Who is Eligible for US Citizenship by Naturalization?
US citizenship by naturalization is the end goal for many immigrants who come to the United States. Granted, not all want to become American citizens, but for those who do, naturalization offers them many more rights in the United States.
Let us look at who is eligible for citizenship by naturalization before discussing the process in more detail.
Who is Eligible for Citizenship by Naturalization?
The most important criterion for citizenship is that you are a green card holder. Also known as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), it is the first step along the journey to citizenship.
How you get a green card to become an LPR depends on your specific circumstances. It could be via employment, marriage, family, asylum, or numerous other reasons. We won’t discuss this step in too much detail here, as the assumption is that you already have a green card.
To be eligible for citizenship by naturalization, you must have held your green card for either 3 or 5 years. Those who marry a US citizen, or were victims of domestic violence, can apply after 3 years; everyone else must wait 5 years.
Also, children of US citizens under the age of 18 can apply for citizenship if it was not given to them at birth. This may be the case if one parent was a US citizen at the child’s time of birth but the child was not born in the United States. This may also apply to adopted children.
Requirements for Naturalization
Other than holding a green card for the required time, the other eligibility requirements for citizenship are:
· You are continuously physically present in the country
· You have been in the state where you have filed your application for at least 3 months
· You have basic knowledge of US civics (history and politics)
· You can read, write and speak English at a basic level (with some exceptions)
· You are at least 18 years of age
· You have good moral character
· You are willing to take the US oath of allegiance
Some of these requirements are fairly self-explanatory. However, it is worth breaking down others to clarify what they mean, as the wording is deliberately quite vague. So, let’s do that.
Continuously Physical Presence
The requirement itself does not need much clarification: you must have been in the United States for the duration of your residency period. There are some important points to this, though.
First, the US must have been your primary residence for the 3- or 5-year period. You are allowed to leave the country during that time, but never for six months or more at a time, unless you request special permission. By extension, you must be physically in the US for at least half of your residency period. For example, if it’s 5 years, you must have spent at least 2 years and 6 months (913 days) in the United States.
There are some exceptions to the continuous residence rule. These include going abroad while working for an American company, for religious work, or to work for the US government.
English Speaking Ability
Again, the actual requirement is clear: you must pass an English test to demonstrate your language ability. As mentioned, there are some exceptions to this.
First, some LPRs with disabilities are exempt from this rule. For specific guidance, speak to an immigration lawyer. Older LPRs are also exempt; if they are over 50 years old and have been a resident for at least 20 years or if they are over 55 years old and have been a resident for 15 years.
In short, you must demonstrate your knowledge of American history and politics by answering 6 out of 10 questions correctly. They are chosen at random from a list of 100 civic questions, so it is worth doing plenty of studying. For LPRs over 65 years of age and with 20 years as an LPR, they will have to answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly from a special pool of 20 questions.
Good Moral Character
Now we arrive at the most ambiguous requirement: good moral character. Part of the reason why this is so ambiguous is that it is at the interviewer’s discretion whether you meet the requirements for good moral character.
Even so, some acts might impact your chances of obtaining citizenship. There are numerous automatic bans, including murder, association with torture or religious persecution, and aggravated felonies. These can also include fraud, money laundering, trafficking, and more.
Other factors that might influence your character include drug or alcohol addiction, tax avoidance, failure to pay child support, and gambling issues. These will not automatically bar you from citizenship but will certainly be taken into consideration in determining whether you meet the good moral character requirement.
Similarly, ‘positive’ factors can work in your favor. These include family ties, community involvement, credibility, employment history, law-abiding behavior, and more.
It is important to note that there is a presumption of good moral character if you have no criminal background.
Applying for Citizenship by Naturalization
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