Naturalization as an American Citizen
Becoming an American citizen has invaluable benefits. As an American citizen you are able to travel on a U.S. passport, remain outside the U.S. for unlimited periods of time without risk of losing U.S. citizenship, are immune to deportation, can petition to immigrate parents, children, siblings, and spouse, have the full protection of the United States when traveling abroad, and of course have the priceless ability to vote and serve on a jury.
Eligibility to naturalize: Lawful permanent residents can apply to become American Citizens provided they have possessed lawful permanent residence for at least 5 years, can speak, write and read basic English, have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government and are persons of good moral character. Residents who are married and residing with their U.S. citizen spouse can seek naturalize in only 3 years. Applications for naturalization can be filed 90 days in advance of the eligibility period.
Residence: Applicants must have lawful permanent residence for at least five continuous years. A trip outside the U.S. that exceeds one year breaks the required chain of continuous residence and requires the applicant to wait an additional four years before seeking naturalization. Trips in excess of 6 months in duration can be considered to break the continuous chain of residence depending upon the purpose of the trip and whether the applicant maintained residence in the U.S. during the absence.
Good Moral Character: The applicant must demonstrate good moral character for the five years immediately preceding the filing of the application. Convictions for crimes during this 5 year period can have adverse consequences on the application depending on the crime. Convictions for crimes of moral turpitude such as theft, robbery, spousal abuse or fraud during this period will prevent the grant of naturalization. Having an existing probation order for any crime will prohibit the grant of naturalization until the probation period has expired. Serious crimes such as felonies, aggravated felonies or drug convictions that occurred prior to the 5 year period of residence can also adversely affect an application for naturalization. Failure to pay child support or failure to pay overdue taxes may also prevent naturalization until the overdue payments are made. Any persons with serious criminal convictions are recommended to speak to a knowledgeable immigration attorney before filing for naturalization.
Knowledge of English and U.S history: Most applicants must demonstrate a general knowledge of American history and government and knowledge of the English language. During the naturalization examination there will be 10 questions asked about U.S. government such as the colors of the flag, the name of the President or the name of the highest law of the land. (U.S. Constitution.) There will also be a request to demonstrate basic English writing skills. Persons who are over 55 years of age and have been lawful permanent residents for at least 15 years are exempt from the English requirement. Likewise persons over 50 years of age and lawful permanent residents for more than 20 years are exempt. Persons with proven disabilities such as dementia can also obtain a waiver of the testing requirement.
Oath of allegiance: After passing the naturalization interview the applicant is promptly scheduled for the oath taking. This event is a wonderful occasion with the oath normally given by a Judicial Officer in a large hall with thousands of others celebrating their new citizenship. During this ceremony, certificates of naturalization are distributed with much fanfare. Thereafter recipients can immediately enjoy the benefits of American Citizenship.