The process by which United States citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or foreign national is called naturalization. In order to become a naturalized citizen, an individual must fulfill all of the requirements set out by the United States Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
In most cases, an applicant for naturalization must be at least 18 years old, and a legal permanent resident (LPR, also referred to as a “green card” holder) before filing for citizenship. And, except for certain United States military members and their dependents, naturalization can only be granted within the United States.
The Continuous Residency Requirement
One of the threshold requirements of eligibility for citizenship is meeting the INA’s continuous residency requirement. The LPR spouse of a United States citizen who meets all other eligibility requirements need only have been a continuous resident in the United States for three years prior to applying, while other LPRs must have been a continuous resident in the United States for five years.
This residency requirement means more than just keeping a physical address within the United States for the required period. If an individual leaves the country for a period of six to twelve months, it may jeopardize the “continuous residency” requirement. In that case, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, will presume that the individual did not intend to reside continually in the United States, and that presumption must be overcome by some evidence showing otherwise.
If an individual is absent for a twelve-month period, it will automatically break the “continuous” requirement, meaning that the applicant will have to start the clock all over again from the time of re-entering the United States.
Individuals should also be aware that the continuous residency requirement refers to the period immediately prior to filing an application for citizenship. In other words, if an individual continuously resides in the United States for the necessary period, but then leaves the United States for twelve months prior to applying for citizenship, the requirement has not been met. In addition, an applicant must reside for at least three months in the district or state in which they intend to file an application prior to filing that application. Anyone who does not meet the residency requirement for the requisite period should not submit an application for citizenship.
Physical Presence Requirement
In addition to continuous residency, if an applicant is out of the country too often, even if not for continuous periods, they will fail to meet the “physical presence” requirement. The physical presence requirement mandates that the applicant be physically present in the United States for a minimum of two and a half years during the five-year continuous residency requirement, and one and a half years during the three-year residency requirement. If an individual seeking citizenship spends too much time out of the United States, they will not be eligible for citizenship, and should not apply.
Taking the Citizenship Test
In addition to these requirements, applicants for citizenship must take a citizenship test. The test covers two main areas: English and Civics. The English examination tests minimum proficiency in the English language, and the Civics test covers United States history, basic facts about the structure of the United States government, and the rights and responsibilities of United States citizens.
The USCIS provides comprehensive information on what is required to pass these tests, and there are a number of resources available for helping prospective citizens to obtain the required training in order to pass these tests, from both public and private sources.
The INA prescribes these and other requirements for citizenship eligibility, such as paying income taxes, demonstrating good moral character, registering for the Selective Service (which applies only to males between the ages of 18 and 26), and not engaging in any grave criminal activity. Finally, becoming a citizen requires an individual to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
Who Should Apply for United States Citizenship?
For foreign individuals who intend to reside permanently in the United States, citizenship has many benefits. United States citizens are eligible to vote in elections for public office, and, except for the Office of President, can run for and hold public office. Foreign-born citizens have become legislators and even governors of states, as well as members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate.
Naturalized citizens may exercise all the rights of native-born citizens, including the right to travel to and from the United States with a United States passport, and may obtain government jobs and benefits. Once naturalized, an individual may not be deported.
Individuals who do not meet all of the qualifications for citizenship should not submit an application. In addition, individuals should be aware that the application requires them to submit very detailed information about their personal history, and the USCIS will investigate thoroughly the background of those who apply for citizenship. If there is information that would demonstrate sufficient grounds for deportation, an individual may wish to refrain from seeking citizenship, and simply retain their LPR status.
Hiring a Qualified Immigration Attorney
To many people, the naturalization process may seem intimidating or confusing. Although the requirements are fairly straightforward, there are a lot of them, and it may take some work to keep abreast of all the requirements and to make sure that they are fulfilled. If you or someone you know is seeking assistance in pursuing the naturalization process, a qualified immigration attorney can provide invaluable help.
An immigration attorney can review and explain all the legal requirements, help individuals to establish or obtain the appropriate documentation needed to demonstrate that requirements are met, and assist in filling out and filing the necessary paperwork with the appropriate USCIS office. An immigration attorney can also advise individuals when they may not or should not apply for citizenship.
If you or someone you know would like assistance with the naturalization process, Providence and Boston immigration attorney George Barsom of the Barsom Law Group can help.
Finally, because immigration law is a federal matter and not a state matter, Providence and Boston immigration attorney George Barsom can assist individuals living in any state, not merely those living in Rhode Island Massachusetts. If you need assistance applying for citizenship, or would simply like an attorney to advise you on pursuing the citizenship process, contact he Barsom Law Group.
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