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Naturalization is the process by which a legal permanent resident (green card holder) becomes a U.S. citizen. For some, naturalization is a deeply-felt, emotional experience. For others, it is a paper-pushing exercise. Becoming a U.S. citizen involves commitment, and each person has his or her own view of his/her connection to the national community. Naturalization is, however, taken very seriously by the U.S. government.

The Basic Requirements

  • Permanent residence for five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen)

  • At least 50% of the five (or three) years of required residence spent in the U.S.

  • Good moral character

  • Passing an English and U.S. history test

  • Oath of allegiance to the U.S

  • Additional requirements as applicable

Reasons to Naturalize

  • U.S. citizens can vote, serve on juries, hold political office, and qualify for government jobs. U.S. citizens travel freely (whereas green card holders may lose their residency if they spend long periods of time abroad).

  • U.S. citizens cannot be deported.

  • U.S. citizens may petition for their parents, married sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters to become permanent residents in the United States. Also, their close relatives may immigrate more quickly.

  • U.S. citizens may be subject to lower estate taxes.

  • U.S. citizens who retire abroad receive full social security benefits (whereas permanent residents receive only 50 percent). 

Reasons not to Naturalize

  • In some cases, individuals may lose their native nationality and overseas property rights or titles of nobility.

  • When reviewing the applications for naturalization, USCIS may discover past fraud, criminal convictions or other reasons to begin deportation proceedings.

  • Having made a false claim to citizenship, such as voting in a governmental election, can result in deportation.

Frequent Q&A

Q: What sorts of questions are on the English and civics test?

A: The test questions cover basic U.S. history and civics, such as naming the first president, explaining the different branches of government, and other similar questions. USCIS uses a list of 100 questions and answers, which our firm can provide. The exam usually consists of 10 questions from this list. Usually reading the 100 questions and answers a few times is sufficient study for the exam.

Q: Must residence in the U.S. be continuous?

A: No. However, residents must not have any continuous absences for longer than one year. In most cases, residents must demonstrate that they were physically present in the U.S. for at least 50% of the five-year (or three-year) eligibility period immediately before applying for naturalization.Absence of more than six months may be a problem.

Q: If I have received public benefits, can I still naturalize?

A: Yes, but USCIS will study your case closely. Receiving public benefits is not a bar unless there was fraud or the person received them while overseas. This area can be complex and should be reviewed by an experienced attorney in detail.

Q: Can association memberships cause problems?

A: Possibly. Membership in the Communist party, Nazi party, or other groups opposed to the U.S. government can be a basis for naturalization denial. Since 9/11, USCIS is also looking for people who may have contributed to terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, and to charitable organizations that support such groups.

Q: Is a lawyer required for naturalization?

A: Some USCIS examiners view their job as one to locate people who should be deported. There are new strict laws which mandate deportation for relatively minor crimes. There is also a law that provides that deportation may result from making a nonmaterial misrepresentation on a naturalization application. Thus, it is important to be represented by an experienced immigration attorney.

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