physical presence requirement.
- At least one-half of the above-stated times must have been spent physically inside the United States;
- You must also show that your period of time of permanent residence was not interrupted by substantial times outside the United States:
- If you are absent for one year or more, it erases any time toward the physical presence total and you must start adding up your time all over again. Example: a green card holder whose physical presence requirement is five years has held her green card for 4 years. She leaves the United States to visit her family in England . She is absent for 1 year. When she returns to the United States , her physical presence is reset to zero and she must start over, making her total time as a legal permanent resident to be 10 years before she may apply for naturalization.
- Absences from the United States for less than six months would not affect your physical presence requirement.
- Absence of more than six months but less than one year may also wipe out your accrued time unless you can show that your absence does not interrupt your continued residence. Examples of acts that do not interrupt continued residence:
- If you maintained employment in the U.S. during your absence;
- Your immediate family member remained in the U.S.;
- You had full access to your U.S. home during your absence; or
- You were not employed abroad.
- In addition to satisfying U.S. physical presence requirements, you must have resided for at least three months within the state or USCIS district where you file your application for naturalization.
- You must be 18 years of age at the time of applying. There are two exceptions:
- If you served honorably in the military during certain periods you may naturalize regardless of age.
- Minors with at least one citizen parent may be naturalized via the parentâ€™s application.
- You must be able to speak, read and write English and be familiar with American history and government.
- If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 26 you must register for the Selective Service .
Good Moral Character
You must be a person of good moral character. You are not a person of good moral character if:
- You have ever been convicted of murder.
- After November 29, 1990, you were convicted of an aggravated felony, as defined in the Immigration & Naturalization Act Â§101(a) (43).
- During the statutory residence period you:
- Were convicted of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude.
- You were convicted of two or more offenses and the aggregate sentences imposed added up to at least five years.
- You violated any law of the United States, any state, or any foreign country relating to a controlled substance except for a single offense for possession of marijuana of 30 grams or less.
- You were confined to a penal institution for a total of 180 days or more.
- You admitted committing any criminal act in the United States or abroad for which there was never a formal charge, indictment, arrest, or conviction
- You have given false testimony to obtain any immigration benefit, where the testimony was made under oath and with the purpose of obtaining those benefits.
- You are or were involved in prostitution or commercialized vice as described in the Immigration & Nationality Act Â§212(a)(2)(D).
- You are or were involved in alien smuggling. An exception exists if you smuggled or caused to smuggle qualifying relatives.
- You are or have practiced polygamy.
- You were convicted of two or more gambling offense.
- You earn or have earned your income mostly from illegal gambling activities.
- You are or were an alcoholic.
- You willfully failed to support dependents.
- You had an adulterous affair that destroyed your marriage.
Receiving welfare or public benefits before applying for naturalization does not evidence bad moral character unless you obtained the benefits through fraud.
If you have one or more of the above issues you should definitely consult an immigration attorney before filing an application for naturalization.
A Guide to Naturalization