Citizenship and Naturalization
There are two ways of becoming a U.S. citizen. One way is by operation of law, where the person does not have to do anything to be granted citizenship. For example, being born in the United States automatically confers citizenship on the person. The other way is by naturalization. This involves a process of applying and proving legal eligibility for US citizenship.
There are five basic requirements for a person to be eligible to apply for naturalization: (1) he must be a US permanent resident; (2) he must be at least 18 years old; (3) he must meet the residency requirement; (4) he must have good moral character; and, (5) he must be English literate and have knowledge of US history and government.
US Permanent Resident
The applicant must have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence. In other words, the applicant is a “green card” holder. The person must have been legally entitled to permanent residence and his status has not changed at the time of application. If the person who naturalized was not a legal permanent resident, his citizenship can be revoked through a denaturalization process at anytime.
18 Years Old
At the time of filing the application, the applicant must 18 years and older.
There are three components of the residency requirement: continuous residence, physical presence, and residence in the state of application.
Continuous residence in the United States for five years is required of the applicant. Leaving the US for a long period of time in a single trip will interrupt the continuous residence. A trip lasting less than six months will not break the continuous residence. A trip of more than six months but less than a year will create a presumption that the person abandoned residency. The person in this case must produce evidence to prove he maintained his continuous residence. An absence of over one year will break the continuous residence.
There are exceptions to the five year continuous residence requirement. These exceptions include, but not limited to, those married to a US citizen, VAWA applicants, those working for certain US government agencies, etc.
The physical presence component requires the applicant to have been actually present in the U.S. half of the required continuous presence time. This means the applicant must have been physically present in the US for at least 30 months during the five year period (18 months out of the 3 year period in the case of those married to US citizens).
The applicant must also be a resident of the State where the application will be filed for at least three months preceding the filing of the application. If the applicant changes address, he must reside in the district where he will be examined three months preceding the interview.
Good Moral Character
The applicant must show that he has maintained good moral character during the entire statutory period (5 or 3 year period). The law does not specifically define good moral character but provides a list of persons who will be found lacking good moral character. As a rule, someone who has been convicted of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude will be found lacking good moral character. But there are instances where the person has not been convicted or jailed and will still be considered lacking good moral character. Examples will include habitual drunkards, gamblers, sexually immoral persons, those who refused support to dependents, those who failed to register for the selective service, those on probation, etc.
Applicants will be tested on their ability to read, write and speak ordinary English. An interview will be conducted in English which will involve asking questions regarding the application and the applicant will be expected to answer in English. The written test involves writing a simple sentence in English.
An applicant will also have to pass a test on American history and government. This test will be given orally.
There are exceptions to the literacy test. Persons with permanent disability, who are unable to learn to understand, speak and write English can be exempted from the test. The disability must be certified by a doctor. Applicants who are 50 years old and have been permanent residents for over 20 years can be examined in their native language. The same rule applies for those who are 55 years old and have been permanent residence for 15 years.
Those applicants who are over 65 years old and have been permanent residents for over 20 years can receive special consideration in the civics test.
Any applicant who fails the examination will be given a second opportunity to try and pass it. The application will be scheduled for another test within 90 days. For additional information on citizenship and naturalization, please contact a NJ immigration attorney at LS&P Lawyers.