Foreign nationals who wish to become citizens of the United States may do so through the naturalization process. Citizenship confers many advantages -- the right to vote, protection from the government, access to certain jobs and benefits, and the option to hold public office. All naturalization applicants must meet a number of filing requirements, described below.
An applicant for naturalization must be at least eighteen years old.
An applicant must be a legal permanent resident in the U.S. The applicant must have an I-551 (Alien Registration Card) to proceed.
Residence and Physical Presence
Just before applying, a naturalization applicant must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the previous five years. However, if the applicant was absent for more than six months but less than one year, the applicant may still be eligible if he or she can show that the absence was not an abandonment of resident status.
Good Moral Character
A naturalization applicant must show good moral character during the five-year period prior to application (three years if married to a U.S. citizen or one year for certain military exceptions). Murder convictions are a permanent obstacle to naturalization, as are aggravated felony convictions on or after November 29, 1990.
Certain criminal convictions in the five years prior to the application will bar naturalization, but even if the applicant fears that a conviction will ruin his or her application, all convictions must still be disclosed. It is far worse to have U.S. immigration authorities discover a falsehood than to disclose the issue.
Attachment to the Constitution
An application for naturalization must declare the applicant's willingness to support and defend the U.S. and the Constitution. An applicant declares his or her "attachment" to the U.S. and the Constitution at the time he or she takes the oath of allegiance.
Applicants must be able to read, write, speak, and understand English words in ordinary use. Some applicants may be exempt because of age or mental condition.
U.S. Government and History Knowledge
An applicant for naturalization must demonstrate knowledge of the fundamentals of U.S. history and certain principles of U.S. government. Applicants are exempt if they have a medically recognizable physical or mental impairment that affects their ability to learn or understand these topics.
Oath of Allegiance
U.S. citizenship is conferred after the oath of allegiance is taken. A modified oath may be available in certain instances, such as religious opposition to oaths.
Legal Help with the Naturalization Process
Successfully naturalizing in the United States requires a thorough understanding of the steps involved, and careful preparation at each stage. If you or a loved one are considering becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization, you should contact an experienced immigration attorney who can guide you through each step of the process and protect your legal rights