Are you a foreign-born US resident seeking to gain full citizenship in the country? If so, you may need an overview of the naturalization process to illustrate what lies ahead of you.
Becoming a citizen of the United States is typically a long process and, depending on your circumstances, it can become very complicated. It’s a pathway that may have some twists and turns, but a capable immigration attorney can help you overcome any challenges that arise.
An Overview of the Naturalization Process
Generally speaking, an adult who is interested in becoming a citizen of the U.S. needs to file an Application for Naturalization, Form N-400. To qualify for naturalization, you must meet certain eligibility requirements, as per the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The Act sets out that, in order to qualify for naturalization, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Be a lawful permanent resident (i.e., have a green card).
- Have lived in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years.
- Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least thirty months out of the previous five years. If you spent more than six months but less than a year outside the country during this period, you may still be eligible if you can show that the time you spent outside the US was not an abandonment of your resident status.
- Have good moral character. Some criminal convictions that occurred in the five years prior to the application will prevent naturalization, and you must disclose all criminal convictions during the application process.
- Have the ability to speak, read, write, and understand English.
- Be knowledgeable about US government systems and US history.
- Take the Oath of Allegiance.
There are provisions that exempt certain applicants (mostly spouses of US citizens and members of the military) from one or more of these requirements.
What Is the Naturalization Process Like for Children?
The INA also provides for the naturalization of foreign-born residents younger than 18.
- A child under the age of 18 who is a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of a parent who is in the U.S. may automatically acquire U.S. citizenship. To obtain evidence of US citizenship, an Application for Certificate of Citizenship, Form N-600, must be filed on behalf of the child.
- A child living abroad who is legally, temporarily present in the US may be eligible to seek naturalization if he or she is younger than 18, has at least one parent who is a US citizen and the parent (or a qualifying grandparent) meets physical presence requirements in the U.S.
- There are also exemptions for children of active-duty military members stationed abroad.
After your Application for Naturalization, the next step in the process is an interview with a USCIS officer. If your interviewer deems you to be a good candidate for naturalization, you will be directed to attend a ceremony at which you’ll swear the Oath of Allegiance. You do not become a US citizen until you take the oath.
What’s Involved in the Oath of Allegiance Ceremony?
Once your naturalization application is approved, you will receive an official Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony (also called a Form N-445) specifying the date, time, and location of your ceremony.
On the day of the event, you’ll be required to surrender your Green Card. You’ll receive a Certificate of Naturalization in its place during the ceremony; you must make sure to review this document for errors and report any to USCIS officials.
Once the ceremony is complete, you’ll be entitled to apply for an American passport, update your Social Security record to reflect your citizen status, and register to vote.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do I need an attorney to apply for naturalization?
Technically, no, you don’t need an attorney to apply for naturalization. However, the steps of the naturalization process are highly intricate, and many applicants find them overwhelming. An immigration attorney will help you to fill out the necessary paperwork, prepare for your interview, and ensure you don’t miss any deadlines or make other mistakes that can derail applications.
What if I’ve been denied naturalization before?
A prior denial can make the naturalization journey more challenging, but it’s not necessarily the end of the road. A naturalization attorney will be able to identify the issues that led to the denial and minimize the risk they pose to your next application. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to appeal your denial, or you may need to reapply from scratch.
How often do immigration laws change, and how does this affect my application?
Underlying immigration laws do not change significantly over the short term, but presidential administrations and officials have considerable discretion when it comes to applying the rules. So, it may be harder or easier to succeed with a naturalization application depending on who’s in charge at the time you apply.
If my application is denied, can I appeal the decision?
Yes, if your naturalization application is denied, you have the right to request a hearing before an immigration officer. This request must be submitted via an N-336 form within 30 days of the date you receive notice of your denial.
How long does the naturalization process usually take?
The naturalization process timeline can vary based on several factors, including your individual circumstances and the overall volume of applications your USCIS office is handling at the time. On average, the process takes around 10 months; however, it’s important to bear in mind that this does vary widely.
How a Lexington Naturalization Attorney Can Help You
The naturalization process involves intricate paperwork, strict deadlines, and various legal complications; attempting to navigate these challenges without expert help from a specialist attorney often results in denied applications. As Lexington naturalization lawyers, we can help you avoid common pitfalls of the process in a number of ways, including:
- Expert guidance on eligibility: Not everyone qualifies for naturalization. A lawyer can assess your situation, explain the requirements you must meet, and provide clear direction on whether you’re eligible for citizenship. At Carman Fullerton, we’ll be able to give you guidance in this respect during your initial consultation.
- Assistance with documentation: The paperwork is one of the most cumbersome aspects of the naturalization process Missed details or inaccuracies can lead to delays or denials. However, if you work with an attorney, they’ll take responsibility for ensuring that every form is filled out correctly and submitted with the necessary supporting documents, so that you won’t have to worry about it.
- Preparation for the citizenship test: Your attorney can provide study materials, practice tests, and even one-on-one coaching to ensure you’re properly prepared for both the civics and language components of the US citizenship exam.
- Representation during interviews: One of the main benefits of hiring a lawyer to help you become a US citizen is that they can accompany you to your USCIS interview. This is a critical step in the naturalization process, and one that many applicants find very intimidating. An attorney can advocate on your behalf if any issues arise.
- Managing complex cases: If your background is likely to make it difficult for your application to succeed (for example, if you’ve had prior denials, previously been deported, or had run-ins with the law), hiring a naturalization attorney is more important for you than for the average applicant. Your lawyer will be able to tailor a strategy to your situation, thereby increasing your chances of approval.
- Handling appeals: In the unfortunate event of a denial, your attorney can guide you through the appeal process, ensuring you have the best possible chance at reversing the decision.
- Moral support: The naturalization process can be extremely stressful. As well as legal expertise, a naturalization attorney will offer you moral and emotional support, guiding you through the challenges and offering you a listening ear when times get tough.
If you are an immigrant living in Kentucky, call CF Abogados today at (859) 971-0060 or fill out the online contact form if you have any questions about the naturalization process and to learn more about what you can do to obtain permanent resident status or US citizenship.
Attorney Kirby J. Fullerton
Mr. Fullerton’s practice is focused on immigration law. He speaks Spanish, and represents clients in cases before the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He began his career practicing criminal defense, and understands how matters in criminal courts can affect a client’s immigration status. [Attorney Bio]