Citizenship & Naturalization

As for many immigrants, your journey is not complete until you have obtained U.S. citizenship. You look forward to the day when you can call yourself an American. The benefits of citizenship are many, including the very important right to vote in federal elections.

Overview

Under current federal law, if you have been a legal permanent resident (“green card” holder) for five years or have been a legal permanent resident for three years, and have been married to a U.S. Citizen during those years, you can apply for naturalization.

In addition to having held your green card for three or five years, there are several other requirements to become a U.S. Citizen:

  • Good Moral Character:  must be a person of good moral character for five years (or three for spouse of U.S. Citizen) prior to the filing and up to the approval of application.
  • Continuous Presence:  generally be a continuous resident for five (or three years if spouse of U.S. Citizen) years subsequent to LPR status.
  • Physical Presence:  must be physically present in the U.S. for at least one-half of the five years (or one-half of the three years if spouse of U.S. Citizen).
  • Pass examination of American history and civics.
  • English language: basic comprehension and conversational speaking ability.

Application Process

The first step is to complete the Application for Naturalization (N-400) and submit the required documentation.  For example, if you have gotten a divorce or have been convicted of a crime you will need to include copies of that documentation.  If you owe any federal or local taxes, you must submit a letter provided by the IRS or state, stating that you have worked out a payment plan for overdue taxes.

If you are applying after three years of marriage to a U.S.citizen, you will need to submit proof of your continued relationship.  Examples of such documents may include: birth certificates of children born during the marriage, jointly filed federal income returns, pictures of you and your spouse, real property purchased together or apartment leases, and shared insurance policies.

Once your application has been submitted to USCIS, you will receive a notification (receipt notice) that the case has been received.  It is a good idea to review all the information on the form, to make sure that all the information is correct.  Next, you will receive a date for a biometrics appointment, where your fingerprints will be taken for purposes of a background check.  Finally, you will receive notice of your interview with USCIS.

The length of time between submitting your application and having your interview vary throughout the country.  USCIS is in the process of streamlining the process, so that applications and interviews are processed on a six month average.

Interview

During your interview with USCIS, the officer is trying to determine that you meet the basic requirements to naturalize and that you have a basic comprehension of the English language.  Your interview starts the moment that the officer calls your name and makes “chit-chat” while you walk to his or her office.  The officer probably does not care if you found the office without difficulty or what the weather will be like that day.  What he does care about is if you can understand his questions and respond.

Once in the office, you will be asked to provide basic documents to prove your identity – typically your “green card,” your driver’s license/state id and your passport.  The officer will then have you raise your right hand and testify that everything you say is the truth.

Your application (N-400) will be reviewed by the officer and he will ask you questions from the form.  It is very important that the information you give during the interview matches what is written in the application.  If there was a mistake made or something that has changed, you must correct that information with the officer.  Failure to do so may have grave consequences.   It is a good idea to review the application a few times before the interview, especially if you are nervous about your English skills.

The officer will then conduct your civics examination; he will ask you a series of questions about the history of the United States, how our government works, and U.S. geography.    You must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly.  You can also expect to read a sentence and write one sentence dictated to you by the officer.

The sequence of the interview does not have to follow any particular order so that the officer may ask give you the exam and then review the N-400 or vice versa.  He may review some of the application, conduct the civics exam and then return to the application.  The officer may even ask you questions from the application out of order. You should be ready for anything!

Conclusion of the Interview

The officer may approve your application or may have to recommend approval, but pass the file to a supervisor for review.  You may be required to return at a later date if the officer requested to see documents that you could not provide during the interview.

If you fail one or two parts of the test, the officer will schedule an appoint to come back for re-testing.  This normally happens between 60 to 90 days of the first interview.  If you fail the second time, your application will be denied and you will have to re-submit the entire application process and pay the USCIS fees.

USCIS may also deny your application on a number of grounds.  For example you were not able to provide the requested documentation regarding a criminal conviction or you lied during the naturalization interview.  If your case is denied, you have 30 days to file a request for a hearing with a USCIS officer.  Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be more advisable to reapply rather than file for a request for a hearing.  Generally, there is no set time frame for when you can re-submit an application for naturalization.

Our immigration attorney has helped many lawful permanent residents become U.S.citizens, based on marriage to a U.S.citizen and based on five years of status as a lawful permanent resident.  She has also assisted a number of clients prepare and be successful with second interviews, due to lack of English skills or failure on the civics exam.  In one circumstance, she  won a request for a hearing on a denial of citizenship when an officer incorrectly evaluated the client’s eligibility based on five years, instead of three years, of marriage to a U.S citizen.

Our office also represents clients with obtaining citizenship who were born abroad to U.S.citizen parent(s) or for children whose parents naturalize.

For further information or questions please call 703-596-0235 or send us an email at hainerporras.com to schedule a consultation in our Alexandria, Virginia office. Our firm can help clients in Virginia, Maryland, and DC – or any other state – because immigration is a federal matter.

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For further information or questions please schedule a consultation in our Alexandria, Virginia office.

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