United States citizenship is the culmination of an immigrant’s integration into American life. U.S. citizens can vote, hold certain public offices, petition for foreign relatives, and remain outside the U.S. for lengthy periods of time without fear of abandoning their residence. Also, importantly, a U.S. citizen may not be removed or denied entry into the U.S. There also are intangible reasons people seek citizenship, such as a desire to become fully integrated into their community.
Benach Collopy will help you attain this important goal. The requirements for citizenship seem simple enough but, in practice, can become significantly complex. An applicant for citizenship must:
- Have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence
- Have been continuously resident in the U.S. for five years
- Have been physically present in the U.S. for half of those five years
- Have good moral character for the five years preceding the application
- Be able to speak, read and write basic English
- Pass a basic civics test
- Be attached the principles and values of the Constitution
An individual may apply for citizenship three months before completing the five year period. Applicants for citizenship will be fingerprinted and interviewed.
While the vast majority of individuals will be able to obtain citizenship with a minimum of difficulty, these deceptively simple requirements are more complicated than they appear.
“Lawful admission” for permanent residence
The law requires an applicant for citizenship to have been “lawfully admitted” for permanent residence. This means more than that an applicant simply has obtained permanent residence. It means the applicant must have obtained permanent residence legally. One of the areas of inquiry in citizenship is if an applicant obtained her citizenship legally, and the CIS will review the basis for residence and events that occurred afterward to determine whether residence was properly granted. For example, if an applicant obtained residence through marriage, but was divorced two months after getting the green card, the CIS will inquire about the bona fides of the marriage. This inquiry is not limited to whether the applicant made some type of misrepresentation, but also whether CIS properly granted adjustment of status. For example, if an applicant was in removal proceedings before being granted residence, yet the CIS granted the applicant residence, it is possible that the CIS granted residence wrongly, as it may not have had jurisdiction. In evaluating whether an applicant was lawfully admitted for permanent residence, the CIS will look for deliberate deception by the applicant or CIS error, for which the applicant bears no responsibility.
Good moral character
The law requires an applicant to have “good moral character” for the required five year period prior to applying for citizenship (or three years in the case of a spouse of a citizen). “Good moral character” is defined in the statute, and does not mean perfect character. It means that an applicant lives up to the common standards of the community. A good moral character inquiry includes review of criminal convictions and charges, failure to pay taxes or child support, and false statements. In addition, young men must remember to register for the Selective Service (the draft) upon obtaining residence. Failure to register can be used as a basis to find a lack of good moral character.
Although the statute states that the five (or three) year period prior to applying for naturalization is the period for which good moral character must be demonstrated, the CIS is allowed to consider bad conduct beyond the period if there is no evidence of rehabilitation. Thus, old convictions or problems may need to be addressed and rehabilitation documented.
Good moral character is one area where the CIS feels it can act at will. As good moral character is inherently subjective, CIS often takes extreme positions in reaching decisions based upon good moral character. This is often an error. Good moral character is defined by statute and there are specific rules that govern this analysis. Counsel is recommended in any case where there are factors that may lead to a finding that the applicant lacks good moral character.
Continuous Residence & Physical Presence
An applicant must show that she has resided in the U.S. continuously since obtaining her residence. Travel outside the United States for more than 6 months at a time may be considered to interrupt the continuity of residence. Even if the travel outside the U.S. is not for more than six months, the CIS can look at lengthy travel abroad, particularly where the applicant accepted employment abroad and did not leave family or property ties to the U.S. It is advised that anyone contemplating extended travel outside the U.S. communicate with counsel prior to departure.
In addition, the law requires the applicant to have been physically present in the U.S. for half of the statutory period (five or three years). This requires the applicant to have been physically in the U.S. This is not an issue very often and usually comes up only when there are significant absences that come close to the limit.
English and Civics Requirements
Applicants must be able to pass a basic test to demonstrate their ability to understand spoken English and to read, write, and speak English. Certain older and long term residents may be exempted from this exam.
In addition, an applicant must pass a basic test in English civics. This exam is ten questions from a list of one hundred specified potential questions. The one hundred questions and answers can be found here.
Support the Constitution and Willingness to Bear Arms for the U.S.
The U.S. requires applicants for citizenship to affirm that they will support the Constitution and the laws of the United States. An applicant must be willing to bear arms on behalf of the U.S. or, in the case of conscientious objection, agree to perform noncombatant civilian service in the time of war.
Applications must be filed in the state in which the applicant lives. In fact, an applicant must have lived in a state for at least three months before filing. There is a $595 fee to file the N-400 Application for Naturalization form. An extra $85 fee is required to process biometrics. As of November 2012, applications for citizenship are receiving interviews about 6 months after filing the N-400 Application. The CIS will often reach a decision at an interview. If the CIS is unable to reach an interview at the interview, the CIS has 120 days to reach a decision before the applicant can go to federal court to compel a decision. An unfavorable decision may be appealed within CIS. After that appeal, if the decision is still to deny the application, an applicant may appeal to federal court.
The attorneys and staff at Benach Collopy have extensive expertise in obtaining naturalization for our clients. We enjoy working on naturalization cases because the reasons people seek citizenship are so deeply personal and emotional. At Benach Collopy, we are committed to ensuring that the dream of American citizenship is available to those the law allows, which is often a much larger group than the CIS happens to think may become citizens.
We’ll get you there.