Citizenship Through Naturalization
Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to immigrants who fulfill certain requirements. You may qualify for naturalization if you: (a) have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years and meet all other eligibility requirements, (b) have been a permanent resident for 3 years or more and meet all eligibility requirements to file as a spouse of a U.S. citizen; or (c) have qualifying service in the U.S. Armed Forces and meet all other eligibility requirements. In addition, your child may qualify for naturalization if you are a U.S. citizen, the child was born outside the U.S., the child is currently residing outside the U.S., and all other eligibility requirements are met.
Requirements for Naturalization. To qualify for U.S. citizenship through naturalization, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Be a lawful permanent resident (have a green card) for five years.
- If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you need to be a lawful permanent resident for only three years.
- If you had refugee or asylee status, you do not need the full five years of being a permanent resident. Consult with an immigration lawyer.
- Have good moral character. This means, among other things, not having certain problems with the police or other authorities.
- Be able to speak, read, and write English at a basic level. There are exceptions for older people. You do not have to know English if at the time you apply for naturalization: (a) you are 55 years or older and have had a green card for 15 years, or (b) you are 50 years or older and have had a green card for 20 years.
- Be able to pass a test on U.S. history and government.
- Swear that you are loyal to the United States.
Potential Roadblocks to Naturalization. If any of the following things are true about you, you should definitely consult with an immigration attorney before applying for naturalization:
- You made trips out of the United States for more than six months,
- You moved to another country since getting your green card,
- You are in deportation or removal proceedings, or you have been deported,
- You haven’t filed your federal income taxes,
- You haven’t supported your children,
- You are male and did not register for the Selective Service between the ages of 18 and 26,
- You are on probation or parole for a criminal conviction,
- You have contradictory information on your application,
- You lied or committed fraud to get your green card or you were not originally eligible for your green card when you got it,
- You have been arrested or convicted of a crime or you have committed a crime,
- You lied or committed fraud to receive or to continue to receive public benefits,
- You helped someone enter the United States illegally, even if it was a relative,
- You claimed to be a U.S. citizen but you were not,
- You have been charged with committing domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect,
- You have voted illegally in the United States,
- You have made a living by illegal gambling,
- You have been involved in prostitution, or
- You have been a habitual drunkard, a drug abuser, or a drug addict.
Having one of the things in the above list be true about you does not necessarily disqualify you from naturalization, but you should talk to an immigration lawyer before you apply.
If you are a green card holder with a U.S. citizen spouse who is employed abroad, you may qualify for a special expedited citizenship process. If your citizen spouse is employed abroad by the U.S. Government, an American business or one of certain organizations, you may be able to gain your citizenship through “expedited naturalization.” Typically, naturalization requires that a permanent resident both reside and be present in the U.S. a certain number of days before application. However, the expedited citizenship process waives these presence and residency requirements, allowing the green card holder to become a U.S. citizen much faster.
To qualify for this expedited naturalization process:
- You must be a lawful permanent resident who is married to a U.S. citizen;
- Your spouse must work for one of the following: the U.S. government; a specifically recognized American institution or public international organization; or an American corporation which is engaged in foreign commerce;
- Your spouse must be “regularly stationed abroad,” meaning that he or she will be stationed abroad for at least a year from the time that you file for citizenship;
- You must attend your citizenship interview and take your oath while in the U.S.; and
- You must intend to come to the U.S. to live after your spouse’s employment overseas ends.
In addition to the above requirements, you must also meet the other citizenship requirements, including being of good moral character, pledging allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, and passing an English and civics test.
Not only does expedited naturalization allow you to gain citizenship without having to stay in the U.S. a certain number of days, but it will also protect you from having U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) deem that you “abandoned” your green card status by spending too much time abroad.
The process for expedited citizenship involves filing the correct paperwork, including the N-400 form, with USCIS. A few weeks after you have filed your paperwork, USCIS will send you a notice directing you to a local office to have your fingerprints taken. After completing your background check, USCIS will schedule your interview at the district office which you designated on your application. The entire process may take around four to six months, although certain offices may work with you to schedule an interview faster.
You may schedule your interview at any of the district offices in the U.S., although you will want to take some things into consideration. Different offices process applications at different speeds. You will also need to obtain a U.S. passport before leaving the country, meaning you should look into scheduling in a city that has a regional passport agency. For just this reason, the Washington, D.C. field office in Fairfax, Virginia is a popular spot for expedited naturalization applications. The office in Fairfax is proficient at handling a large number of these applications while limiting any unnecessary delays. The office also provides for same day oath ceremonies after a successful interview. Another benefit to choosing the office in Fairfax is that you may quickly obtain a diplomatic passport at the Special Issuance Passport Agency in nearby Washington, D.C.
The expedited citizenship process can provide great benefits to those who are eligible. However, without precise coordination and careful planning, the process can become frustrating and expensive (especially with the overseas travel and time away from work involved). You certainly do not want to find out at the interview that you have missed or incorrectly filed something. To avoid that, it is important that you review your case with an experienced immigration attorney before filing.
Our Immigration Attorneys
Livesay & Myers, P.C. has a team of experienced immigration attorneys in Northern Virginia, representing clients in Virginia, D.C., Maryland and all across the United States. Be sure to read our client reviews, then examine the profiles of each of our immigration lawyers to find the one who is the best fit for you. Then, contact us to schedule your consultation with one of our experienced attorneys today—in person, over the telephone, or via webcam on Skype or Google Hangouts.