Becoming a citizen of the United States is a difficult process, even for permanent residents that have established themselves inside the country. Many of those who have applied for citizenship have learned that their applications were denied before they even had the opportunity to take the citizenship test. With ever-changing requirements and a shifting political landscape, hiring a dedicated immigration law firm can offer you the best chance possible to becoming a full citizen of the U.S.
At Martinez Immigration, we represent current immigrants and non-immigrants seeking to obtain U.S. citizenship. We have helped many clients become proud U.S. citizens, and we can help you.
The process of becoming a citizen if you were not born in the U.S. is called naturalization.
A naturalized U.S. citizen has the rights, as well as the responsibilities, of those born on U.S. soil. Rights include the ability to vote, run for office (with the exception of the Presidency), and obtain employment with the U.S. government in positions requiring citizenship.
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Responsibilities include supporting and defending the U.S. Constitution, participating in the democratic process, paying all federal, state, and local taxes owed, as well as serving on jury duty when called.
Once naturalized, you are no longer subject to immigration laws. Males living in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 26 must register for the Selective Service.
You now have the ability to fully pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
How to Get U.S. Citizenship
The naturalization process has unlocked full citizenship rights for millions of American immigrants. There are strict standards, of course, but the rewards are worth the time and energy.
As per U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), eligibility requirements for naturalization include:
- A minimum of 18 years of age at the time of application filing
- Lawful permanent resident for five years, or three years if married to a U.S. citizen
- Continuous residential and physical presence in the U.S.
- The ability to read, write, and speak basic English
- Good moral character
- Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government
- Demonstrate loyalty to the U.S. Constitution principles
- Willingness to take the Oath of Allegiance
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There are special provisions for those who have served in the U.S. military to achieve naturalization.
For older candidates, the English language requirement is modified. That is true if the applicant is at least 50 years old and has had permanent residence status for a minimum of 20 years. Those aged 55 and up must be permanent residents for at least 15 years.
For those 65 and older, there are modifications to passing the U.S. history test. There are no exemptions or modifications for younger candidates.
Applicants married to a U.S. citizen must have received permanent resident status and remain married during the three-year qualifying period. Divorce or separation during that time means you are no longer eligible for consideration after three years but must wait until the five-year period is up. Unfortunately, if your spouse dies before the three-year period ends, the shorter timeframe no longer applies.
The Naturalization Process
Once you receive your green card and wait either five or three years depending on your marital situation, you can apply for naturalization. Check the exact date on which your green card was issued. You are able to file for naturalization within 90 days of that five or three-year anniversary. It is possible to receive your U.S. citizenship within one year of filing your application.
Start the naturalization process by filing Form N-400 with the USCIS and paying all fees. After filing, the USCIS should send you a biometrics appointment, stating the time, place, and date. At this appointment, your fingerprints and photographs are taken, as well as a digital signature. Biometrics, along with security checks, helps protect U.S. security and ensures that naturalization candidates are eligible.
The USCIS will schedule an interview for completing the naturalization process. Bring your appointment notice to the meeting. A decision on your application is then mailed to you. There are three possibilities:
- Continued – Additional documentation is necessary. Applicants can have their decision continued should they fail the English or civics test on their first try.
During your naturalization ceremony, you take the oath of allegiance and are sworn in. You are now a U.S. citizen.
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What a Citizenship Attorney Can Do
A citizenship attorney will assist you in filling out Form N-400. They will explain all citizen requirements and determine whether you meet the eligibility standards. If the USCIS disputes a client’s eligibility, your attorney will represent you in immigration court, serving as your advocate.
If your application is continued, your citizenship lawyer will work with you to provide any missing documentation and recommend ways to study for the English and history tests.
When going through the naturalization process, expect questions about a criminal record. Such a record, either in the U.S. or your native country, can disqualify you from obtaining U.S. citizenship.
Those convicted of murder or an aggravated felony are barred from ever receiving U.S. citizenship. In the case of aggravated felonies, the conviction must have taken place before November 29, 1990.
Aggravated felonies include:
- Drug trafficking
- Child pornography
- Firearms trafficking
- Fraud exceeding $10,000
Keep in mind that any violent crime or theft resulting in imprisonment of one year or more is considered an aggravated felony. In some instances, drunk driving is considered an aggravated felony.
Smuggling a relative other than a spouse, child, or parent into the U.S. is an aggravated felony, even if this other person was a sibling, aunt or uncle, cousin, or close friend.
Other crimes indicating a lack of good moral character prevents applicants from receiving U.S. citizenship temporarily. That includes prostitution or operating a vice enterprise. Any crime relating to illegal drugs may bar you from obtaining U.S. citizenship, other than one offense involving less than 30 grams of cannabis.
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Applicants whose income consists primarily of illegal gambling or who are convicted of two or more gambling-related crimes are at risk. So is anyone spending more than 180 days incarcerated for any crime.
The good news is that you might still receive U.S. citizenship after committing a crime if you wait five years, the same amount of time you must wait to receive permanent residence status. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, the wait is reduced to three years.
A citizenship lawyer will determine whether the nature of the offense means that applying for citizenship is problematic. Based on your unique circumstances, the attorney will advise you on how long you must wait after the conviction date before submitting a naturalization application.
How Martinez Immigration Can Help
The USCIS conducts a naturalization interview. An attorney at Martinez Immigration can prepare you for the interview and accompany you.
We can help you study for this interview to improve your chances of passing. We will help collect and prepare the forms you need to bring to the interview. Along with items such as your driver’s license or other state I.D. and your permanent resident card, these forms include:
- Evidence of support for any dependents
- Tax returns
- Travel documents since becoming a U.S. resident
If your lawyer is at the interview, they can ask for clarification of any questions asked by the USCIS officer.
If you or someone you know needs immigration law services, contact a citizenship attorney at Martinez Immigration. While we are based in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, immigration law is federal, and we can assist clients seeking these services nationwide.
Schedule a consultation today to discuss your case. Our attorneys speak English and Spanish.
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