The following is a description of the requirements for naturalization and procedures involved:
The United States requires all new citizens to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Part of that oath includes a renunciation of all prior nationality. Some countries, such as Germany, Japan, and Singapore, treat this as an effective renunciation of citizenship and citizens of those countries lose their former citizenship when they become U.S. citizens. Other countries, such as the U.K., France, and Canada, do not recognize the U.S. oath as a renunciation and citizens of those countries may retain their dual citizenship. If you have any questions concerning this issue, you should contact the embassy (in Washington, D.C.) of your native country and request an advisory opinion on the effect of U.S. naturalization on your native citizenship.
General Eligibility Requirements
A lawful permanent resident of the United States may apply for naturalization as a United States citizen if the following conditions are met:
- For either of the two required waiting periods described below, the applicant has at all times been a lawful permanent resident ("green card" holder) of the United States:
- For three full years, if also married to a United States citizen (that is, three years of being married to a U.S. citizen and holding a green card at the same time); or,
- For five years, otherwise; and,
- At least three months' residence in the local area (to establish court jurisdiction).
- The applicant has continuously resided in the United States during the three or five year qualifying period. This means no continuous absences of more than one year.
- The applicant has been physically present for a cumulative period equal to one day longer than one half the total number of days in the three or five year qualifying period.
- The applicant is a person of good moral character. A criminal conviction for a serious crime statutorily prevents an applicant from establishing good moral character. Otherwise, in the absence of recorded bad behavior, good moral character is generally presumed.
The following documents form the application for naturalization:
- Form N-400 - Application for Naturalization. You may download an ordinary USCIS form N-400 and fill it in manually, or you may download the USCIS 2D Barcoded N-400 form from the USCIS web site.
- Two "passport-styled" photographs.
- A check in the amount of $260 (the filing fee), made payable to "US USCIS." Use a personal check, because the cancelled check will be your only receipt.
- If the applicant has ever been arrested anywhere in the world, for anything other than minor traffic offenses, a copy of the police record, together with copies of the relevant court documents.
If an applicant qualifies for naturalization, then the process is started by the applicant filing a form N-400 with the USCIS regional service center having jurisdiction over the applicant's home. The USCIS has prepared a special software program that allows applicants to enter their data and then print the form, their data, and a special bar code that contains their data. These barcoded forms are generally processed faster than other applications, since they do not have to go through the manual data entry step.
Remember to locate the USCIS regional service center having jurisdiction over your place of residence. The application should be sent via certified mail, return receipt requested, together with two photographs and a personal check in the amount of $260.00 for the filing fee. It is important to pay by personal check so that you can get the file number of the case (which will be printed on the back of the cancelled check), in the event USCIS does not send you a receipt notice.
Processing of the Application
There are two steps involved in the processing of an application for naturalization: the preliminary hearing and the final hearing.
At the preliminary hearing, the applicant will be asked questions about United States history as well as the United States Constitution and organization of the government. There are two ways to prepare for this examination: adult school and self-study. Almost all local adult schools offer evening citizenship preparation classes. These classes prepare applicants for the examination and any applicant who has completed such a class need not be concerned about passing the test. Most people, however, prepare through self-study. There are any number of good preparation materials available. The United States Government Printing Office bookstore offers several different versions of exam preparation books. Also, all major bookseller Internet sites and bookstore chains (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookStar, Crown, Dutton's, B. Dalton, etc.) sell excellent citizenship exam preparation materials.
The applicant will also be asked questions about his or her stay in the United States following admission as a lawful permanent resident. These questions are not normally a problem. However, there are occasions when these questions can create problems for the applicant. One such situation would be where the applicant immigrated on the basis of a labor certification, but left his or her sponsoring employer after a very short time. Since the N-400 application asks the applicant to list all employment during the five years immediately preceding the filing of the application for naturalization, if such a person were to file on the fifth anniversary of receiving his or her green card, leaving the sponsoring employer would be shown.
Preliminary hearings are usually quite short - generally lasting about 10 - 15 minutes. Of course, some USCIS officers work more slowly than others, so an applicant should not become concerned if an interview takes 20 or 30 minutes. Once the preliminary hearing has been completed, the next step is the final hearing - also known as the "swearing-in" ceremony.
The final interview is usually held as a group swearing-in ceremony. This is where the oath of allegiance is taken and the actual certificate of naturalization is given to the applicant. After the final hearing, the applicant is a United States citizen.
If an in-person inquiry does not provide the applicant with the information needed, the applicant should contact his or her local Congressman for further action. Look in the white pages of the telephone directory under "United States Government," "House of Representatives." Congressmen are generally quite helpful in resolving naturalization problems.
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