A Simple Guide to the basic U.S. Citizenship Process, including requirements and warnings
© Attorney Farhad Sethna 2012
“How do I become a US Citizen?” This appears to be a simple question. However, the answer is not that simple. For someone to become a US citizen, that person must either be born in the United States or one of its territories, be born overseas to a US citizen parent, or become a US citizen through naturalization.
So, how do you become a US citizen if you are not born in the USA or not born to a US Citizen parent? How do you naturalize?
An application for naturalization is filed on form N-400 with the USCIS. For the individual to become a naturalized US citizen, that individual must first be a permanent resident of the United States. The permanent resident can become a citizen after spending a minimum of 5 years in permanent resident status and a certain amount of time physically present in the United States. That time must be at least 50% of the 5 years or 30 months.
A person who is married to a US citizen and obtains his or her permanent residency through that marriage can become a naturalized US citizen in only 3 years. The “physical presence” requirement is 18 months.
There are shorter naturalization requirements for individuals who are members of the military and on active duty service. Service members can apply for naturalization within 1 year of becoming permanent residents. Their naturalization ceremonies can also be conducted in overseas military bases.
There are some things to watch out for during the naturalization process. The principal issue to be concerned about is an applicant’s background criminal record. An individual’s criminal convictions are checked by the USCIS. If you have any criminal history – including DUI’s- then you should consult an attorney who is experienced in immigration law.
If the criminal convictions rise to the level of a deportable offense, the USCIS will deny the naturalization application, and then put the alien in removal (deportation) proceedings.
Other bars to naturalization include failure to pay child support and any crime involving moral turpitude which would show bad moral character. Applicants must show “Good Moral Character”. Applicants must also take a test to demonstrate knowledge of English, history and civics of the United States. There are exceptions for applicants who are over 50 and have had their green cards for 15 years or more. There are also medical exemptions for applicants who may be physically or mentally unable to take the naturalization exam.
Any permanent resident who has been convicted of an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990 is forever ineligible to apply for naturalization.
For those individuals who may be sent overseas on their company business or may have to stay overseas for an extended period of time because of family or business reasons, the law offers ways to retain their permanent resident status and also to count some of the time spent overseas to their physical presence requirements. Those applications are complex and require significant documentation.
Finally, under the “Child Citizenship Act” of 2000, a permanent resident child automatically derives US citizenship if a parent becomes a naturalized US citizen before the child turns 18. An adopted child also automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when the child receives permanent resident status.
Given that there are so many complex issues surrounding the simple process of naturalization, it is clearly important to have your case reviewed thoroughly if you feel any of the above issues apply to you.
About the author: Attorney Farhad Sethna has practiced law for over 20 years. Since 1996, he has been an adjunct professor of Immigration Law at the University of Akron, School of Law, in Akron, Ohio. His practice is limited to immigration and small business. With offices in Akron and Dover, Ohio, Attorney Sethna represents clients in all types of immigration cases. Our number is: (330)-384-8000. Please send your general immigration questions to AttorneySethna@immigration-america.com. We will try to answer as many questions as possible.
This is only general legal information. Please consult a qualified immigration attorney for advice on your specific case.