Many foreign nationals dream of ultimately becoming a U.S. citizen. This process, formally referred to as “naturalization”, carries with it several benefits and great symbolic meaning. Recently, in commemoration of the creation of the United States of America on the 4th of July, various government officials performed naturalization ceremonies all over the country, welcoming more than 7,800 new U.S. citizens.
Who is Eligible for Citizenship?
All persons born on U.S. soil (with the exception of children born to foreign diplomats) are automatically U.S. citizens – regardless of the legal status of their parents.
Importantly, children born abroad to U.S. citizens can also acquire citizenship at birth. For instance, a child born overseas to U.S. parents will also automatically be a citizen as long as one of the parents resided in the U.S. or one of its territories before the child was born. Additionally, if a child is born overseas to one foreign national parent and one U.S. citizen parent, the child will acquire citizenship as long as the U.S. parent was physically present in the U.S. for a specified period of time as determined by the U.S. Department of State.
Along with those who automatically acquire U.S. citizenship at birth, foreign nationals can become U.S. citizens after they have been lawful permanent residents (green card holders) for a period of five years. If the foreign national obtained permanent residence through marriage to a U.S. citizen, this period is shortened to three years.
Requirements for Naturalization
In order to file the naturalization application, the permanent resident must meet a number of requirements. The applicant must have continuously resided in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least 5 years and must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months in the 5 year period immediately preceding the application. Moreover, the applicant must have been living in his/her current state for at least 3 months before submitting the application. Once the application is submitted, the permanent resident must continue to reside in the U.S. until citizenship is granted.
In addition to these timing requirements, applicants must also be able to speak, write, and read English and must possess a thorough knowledge and understanding of the history and government of the United States.
Applicants must be able to demonstrate they are of a good moral character and that they are attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
The Naturalization Process
Qualified applicants file an N-400 Application for Naturalization with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application must be accompanied by a number of supporting documents, such as copies of the applicant’s green card, police record, and proof of residency, as well as the current application filing fee.
After USCIS reviews the application, it will schedule a naturalization interview. At the interview, the USCIS officer will question the applicant about his/her background, length and place of residence, and other information that is relevant to the case. The officer will also administer the English language and civics tests.
Once the applicant passes the interview, the applicant becomes a U.S. citizen upon taking the Oath of Allegiance. Sometimes, the oath will be administered at the naturalization interview. If not, the oath ceremony will be scheduled for a later date.
Naturalization carries with it numerous benefits including the right to vote in U.S. elections and the right to obtain and carry a U.S. passport. The incoming immigration reform may affect naturalization opportunities for many classes of foreign nationals, so be sure to check back with our blog on a regular basis to remain informed on these crucial immigration updates.
Additional Blog Posts
Update: DOMA and Immigration, ImmigRantings, July 10, 2013
The Possible Impact of Sequestration for Employers and Immigrant Workers, ImmigRantings, April 22, 2013