U.S. Citizenship – Naturalization

1. What are the main benefits of becoming a US citizen?

Citizenship benefits include the right to vote in all government elections (federal, state and local), the right to travel and remain outside the U.S. for periods longer than 180 continuous days, and the right to confer citizenship status on certain family members immediately, such as minor children. Citizens can also petition for parents and siblings while residents cannot, and spouses and children of U.S. citizens are eligible to receive a green card (residency) with shorter waiting periods than for family members (remove those) those of residents.

2. When should I apply for citizenship?

As soon as you qualify for it. Residents share virtually all of the obligations to the U.S. that all citizens have (i.e. the obligation of paying taxes on worldwide income, etc.), but do not have many of the important citizen rights and immigration benefits discussed in question No. 1. In addition, residency status can be lost (and be very difficult to regain), while citizenship cannot.

3. What are the general requirements to become a US citizen?

In most situations, a person is eligible to apply for Naturalization, if they meet the following requirements:

  • Applicant has been a lawful permanent resident for five years (or three years for spouses of United States Citizens)
  • Applicant is 18 years old
  • Applicant is of good moral character
  • Applicant can speak, read, and write English
  • Applicant must pass a test on U.S. history and government
  • Applicant was physically present in the U.S. at least half the requisite time
  • Applicant has maintained lawful permanent residence continuously
  • Applicant swears loyalty to the U.S. by taking an oath of allegiance

(Note: minor children of U.S. naturalization applicants may also be eligible and included in a naturalization application, under certain circumstances)

4. How much time can one spend outside of the country to still be eligible to apply for naturalization?

You cannot be outside the US for more than 180 continuous days, however, this is not the only requirement. You must permanently reside in the US which is not set by an established number of days, rather, by your conduct and activities. For example, if you sell your house in the US and purchase a house in another country, accept a job in another country, and enroll your children in school in another country; even though you have been outside the US for a short period of time, for purposes of immigration, you may have established your residency outside the US and therefore lost your legal permanent resident status.

5. How long is the US citizenship application process, and how long after the interview will I be sworn-in?

Generally the process takes 4-12 months, depending upon the region of the country where you are filing. If you are approved, you will be sworn in between two weeks and two months after your interview, depending upon the region of the country where you are and the availability of resources at the time.

6. Can I apply for naturalization while my application for removal of residency conditions, I-751, is still pending, if I fulfill the 3 year requirement based on my marriage to a US citizen?

Yes, you may do so, as long as you meet all the other naturalization requirements.

7. I got my green card by marrying a US Citizen, but we are no longer married. Can I apply for citizenship after 3 years of having my legal permanent residency or do I have to wait 5 years?

In order to obtain citizenship after only 3 years with permanent resident status, you must continue to be married to a US Citizen, otherwise you have to wait 5 years with legal permanent residency.

8. Can I still be eligible for US citizenship if I have been arrested or charged with a crime?

It depends on several factors such as the crime that you have been charged with, the basis of the charge, whether or not you have been convicted, and whether or not you have been sentenced. Some criminal activity will render you ineligible for citizenship, while other will not. An immigration attorney with criminal experience will be best suited to help you determine if you are eligible to file for naturalization and should be consulted, if you have had a criminal charge and are interested in applying for US citizenship.

9. I don’t speak English well, do I still have to take the language and civics exam, or are there any exceptions?

There are only a few exceptions. You do not have to take the English test and may take the civics test in the language of your choice if you fit into one of the following categories:

  1. If you are age 50 or older and have lived in the United States as a Permanent Resident for periods totaling at least 20 years.
  2. If you are age 55 or older and have lived in the United States as a Permanent Resident for periods totaling at least 15 years.
  3. If you are age 65 or older and have lived in the United States as Permanent Resident for periods totaling at least 20 years you may take an abbreviated civics exam.

To qualify for one of these exceptions, your time as a Permanent Resident does not have to be continuous. You are eligible for the exemption as long as your total time residing in the United States (as a Permanent Resident) is at least 15 or 20 years. Remember your time as a conditional resident counts towards this time as well.
You may also be able to qualify for a language and civics test exception if you have extraordinary health conditions.

If you are located in or coming to Massachusetts or surrounding areas and need assistance processing your immigration petition, personal injury claim or criminal matter, call to make an appointment with one of our experienced Boston immigration, criminal and personal injury lawyers, at: 617-303-2600.

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