Naturalization is the process by which a citizen of a foreign nation applies for citizenship and becomes a citizen of the United States.
Citizenship offers many benefits for those residing in the U.S., including:
- The right to vote
- The ability to obtain and travel on a U.S. passport
- Eligibility for government jobs that require citizenship
- Eligibility to run for and hold most elected offices
- Immigration advantages for family members
- Greater security in the ability to remain in the United States long-term
Foreign nationals eligible to pursue U.S. citizenship fall into several different categories, but the vast majority of naturalized citizens became eligible for citizenship through legal permanent residence or by serving in the U.S. military.
Establishing Eligibility for Naturalization
From Legal Permanent Resident to Citizen
To be eligible for naturalization, most legal permanent residents must have resided in the United States with a valid green card for a period of at least five years. For the spouse of a U.S. citizen, this waiting period is reduced to three years.
However, it is important that a legal permanent resident working toward citizenship be familiar with the additional requirements. For example, most may not leave the United States for a period of more than six months during the three or five year qualification period.
Of course, eligibility for naturalization involves more than simply having resided in the United States for a period of time as a legal permanent resident.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will conduct a background investigation, which will include fingerprinting and a “name check” through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- The applicant must participate in an interview with USCIS
- The applicant must take and pass a civics test, designed to ensure that those becoming citizens understand the history and legal structure of the United States
This process typically takes six months to one year from the time the permanent legal resident applies for citizenship.
The process can be complicated, even for those who have already successfully obtained green cards, and small mistakes can seriously delay or completely derail the process. Working with an experienced immigration lawyer throughout the process can help to avoid pitfalls, lost time, and unnecessary denials.
Citizenship for Members of the Military
Eligibility for citizenship operates somewhat differently for present and past members of the U.S. military.
For example, those who were in the military for less than one year or who were discharged more than six months prior to applying are subject to the five-year period as a permanent resident with continuous residence.
However, those currently serving in the military who have served for at least one year need only be a legal permanent resident when they appear for the USCIS interview, and those who served in certain U.S. wars are not required to be permanent residents at all.
A local immigration lawyer can assess your military service record and advise you as to which requirements apply in your situation.
Other Types of Eligibility for Naturalization
While permanent residence and military service account for the majority of U.S. naturalizations, there are other paths to eligibility.
For example, the minor child of a U.S. citizen may qualify for U.S. citizenship even if he or she is not a legal permanent resident of the United States.
And, non-citizen U.S. nationals may become citizens if they have become residents of any U.S. state and fulfill other requirements for eligibility for naturalization.
Get Advice on Eligibility for Naturalization Early
Some of the requirements for naturalization, such as the three or five year period as a permanent legal resident and the continuous residence requirement for most applicants, require careful observance of rules long before the naturalization process commences.
The earlier you obtain complete and accurate information about eligibility for naturalization as it applies in your case, the less likely you will be to inadvertently disqualify yourself or delay the process.
Give us a call and speak to an experienced immigration lawyer to review and discuss your options.