Our Tampa US Citizenship Attorneys have been helping immigrants become naturalized since 1997. Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
What Is Naturalization?
Naturalization is the process an alien must go through to become a citizen of the United States. The most common way to naturalize is by application. This is done by filing a form N-400 and supporting documentation with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Advantages of Naturalization
Why would a person wish to become a citizen of the United States? After all, once one is a permanent resident, one can live and work in the United States for the rest of his or her life. Well, many people become citizens because they feel a sense of emotional attachment to the country which has given them opportunities, and want a stronger feeling of connection. There are, however, other more practical advantages to becoming a citizen.
- Only citizens can vote in elections for the national and local leaders of the country. This gives citizens a voice in their communities that non-citizens lack.
- Once a person is a citizen, he or she cannot be removed or deported from the country for any reason. (Assuming that the citizenship or any of the steps preceding citizenship were not obtained through fraud.)
- Citizenship generally speeds up the process of gaining status for close relatives that the citizen wishes to bring to the United States.
Tampa US Citizenship Attorneys
There are several requirements for those that wish to become citizens through naturalization.
- The person must have been a permanent resident for at least five years before applying, or at least three years if permanent residence was granted on the basis of marriage to a U.S. Citizen and the alien is still residing in “marital union” with the spouse. (There is a special exception for those who served honorably in the military during time of war.)
- The applicant must be 18 years old.
- The applicant must have resided for at least three months within the state in which the petition is filed.
- The applicant must have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the prescribed five year period and must reside continuously within the United States from the time the application is filed until the applicant is admitted to citizenship.
- The applicant must not have been absent from the U.S. for a continuous period of more than one year during the continuous residence period. (Absence for over six months is also not recommended, because it raises a presumption against compliance with the requirement.)
- The applicant must be a person of “good moral character” for the requisite five years.
- The person must demonstrate an elementary level of reading, writing and understanding English, and the fundamentals of U.S. history and government.
The “Good Moral Character” Requirement
Section 101(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act describes the statutory reasons a finding of non-good moral character can be made. These include: being a habitual drunkard, having committed a drug crime, deriving principle income from illegal gambling, being convicted of two or more gambling offenses, having given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any benefit under the Act, having at any time been convicted of an aggravated felony, or having been confined, during the statutory period, to a penal institution for 180 days or more regardless of the offense for which confined.
It is important to note that these are not the only reasons good moral character might be found lacking, they are just specified ones. Also, the inquiry into good moral character is not necessarily confined to the 5 year period preceding the application. The applicant will likely have to explain and produce documentation about any prior arrests, regardless of how long ago they were. Further, crimes that are not listed above can still be a ground for removal. Therefore even if a crime is not listed above, I.N.S. can place the applicant in removal proceedings and deny the Naturalization Application because the alien is in proceedings. It is therefore important to consult a licensed practitioner if there is any question about prior crimes before applying for naturalization and risking being placed in removal.
The English and “Civics” Requirement
At a naturalization interview, the applicant will be required to read, write, and understand simple English sentences and phrases. Although this is not difficult for many naturalization applicants who have resided in the United States for long periods, it should be kept in mind (persons over the age of 50 with 20 years of lawful permanent residence or who are older than 55 years of age with 15 years of lawful permanent residence are exempt). The “civics” portion of the exam deals with basic history and government questions such as “who are the senators from your state?” or “what were the original 13 states?” There are several publications with sample naturalization questions that applicants can study before their interviews.
There are several benefits to be derived from American citizenship, but there are also some detriments to the unwary applicant. Applicants should carefully ensure they meet the requirements for naturalization, especially in the case of criminal history, before deciding to apply.