Naturalization is a process by which permanent resident or “green card” holders in the United States can apply for U.S. Citizenship. Naturalization is the ultimate immigration benefit. It guarantees certain freedoms – most importantly, the right to vote. Citizens can expect the assistance of the Government of the United States when on trips abroad. Likewise, citizens have access to special benefits, included need-based programs of the federal and state governments. A citizen cannot be deported, even for major criminal offenses.
Choosing to become a U.S. Citizen is not an easy decision. For many people, especially those who have lived a substantial part of their lives in the country of their birth or original nationality, the thought of giving up that identity which they have cherished for so many years is a painful task. The decision to become a citizen should not be taken lightly. As a citizen, one is expected – and rightfully so – to give his or her full allegiance to the United States of America and the Constitution of this country. One must be prepared, if necessary, to bear arms – that is, go to war – for the United States. A citizen must be prepared to file tax returns disclosing his or her worldwide income. Above all, the spirit of citizenship requires that an American embrace the values of the Constitution and the freedoms of the Bill of Rights and apply and defend those principles each and every day.
An application for citizenship used to be an easy task. However, because of suspicions that the citizenship process was being abused by individuals with criminal backgrounds, Congress made the citizenship process longer and harder. Congress instituted mandatory background fingerprint checks to be conducted by the FBI. And finally, Congress has increased the filing fees for a naturalization application from the current $95.00 to $225.00, effective January 15, 1999.
What does it take to be a Citizen? First of all, good moral character. While commission of a crime is not automatically a bar a citizenship, it could have serious adverse consequences on an application. For example, the immigration service may decide that the crime is evidence that the applicant does not have the necessary “good moral character” and therefore deny the application.
Second, the applicant must have been a permanent resident in the United States for at least five years. If the applicant obtained permanent residency through marriage to a U.S. Citizen, then the applicant should have been a permanent resident of the United States for at least three years. Furthermore, at least half of this five-year or three-year period must have been spent in the United States. Any absence of greater than one year from the United States will have broken the period of permanent residency for naturalization purposes and therefore the “clock” will have to start again.
A naturalization application can be filed three months prior to the five-year or three- year period of permanent residency. The application must be filed on Form N-400, together with the supporting documentation requested. The INS has changed its policy from accepting naturalization applications at its district offices – in most major cities – to accepting these applications only at the “regional service centers.” There are four regional service centers, in California, Texas, Nebraska and Vermont. The service center that is responsible for Ohio’s naturalization and other immigration applications is located in Nebraska. The correct address for filing the naturalization application is: Immigration & Naturalization Service, Nebraska Service Center, Attn: N-400 Unit, P.O. Box 87400, Lincoln, NE 68508-7400.
Once the application is received at the service center, a receipt is printed out and returned to the applicant. The receipt will provide a date and time at which the applicant must proceed to a fingerprinting center (there is one located in Cleveland) so that fingerprints may be taken per INS specifications. The fingerprints will then be directly returned to the INS for further processing, including the FBI fingerprint check.
A note of caution – for those intending applicants who have any kind of criminal conviction, it is imperative that you discuss your situation with a qualified immigration attorney before you file your application. If the immigration service discovers crimes in your record which constitute deportable offenses, then the service has no hesitation in placing you in deportation proceedings. This is true even if the crime occurred fifteen or twenty years ago. There have been numerous instances of individuals truthfully and honestly listing their previous offenses on their naturalization applications, only to discover that the applications have been suspended and they have been placed in deportation proceedings, which eventually could result in their being returned to their country of nationality. This is a very scary thought indeed, especially for those people who have lived in the United States for a number of years and who have families, jobs, businesses and entire lives at stake.
The naturalization process is currently estimated to take approximately one year to eighteen months. Generally, naturalization applicants can expect to have to attend an in- person interview at the local INS office (in Northeast Ohio, the INS office is located in Cleveland). Following the interview, if the INS finds that all matters pertaining to the naturalization are satisfactory, the INS will then approve the application. Following the approval, the applicant will be scheduled for a “swearing in” ceremony, at which time the applicant receives his or her certificate of naturalization and officially becomes a U.S. Citizen!
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About the author
I practice in the areas of immigration and business law. My immigration practice is global as I have represented clients from over 30 countries. In an effort to give back to the community, I also teach immigration law at the University of Akron, School of Law (“Akron Law”) and coach 4-8 soccer.
My immigration practice comprises cases from all areas of immigration including family, business, student visas, employment visas, H1-B,
labor certification, PERM, O-1, L-1, EB-1 and EB-2. I have successfully represented clients in asylum, deportation, removal, federal & state litigation including representing clients at the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
My staff and I work diligently on all matters including complex applications involving spouses of US citizens and their immediate family. I am especially proud to represent clients in fiance,marriage, and citizenship cases and bring their families to the USA. Likewise, I defend my clients vigorously in deportation or removal cases and work hard to win their ‘green cards.’
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