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Immigration & Naturalization Law

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U.S. Citizenship

If you’d like to reside and work in the United States, acquiring citizenship is an important part of protecting your rights to do so. The process can be complicated, and making mistakes along the way could seriously impact your ability to acquire citizenship. That’s why it’s so important to understand what you need to do and how you need to do it.

Though the path to getting U.S. citizenship can be a lot of work, if your goal is to stay in the United States permanently, it’ll be a necessity.

Who is Eligible for U.S. Citizenship?

Becoming eligible for U.S. citizenship takes time and planning. In general, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, unless you’re immigrating with a parent. You’ll also need to legally reside in the country on a Permanent Resident Card, also known as a green card, for at least five years. If you’re married to U.S. citizen, though, that timeline is only 3 years.

Your residency has to be continuous; if you arrive in the U.S. but then leave the country for a few months or years, you lose the starting point of your three or five year residency requirement. You may also have to reset or extend the clock on your waiting period if you spend a significant amount of time outside of the U.S. during that window, even if it’s in shorter bursts.

Another requirement is that you have “good moral character.” Having certain information on your criminal record or lying during your application process could prevent you from passing the moral character portion of the process.

How Do I Become a U.S. Citizen?

There are several steps to gain citizenship:

  1. Fill out an Application for Naturalization, Form N-400
  2. Provide required documentation, like birth certificates and marriage certificates
  3. Complete an interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  4. Fulfill your residency requirements
  5. Take a civic test and an English proficiency test
  6. Pledge an oath of allegiance to the country, its laws, and its constitution

You’ll also have to pay fees along the way for applications and other bureaucratic steps, or need to fill out additional applications.

What Happens if My Application is Denied?

When someone’s naturalization application is denied, it’s usually because of mistakes in the application process. You may be required to start the process over again to correct the errors, which could potentially add months or years to your quest for citizenship.

In some cases, you may be able to request an appeal hearing to dispute your denial if you believe you were incorrectly denied.

Other reasons your application may be denied include having a lengthy or violent criminal record, lying during any part of your application process, having been previously deported, or if you’re considered a security threat based on past activities or affiliations with certain groups.

Unless you’re denied because of criminal or terrorist-related activity, you can usually reapply for citizenship, though it’ll be a long process.

What Are the Benefits of U.S. Citizenship?

Gaining U.S. citizenship will allow you to stay in the country indefinitely as a legal resident. You’ll be able to work, vote in public elections, and even run for political office yourself. It will also allow you to help certain family members immigrate and become citizens.

Citizenship provides you with all the rights and liberties of any other citizen, such as freedom of speech and freedom to practice your religion.

In exchange, you’ll be expected to follow U.S. laws and pay your taxes.

How Can I Make Sure My Application is Approved?

The best way to increase your odds of approval is to correctly and honestly fill out your required paperwork. Because the rules for application are so strict, even the smallest errors could lead to a denial.

If you want to improve your chances of approval, an immigration attorney may be able to help. An experienced lawyer can have a better understanding of the process and could make it easier to fill out your forms correctly, as well as connect you to additional resources that will support you during the entire process.

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