By Jeremy B. Love, Immigration Attorney
January 30, 2016
 
With the ever important presidential elections looming in November, permanent residents need to begin the naturalization process now if they want to have a say in who our next president will be.
The future of issues such as Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the use of immigration raids rests in the hands of the president elected this November.  Only US citizens can vote for president and the naturalization process can take several months, so I recommend beginning the process by the end of February.
 
Who’s Eligible?
The naturalization process is available to legal permanent residents who have been residents (green card holders) for at least four years and nine months.  That requirement is two years and nine months if married to a US citizen.  Potential applicants must be at least eighteen years of age and show good moral character.
Part of the naturalization process is an interview which includes an English and Civics exam.  Applicants who are at least 55 years old and have been permanent residents for 15 years or 50 years old and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years, may take the exam in their native language.  Additionally, there are exceptions to the exam available for anyone who has a documented physical or mental disability that prevents them from learning the material.
 
What’s the Process?
The entire naturalization process is currently taking about eight months.  If the naturalization packet is filed correctly and completely, the USCIS review time is approximately six months.  The process may be delayed for lack of evidence or if the case includes a complicated issue such as a criminal record or long periods of time outside of the US.
After the application is reviewed and the interview has been conducted, the applicant must wait an additional 1-2 months for the oath ceremony.  These times are estimates and subject to change.
In order to vote in Alabama, you have to register.  The deadline to register to vote for the presidential election is October 24.
Because the entire process to become a US citizen can take eight months or more and must be completed in time to register by October 24, I highly recommend beginning the naturalization process by the end of February.
 
Any Other Options?
While most people know that anyone born in the US is a citizen, some don’t know that if you were born outside the US to one or two US citizen parents, you may have derived citizenship at birth.  Also, if you were under 18 when one or both of your parents naturalized, you may have derived citizenship from them. 
If either of the above scenarios apply, speak to an immigration attorney about filing for a Certificate of Citizenship.  The process to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship actually takes longer than naturalization, so you would likely need to begin that process immediately to have a chance to vote this year.
If you are interested in becoming a US citizen, I would recommend seeking the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney or BIA accredited representative so that your case is handled correctly and on time.
Remember that several key issues affecting our community will be decided in the next presidential election on November 8.  It will get here faster than you think.