There are a few different ways in which a foreign national can become a U.S. citizen. This process is known as naturalization and is open to people who are at least 18 years of age and meet one of the following conditions:
- Have lived in the United States as a Permanent Resident for at least 5 years
- Married to a U.S. citizen and have lived in the United States as a legal permanent resident with the same U.S. Citizen spouse for at least 3 years
- Have lived in the United States as a Permanent Resident with asylum for at least 4 years
- Have lived in the United States for 3 years and served in the military
In addition, you must demonstrate that you have been physically present in the United States for half of the continuous residence requirement, and must show you have lived in the state where you are applying for at least 3 months. You must be a person of good moral character for 5 years prior to the application and you must have no record of convictions for any crimes during any of your time in the United States that make you inadmissible or removable.
If you meet the requirements, you begin by filing an application for naturalization, known as a N-400 form. This application requires you to give details about your employment history and where you have lived, mention any trips abroad and any crimes or arrests from your past. Your criminal history is used to determine if you are of good moral character and certain crimes can make it difficult or impossible for you to meet this condition. You must be prepared to go to a naturalization interview, where you must speak English, pass a government/civics test, and an English reading and writing test.
A common stumbling block to becoming a U.S. citizen can seem minor and accidental, but it is regarded very seriously by USCIS--that is claiming to be a U.S. citizen by registering to vote. Illinois has instituted a program that encourages individuals applying for driver's licenses or renewals to also register to vote. You may have gone to a Secretary or State's office years ago and not even known that you registered to vote, but this can be discovered during the naturalization process and can lead to your removal from the United States. It's very important that you have an attorney by your side during the naturalization process to help you with any problems that may arise, such as voter's registration or past criminal history.
There are many benefits to retaining an experienced naturalization lawyer before you apply for citizenship. The law in the area of Naturalization is complex, unforgiving and can be treacherous to the unaware. Applying for naturalization when you have any criminal arrests or convictions can land the unsuspecting person in removal proceedings. A permanent residence card, even with years or even decades of residence in the United States may not protect you from being placed in removal proceedings once you bring yourself to the attention of the USCIS by applying for U.S citizenship. That is why it is important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney before you bring a naturalization application before the USCIS.
Attorneys at Kalita Law Group P.C. are very experienced at evaluating your Naturalization case to head of potential negative consequences. Even non-criminal issues can come up during the naturalization process that invalidate your permanent residence card and put you in removal proceedings. Contact us using the contact form on the home page, or call for a free evaluation of your case by an immigration attorney.