» Citizenship & Naturalization

Is an immigration lawyer required for naturalization?

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 non-material misrepresentation on a naturalization application. While many can apply by themselves, it is wise to be represented by an immigration lawyer.

How long does it take to naturalize?

The processing times vary from city to city. On average, it is taking six to twelve months.

Can I change my name when I become a U.S. citizen?

In the past, yes. Today, not all immigration offices will allow name changes at naturalization.

What is the U.S. naturalization procedure?

The U.S. naturalization procedure generally follows these steps:

  • Permanent residents must complete the USCIS Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and include two photographs, a copy of the permanent resident card, and a check or money order for the USCIS filing fee and fingerprinting fee. Applications are submitted to a regional USCIS office.
  • Applicants will be scheduled for fingerprinting.
  • Once the application has been processed, applicants will be scheduled for an interview.
  • At the interview, the application will be reviewed and the applicant will be asked to pledge allegiance to the U.S. Unless exempt, applicants will be tested on their knowledge of U.S. history and government and basic English.
  • Successful applicants will be sworn in as naturalized citizens at a subsequent ceremony and given a naturalization certificate. Naturalized citizens may then immediately apply for a U.S. passport.

Can association memberships cause problems?

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.

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

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 counsel in detail.

Under what conditions can one apply for citizenship after three years as a permanent resident?

If a person received their green card based on marriage, and they have remained married to the person during the three years after having received the green card, then they may apply for citizenship based on marriage. The application process remains the same, but at the citizenship interview, the applicant must be prepared to show proof of current marriage and residence with his or her U.S. citizen spouse.

Are there any additional requirements for naturalization?

Yes. The following are additional requirements:

  • Residents must demonstrate good moral character for the five years (or three years, if married to a U.S. citizen) prior to applying for citizenship. Many criminal convictions are seen as evidence of a lack of good moral character.
  • Men who lived in the U.S. as permanent residents when they were 18 to 26 years old should have registered for the draft.
  • Employed permanent residents should have filed U.S. income tax returns each year.

Must residence in the U.S. be continuous?

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 percent of the five-year (or three-year, if married to a U.S. citizen) eligibility period immediately before applying for naturalization. Absence of more than six months may be a problem.

What sorts of questions are on the English and civics test for U.S. citizenship?

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 your immigration attorney 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. The 100 questions and answers and an online booklet about U.S. government and history are available at the USCIS website.