By Jeremy Love, Immigration Attorney
September 30, 2015

In honor of Citizenship Week, USCIS scheduled naturalization ceremonies throughout the country to recognize those whose who met the requirements and successfully navigated the process to become US citizens.

To further promote Citizenship Week, I’d like to offer insight on why and how to become a U.S. Citizen.

Why Naturalize?
As you likely know, the next president of the United States will be elected on November 8, 2016. Because the naturalization process can take from six to ten months, it’s important to start the process soon so that you can voice your opinion by voting in the upcoming presidential election.

Citizens are also given priority in petitioning for family members to become permanent residents.  In general, the wait times are shorter for family members of citizens and citizens can file for some relatives that permanent residents cannot, such as parents and siblings.

Also, once someone becomes a citizen, their citizenship cannot be taken away.  I have seen cases where permanent residents lost their statuses for staying out of the country too long. Citizens do not have that issue.

Who’s Eligible?
To qualify for naturalization, you must have been a legal permanent resident (green card) for at least five years (or three years if married to a US citizen).  Additionally, you must be at least 18 years of age.  If you are not 18, there may be other options available to become a US citizen.

Another requirement is being able to read and write in English.  However, there are some exceptions where you can waive the English requirement.  Those include if the applicant is 55 or over and has been a resident for at least 15 years or is 50 years of age has been a resident for 20 years.

There is also an exception for applicants with medical disabilities provided that a doctor fills out a form that certifies that the disability prevents the applicant from learning the material.

Trips outside of the US for more than six months can also be an issue in the naturalization process. Also, being outside the US for more than 18 months during the last three year can affect an application for naturalization.

If you have been outside the US longer, you must show that staying outside the US longer than the allowed time was out of your control. Examples include a family emergency or civil unrest in the country that prevented you from returning.

Another important requirement is showing that you are a person of good moral character.  Criminal issues such as felonies, DUIs, fraud, or falsely claiming that you were a citizen before can affect your naturalization process. 

What’s the process?
The naturalization process includes filing the Naturalization application with USCIS.  The process will include an appointment for biometrics in Birmingham and an interview in Atlanta.  At the interview, the officer will ask you about your eligibility, including trips outside the US and any criminal concerns. 

The interview also includes an English exam and the civics test.  Your English does not need to be perfect, generally at a 5th grade level.  The civics test will include 10 questions out of a list of 100 questions.  You will need to answer 6 out of the 10 correctly. 

As always with immigration, every case is different.  In certain cases, there may be exceptions or waivers available, so consult an experienced immigration attorney about your case.