Naturalization is just another word to describe how a person becomes a United States citizen. Citizenship gives a person access to many benefits and responsibilities afforded only to citizens and, once a person has naturalized, protection from the application of immigration laws. Once you become a citizen, you are no longer vulnerable to being found inadmissible to the United States or being deported. There are three main ways to be considered a citizen of the United States: (1) birth in the United States; (2) being born overseas to one or more United States citizen parents; or (3) the formal naturalization process.
Certain requirements must be met before you can naturalize. The first is that you must be a lawful permanent resident or green card holder. Only someone who has obtained a green card can petition to become a United States Citizen. The other requirements are:
- Applicants must be 18 or older;
- Residence for at least three months in the state where naturalization is filed;
- Continuous residency in the United States for five years (three years for those who obtained a green card through marriage to a United States Citizen)
- Continuous physical presence in the United States for half of your conditional residency period; and
- Good moral character.
You will also be required to pass a written and spoken English test and demonstrate basic knowledge of United States history and government. However, there are exceptions to this rule. You may be exempt from taking the English test if you are:
- 50 or older when you file for citizenship and have been a green card holder for 20 years; or
- You are 55 or older and have lived in the United States as a green card holder for 15 years.
Even if you qualify for exemption from the English test, you will still be required to pass the civics test for naturalization. If you are concerned that you or a loved one will not be able to pass the civics test because of a medical disability, talk with your attorney about your concerns.
Naturalization can be an extremely complicated process for individuals with criminal convictions, unpaid child support, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, or long stays outside of the United States. Barriers like these to citizenship can be explained and overcome with the help of an attorney.If you have prior convictions, unpaid child support, or a history of drug and alcohol abuse:
An individual applying for citizenship must show that they have been a person of good moral character for the five years leading up to the filing of their application. Criminal convictions, alcohol or drug abuse, and other factors may impact your ability to show that you have been a person of good moral character and that you are deserving of citizenship.If you have stayed outside of the United States for long periods of time:
The general requirement for naturalization is that you must have continuously resided in the United States for the five years leading up to your application. Absences of six months (180 days) or more will mean that you must prove your absence from the United States was not intended to end your residence in the United States. You can do this by showing that your family remained in the United States, that you did not quit your job in the United States, that you kept a home or apartment in the United States, and so on.
Gaining citizenship is the final step of the immigration process. There are exceptions to many of the rules determining who is eligible to become a citizen and many pitfalls you will need help to avoid. While complex, it is the most rewarding part of the immigration process and the part of a client’s case most looked forward to by immigration attorneys. However simple or complex your case may be, our Nashville immigration lawyer looks forward to helping you navigate this final stage of your journey.