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When Can I apply for U.S. Citizenship and Can an Attorney Help?

When can you apply to become a U.S. citizen?

Lawful permanent residents of the United States, or green card holders, often ask “When can I apply for U.S. citizenship?” and “How can I apply for American citizenship?” If a person is not a U.S. citizen by birth, then they can become a citizen through naturalization. Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to foreign citizens after they meet all the legal requirements established under our immigration and naturalization laws.

When Can I apply for U.S. Citizenship?

Lawful permanent residents of the United States, or green card holders, can apply for Naturalization after they meet the minimum criteria for filing. The criteria for applying for citizenship and becoming a citizen will differ depending upon how a person obtained lawful permanent residency.  Several of the requirements for naturalization are time sensitive, so it is important to understand them and not apply to become a U.S. citizen too early.

Continuous Resident:

In order to naturalize, applicants must show that they have continually resided within the United States.  This means that they have maintained a residence, their primary home, within the country.  Short absences will not break a continuous residence, but extended absences may.  Applicants who received their green cards through their marriage to a U.S. citizen who are still married to their U.S. citizen spouse must show that they have continuously resided in the United States for three years prior to filing for naturalization. Most other applicants need to have continuously resided in the United States for five years prior to applying for citizenship.

There are some exceptions to this requirement. Persons working abroad with the U.S. government and the U.S. military do not break continuous presence.  Other exceptions include people working overseas for recognized American research institutions and public international organizations. Applicants should file a Form N-470 Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes.  If you are unsure if you will fall into an exception, an immigration lawyer will help you to evaluate your case.

Physical Presence:

To apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization, applicants must prove that they have been physically present in the United States for the requisite amount of time, which happens to be half of the time that continuous residence is required. It is a literal counting of days in the United States. Applicants who received their green cards through their marriage to a U.S. citizen who are still married to their U.S. citizen spouse must have eighteen months of physical presence in the United States within the last three years in order to qualify.  Most other applicants need to have thirty months within the last five years in order to qualify for naturalization.

Good Moral Character:

People applying to naturalize must demonstrate that they have demonstrated good moral character for the same length of time that they must maintain a continuous presence in the United States.  Good moral character is not strictly defined.  Generally, it means that the lawful permanent resident’s character measures up to the standards of the average citizen in the community.  Determinations are made on a case by case basis. Officers may look at the factors such as the applicant’s criminal record, family ties, education, employment history, payment of taxes, community involvement and payment of child support and alimony obligations.  Immigration officers can look beyond the standard good moral character time period if the applicant’s previous conduct is relevant to their current moral character. Some types of criminal conduct will automatically prevent a person from establishing good moral character regardless of when they occurred.  You should consult with an immigration lawyer if you have questions regarding good moral character.

How to Apply for American Citizenship through Naturalization?

To start the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent residents of the United States who meet the criteria for filing will complete an N-400 Application for Naturalization. The form may be completed and filed electronically, or it can be submitted in hard copy to the appropriate immigration office.  The application packet should include all required supporting documents, such as a copy of the front and back of the applicant’s green card and copies of criminal records. The N-400 can be filed no more than ninety days prior to the time the applicant satisfies the continuous presence requirement.

After the N-400 is accepted for filing, USCIS will send a receipt notice. The applicant will be scheduled for biometrics, electronic photographs and fingerprints.  Next comes the naturalization interview at the nearest USCIS office.  At the interview, the officer and applicant will review the N-400.  The applicant will demonstrate the ability to read, write and understand English and will take a U.S. civics test.  Once those tasks are successfully completed, USCIS will send notice of the Oath of Allegiance ceremony.  Upon taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, the applicant will become a citizen of the United States.

How Can an Attorney Help?

Filing for naturalization can be time consuming and expensive, especially if the forms are filled out incorrectly or the lawful permanent resident applying to become a U.S. citizen does not qualify.  It can be devastating to get all the way to the interview only to be told that all criteria have not been met.   An experienced immigration attorney will evaluate the facts of your case prior to filing with USCIS.  You will understand the strengths and potential weaknesses of your case and be prepared to address them ahead of time.

An immigration lawyer will also investigate if there were any issues with how you originally obtained your green card.  During the naturalization process, USCIS also reviews the application for lawful permanent residency. If there was a problem with your application for lawful permanent residency that was not apparent at the time that you filed for your green card, then it might be addressed during the naturalization process. Instead of becoming a U.S. citizen, you could actually lose your lawful permanent resident status under certain circumstances.  An immigration lawyer will help you determine if filing for naturalization is the right choice for you.

Contact Julie Beth Jouben P.A.

At the law firm of Julie Beth Jouben, P.A., we can assist you in determining when is the best time to apply for citizenship.  Call Julie Beth Jouben, P.A. at 727-449-9929 and get the answers to all of your immigration law questions such as “When can I apply for U.S. citizenship?”  Whether you have an issue obtaining your green card, bringing a family member to live in the United States, investing in a U.S. business from abroad, applying for a K-1 visa, or naturalizing to become a U.S. citizen, we can give you the information that you need to make informed decisions.

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