Naturalization can be a difficult, but ultimately rewarding, process if you want to become a U.S. citizen. There can be many steps involved, however. It’s important to understand the naturalization procedure to make sure you do it correctly, or else your citizenship can be significantly delayed or denied altogether.
What are the Requirements for Naturalization?
Immigration and naturalization are highly regulated processes. You’ll be required to go through many steps and meet specific requirements along the way in order to become naturalized successfully. These steps can include:
- Acquiring a Permanent Resident Card. A Permanent Resident Card, more commonly referred to as a green card, is a necessary early step in gaining naturalization. You’ll need to fill out forms, participate in interviews, and supply a series of personal documents, such as a birth certificate and other identification information, to apply for a card. If you’re seeking residency through a job or a marriage, your employer or spouse will need to participate in this process as well. Depending on your basis for residency, you’ll usually need to have a green card for three to five years before naturalization.
- Living in the U.S. Naturalization usually includes a rule that you have continuously lived in the U.S., legally, for five years. That means you can’t establish residency in another country during that five year period. There are some exceptions to this, for example, for those entering the country through marriage.
- Meeting certain conditions. There are restrictions on who can usually apply for naturalization. Most applicants will need to be at least 18 years old and capable of reading and writing in English.
- Passing a moral character check. Applicants for naturalization must have “good moral character.” This often includes a clean criminal record.
- Filling out the correct forms. There will be many official applications and documents you’ll have to complete as part of the process.
- Testing and interviewing. You’ll need to take, and pass, a type of civics test, as well as participating in at least one interview, for your naturalization qualifications.
- Pleading allegiance. Immigrants looking for citizenship will need to pledge allegiance to the country, to its constitution, and its laws.
You’ll also need to be honest and upfront each step along the way; your application could be denied if you provide false information during the process.
How Can I Get a Green Card?
There are several tracks that can initiate your path to U.S. naturalization, though you’ll still have similar work you’ll have to do along the way to complete the process. It almost always starts with acquiring permanent residency if you meet certain standards, such as through:
- Family or marriage. If you have a close family member who is a U.S. citizen and currently resides in the States, you may be able to start your naturalization process. “Close family” typically includes your children, if they’re at least 21 years old; your parents, if you are under 21 years old; or your spouse.
- Employment. If you meet certain criteria, you could be eligible to start naturalization through a job or investment. Workers who have a highly specialized and unique skill, are high-level managers or executives at an international company transferring to a U.S. office, or have exceptional abilities in areas like science or the arts, may have stateside employment options. Certain other skills also apply, as do specific jobs like being a physician, broadcaster, or religious worker can help you on the path to naturalization as well.
- Asylum and safety concerns. Some people who are at risk of certain threats or violence, or those who have already experienced some types of crime or violence, could start the naturalization process. Spouses and children who have faced domestic abuse, victims of sex trafficking, or people who can prove they’re under a legitimate threat of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or are members of certain social groups, may apply.
What Happens If I Miss a Step?
Mistakes along the way can have a devastating effect on your citizenship process. Incorrectly filed forms, missing documents, and failure to meet or prove certain requirements can mean you must start the entire process over again, adding weeks, months, or even years to your naturalization. In some cases, significant violations of the rules and processes could permanently bar you from ever getting legal citizenship in the U.S.
Because the naturalization process is time-consuming and rigid, you may need some extra help. Certain non-profit organizations, social workers, and immigration attorneys can help you complete the process correctly the first time, to get you on the road to naturalization faster. Experts in the complicated legal elements of naturalization can protect you and your rights to make a better case for your naturalization and meet the requirements you need to become a U.S. citizen.