Law Offices of Victoria Bezman
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Encino, CA 91316
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Naturalization

Background

NaturalizationThe United States is a nation of immigrants; anthropologists believe that even Native Americans (American Indians) crossed an early land bridge from Asia into North America. Many people who come to the United States choose to keep their citizenship, sometimes as a source of connection to their native country, sometimes because they see no need to become naturalized citizens. Those who choose this option can become legal permanent residents (LPRs), identified by the wallet-sized identification popularly known as the "green card."

Many people, especially those who have made their homes in the United States, want to be able to enjoy the same benefits as native-born Americans. To do this, they can become naturalized citizens. A naturalized citizen holds all the rights and privileges afforded to any U.S. citizen, including the right to vote, the right to hold a U.S. PASSPORT, and the right to the protection of the U.S. government while abroad. The only right a naturalized citizen does not have, to all intents and purposes, is to become president or vice president of the United States. Naturalized citizens can hold Cabinet posts, however; two of the best known are former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright.

Requirements for Naturalization

Naturalization is the process of gaining United States citizenship. Becoming an American citizen is the ultimate goal for many immigrants, but very few people are aware that the requirements for naturalization have been over 200 years in the making.

Requirements for Naturalization

Before applying for naturalization, most immigrants must have spent 5 years as a permanent resident in the United States. How did we come up with the "5-year rule"? The answer is found in the legislative history of immigration to the U.S.

Naturalization requirements are set out in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the basic body of immigration law. Before the INA was created in 1952, a variety of statutes governed immigration law. Let's take a look at the major changes to naturalization requirements.

  • Before the Act of March 26, 1790, naturalization was under the control of the individual states. This first federal activity established a uniform rule for naturalization by setting the residence requirement at 2 years.
  • The Act of January 29, 1795 repealed the 1790 act, and raised the residence requirement to 5 years. It also required, for the first time, a declaration of intention to seek citizenship at least 3 years before naturalization.
  • Along came the Naturalization Act of June 18, 1798 - a time when political tensions were running high and there was an increased desire to guard the nation. The residence requirement for naturalization was raised from 5 years to 14 years.
  • Four years later, Congress passed the Naturalization Act of April 14, 1802, which reduced the residence period for naturalization from 14 years back to 5 years.
  • The Act of May 26, 1824 made it easier for the naturalization of certain aliens who had entered the U.S. as minors, by setting a 2-year instead of a 3-year interval between declaration of intention and admission to citizenship.
  • The Act of May 11, 1922 was an extension of a 1921 Act, and included an amendment that changed the residency requirement in a Western Hemisphere country from 1 year to the current requirement of 5 years.
  • Non-citizens, who had served honorably in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam conflict or in other periods of military hostilities, were recognized in the Act of October 24, 1968. This act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, providing an expedited naturalization process for these military members.
  • The 2-year continuous U.S. residence requirement was done away with in the Act of October 5, 1978.
  • A major overhaul of immigration law occurred with the Immigration Act of November 29, 1990. In it, state residency requirements were reduced to the current requirement of 3 months.

Naturalization Requirements Today

A. Technical Requirements

In general, an alien must be admitted to a permanent resident status to be eligible to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. He must also be 18 years old or older at the time of filing for naturalization. This applies when the alien is filing alone. Certain exceptions apply allowing a minor alien to become naturalized prior to the minor alien's 18th birthday.

B. Residential Requirements

An alien must reside in the United States for a continuous period prior to the filing of the naturalization application. If an alien is not married to an American citizen, he must reside in the U.S. for a continuous period of five years after lawful admission to the U.S. as a permanent resident. If an alien is married to a U.S. citizen, he must reside in the U.S. for a continuous period of three years following lawful admission to the U.S. as a permanent resident. The alien must be in marital union with the spouse citizen for three years before the alien's citizen exam date, and the citizen spouse must have been a citizen during that time. Immigration regulations define "marital union" as residing together.

A prolonged absence from the U.S. will break the continuity of the alien's residence in the U.S. for naturalization purposes, although it may not affect the alien's ability to return to the U.S. as a permanent resident. An absence from the U.S. of less than six months does not break the alien's continuity of residence in the U.S. for naturalization purposes. However, an alien's absence from the U.S. of six months or more breaks an alien's continuity of residence. If the break is from six months to one year, the break can be excused if a reasonable explanation can be given for the alien's absence (e.g. overseas employment). If the break is over a year, an alien's continuity of residence can be preserved, and the break can be excused, if steps are taken prior to the expiration of a year abroad to preserve the residence and certain qualifications are met.

An alien applying for naturalization must physically reside in the U.S. for one half the period of continuous residence required within the period required for continuous residence. For aliens who are married to a U.S. citizen, the alien must have been physically present in the United States accumulatively for eighteen months within three years prior to the date of filing the application. For aliens not married to a U.S. citizen, the alien must have been physically present in the United States accumulatively for thirty months within five years prior to the date of filing the naturalization application. This requirement is cumulative but not continuous. An alien can leave and come back to the United States within the three or five years as much as he wants as long as he does not break continuity of residence, and as long as his total time spent in the United States adds up to eighteen or thirty months.

Residence is required for three months immediately preceding the filing of the naturalization application in the state in which the petition is filed. This requirement is met simultaneously with the continuous residency requirement. Continuous residence in the U.S. is also required from the date of filing until actual admission to citizenship.

C. Language Requirement

The prospective citizen must have an ability to read, write, and speak ordinary English. This is determined by testing by an immigration examiner. The portion of the English language requirement dealing with understanding and the ability to speak the language is determined by the alien's responses to questions asked by the immigration officer in the alien's interview. The alien's reading and writing proficiency is tested by written examination. The language requirement does not apply to:

  1. Those who are physically unable to comply due to disability
  2. Those who are unable to comply due to mental impairment
  3. Those who are at least fifty years old at the time of filing and lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least 20 years.
  4. Those who are at least fifty-five years old and lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least fifteen years.

D. Knowledge and Understanding of the Fundamentals of U.S. History and Government Requirement:

The prospective citizen must have knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. history and government. This is determined by the administration of a multiple choice test. In general, those exempt from the English requirement must still meet this requirement. Exceptions are those who are mentally and physically impaired and special considerations can be given to those who are exempt from the English requirement based on age and length of stay. Those special considerations are usually a test in modified form.

E. Good Moral Character and Attachment to the Principles of the U.S. Constitution Requirement:

The prospective citizen must have good moral character and attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution. An alien can fail to meet this requirement in the following circumstances:

  1. Involvement in prostitution, alien smuggling, and most criminal activity, particularly those that involve imprisonment for six months or more
  2. Aliens who have committed adultery in a notorious and open manner as in a case where the adultery has led to the destruction of the marriage
  3. Failure to properly comply with IRS laws regarding taxes
  4. Failure to register with the Selective Service when the alien is required to do so.
  5. Aliens who have committed and have been convicted of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude
  6. Aliens who have committed and have been convicted of 2 or more offenses for which the total sentence imposed was 5 years or more
  7. Aliens who have committed and have been convicted of any controlled substance law, except for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana
  8. Aliens who have been confined to a penal institution during the statutory period, as a result of a conviction, for an aggregate period of 180 days or more
  9. Aliens who have committed and have been convicted of two or more gambling offenses
  10. Aliens who have earned his or her principal income from illegal gambling
  11. Aliens who have been habitual drunkards
  12. Aliens who have practiced polygamy
  13. Aliens who have willfully failed or refused to support dependents
  14. Aliens who have given false testimony, under oath, in order to receive a benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Veterans of U.S. Armed Forces

Certain applicants who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible to file for naturalization based on current or prior U.S. military service. Such applicants should file the N-400 Military Naturalization Packet.

Lawful Permanent Residents with Three Years U.S. Military Service

An applicant who has served for three years in the U.S. military and who is a lawful permanent resident is excused from any specific period of required residence, period of residence in any specific place, or physical presence within the United States if an application for naturalization is filed while the applicant is still serving or within six months of an honorable discharge.

To be eligible for these exemptions, an applicant must:

  • have served honorably or separated under honorable conditions;
  • have completed three years or more of military service;
  • be a legal permanent resident at the time of his or her examination on the application; or
  • establish good moral character if service was discontinuous or not honorable.

Naturalization Applicants Who Have Served Honorably in Any Specified Period of Armed Conflict with Hostile Foreign Forces

This is the only section of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that allows persons who have not been lawfully admitted for permanent residence to file their own application for naturalization. Any person who has served honorably during a qualifying time may file an application at any time in his or her life if, at the time of enlistment, reenlistment, extension of enlistment or induction, such person shall have been in the United States, the Canal Zone, American Samoa, or Swains Island, or on board a public vessel owned or operated by the United States for noncommercial service, whether or not he has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence.

An applicant who has served honorably during any of the following periods of conflict is entitled to certain considerations:

  • World War I - 4/16/17 to 11/11/18;
  • World War II - 9/1/39 to 12/31/46;
  • Korean Conflict - 6/25/50 to 7/1/55;
  • Vietnam Conflict - 2/28/61 to 10/15/78;
  • Operation Desert Shield/ Desert Storm - 8/29/90 to 4/11/91
  • Operation Enduring Freedom - 9/11/01 to (open); or
  • any other period which the President, by Executive Order, has designated as a period in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or were engaged in military operations involving armed conflict with hostile foreign forces.

Applicants who have served honorably during any of the aforementioned conflicts may apply for naturalization based on military service and no period of residence or specified period of physical presence within the United States or any State shall be required.

What to Expect on the Naturalization Test

During the course of the naturalization process, an applicant for U.S. citizenship will be scheduled for an interview at a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. At the interview, the applicant will be tested on his or her ability to read, write, and speak English, and will also be given a civics test to measure his or her understanding and knowledge of U.S. history and government.

Note: Some applicants may be exempt from all or part of the testing process due to their age or mental condition.

Language Test

The English proficiency test demonstrates that the applicant will be able to take part in the economic and social aspects of life in the U.S. The test has three parts:

Reading: To test reading ability, an applicant may be asked to read out loud certain parts of Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Writing: To test writing ability, an applicant will be asked to write one or two simple sentences.

Speaking: An applicant's speaking ability will be tested when the applicant answers questions about himself or herself during the course of the interview.

The applicant need not be bilingual to pass this test; basic proficiency is adequate. If you have problems with English, you may want to consider taking an English as a Second Language course prior to naturalization.

Civics Test

The civics test covers basic U.S. history and knowledge of government. Applicants may receive a waiver if they have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that impacts their capacity to learn and/or understand the relevant information. Additionally, applicants who have been living in the U.S. legally for over twenty years, and who are over 65, may receive special consideration on this test.

Examples of civics questions:

  • Q: What are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution called?
    A: The Bill of Rights.
  • Q: In what month is the new President of the United States inaugurated?
    A: January.
  • Q: Who elects Congress?
    A: The citizens of the United States.

If an applicant fails one or both of the tests, a second appointment will be scheduled, usually within 60-90 days of the first interview. The applicant will be retested at that second interview. If the applicant fails the test for a second time, his or her application for naturalization will be denied.

Typical Citizenship Examination Questions

In the U.S. citizenship application process, after you have filed your naturalization application package, if you meet the requirements the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will schedule you for an interview. During the interview, the examiner will test your English reading and writing skills by giving you a simple dictation test. You will also have to sign your name in English. If you are physically unable to read or write or are at least fifty years old and have lived in the United States as a permanent legal resident for at least twenty years, you do not have to take the literacy examination.

The examiner will also ask you some questions about the U.S. system of government and history to confirm that you have basic knowledge of these subjects. From the USCIS, below are questions you can expect to be asked, followed by the answers to those questions.

  1. What are the colors of our flag?
  2. How many stars are there in our flag?
  3. What color are the stars on our flag?
  4. What do the stars on the flag mean?
  5. How many stripes are there in the flag?
  6. What color are the stripes?
  7. What do the stripes on the flag mean?
  8. How many states are there in the union?
  9. What is the 4th of July?
  10. What is the date of Independence Day?
  11. Independence from whom?
  12. What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?
  13. Who was the first President of the United States?
  14. Who is the President of the United States today?
  15. Who is the Vice-President of the United States today?
  16. Who elects the President of the United States?
  17. Who becomes President of the United States if the President should die?
  18. For how long do we elect the President?
  19. What is the Constitution?
  20. Can the Constitution be changed?
  21. What do we call a change to the Constitution?
  22. How many changes or amendments are there to the Constitution?
  23. How many branches are there in our government?
  24. What are the three branches of our government?
  25. What is the legislative branch of our government?
  26. Who makes the laws in the United States?
  27. What is Congress?
  28. What are the duties of Congress?
  29. Who elects Congress?
  30. How many senators are there in Congress?
  31. Can you name the two senators from your state?
  32. For how long do we elect each senator?
  33. How many representatives are there in Congress?
  34. For how long do we elect the representatives?
  35. What is the executive branch of our government?
  36. What is the judiciary branch of our government?
  37. What are the duties of the Supreme Court?
  38. What is the supreme law of the United States?
  39. What is the Bill of Rights?
  40. What is the capital of your state?
  41. Who is the current governor of your state?
  42. Who becomes President of the U.S.A. if the President and the Vice-President should die?
  43. Who is the chief justice of the Supreme Court?
  44. Can you name the thirteen original states?
  45. Who said, "Give me liberty or give me death"?
  46. Which countries were our enemies during World War II?
  47. What are the 49th and 50th states of the Union?
  48. How many terms can a President serve?
  49. Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
  50. Who is the head of your local government?
  51. According to the Constitution, a person must meet certain requirements in order to be eligible to become President. Name one of these requirements.
  52. Why are there 100 senators in the senate?
  53. Who selects the Supreme Court justices?
  54. How many Supreme Court justices are there?
  55. Why did the pilgrims come to America?
  56. What is the head executive of a state government called?
  57. What is the head executive of a city government called?
  58. What holiday was celebrated for the first time by the American colonists?
  59. Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?
  60. When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
  61. What is the basic belief of the Declaration of Independence?
  62. What is the national anthem of the United States?
  63. Who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner"?
  64. Where does freedom of speech come from?
  65. What is the minimum voting age in the United States?
  66. Who signs bills into law?
  67. What is the highest court in the United States?
  68. Who was the President during the Civil War?
  69. What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
  70. What special group advises the President?
  71. Which President is called the "father of our country"?
  72. What immigration and naturalization service form is used to apply to become a naturalized citizen?
  73. Who helped the pilgrims in America?
  74. What is the name of the ship that brought the pilgrims to America?
  75. What were the 13 original states of the United States called?
  76. Name 3 rights or freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights?
  77. Who has the power to declare war?
  78. What kind of government does the United States have?
  79. Which President freed the slaves?
  80. In what year was the Constitution written?
  81. What are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution called?
  82. Name one purpose of the United Nations.
  83. Where does Congress meet?
  84. Whose rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
  85. What is the introduction to the Constitution called?
  86. Name one benefit of being a citizen of the United States.
  87. What is the most important right granted to U.S. citizens?
  88. What is the United States capitol?
  89. What is the White House?
  90. Where is the White House located?
  91. What is the name of the President's official home?
  92. Name one right guaranteed by the First Amendment.
  93. Who is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military?
  94. Which President was the first commander-in-chief of the U.S. military?
  95. In what month do we vote for the President?
  96. In what month is the new President inaugurated?
  97. How many times may a senator be re-elected?
  98. How many times may a congressman be re-elected?
  99. What are the 2 major political parties in the U.S. today?
  100. How many states are there in the United States?

ANSWERS:

  1. Red, white, and blue
  2. 50
  3. White
  4. One for each state in the union
  5. 13
  6. Red and white
  7. They represent the original 13 states
  8. 50
  9. Independence Day
  10. July 4th
  11. England
  12. England
  13. George Washington
  14. George W. Bush
  15. Dick Cheney
  16. The electoral college
  17. Vice President
  18. Four years
  19. The Supreme Law of the Land
  20. Yes
  21. Amendments
  22. 27
  23. 3
  24. Legislative, executive, and judiciary
  25. Congress
  26. Congress
  27. The Senate and the House of Representatives
  28. To make laws
  29. The people
  30. 100
  31. (local information)
  32. 6 years
  33. 435
  34. 2 years
  35. The President, Cabinet, and departments under the cabinet members
  36. The Supreme Court
  37. To interpret laws
  38. The Constitution
  39. The first 10 amendments of the Constitution
  40. (local information)
  41. (local information)
  42. Speaker of the House of Representatives
  43. William Rehnquist
  44. Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Rhode Island, and Maryland
  45. Patrick Henry
  46. Germany, Italy, and Japan
  47. Hawaii and Alaska
  48. 2
  49. A civil rights leader
  50. (local information)
  51. Must be a natural born citizen of the United States; must be at least 35 years old by the time he/she will serve; must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years
  52. Two (2) from each state
  53. Appointed by the President
  54. Nine (9)
  55. For religious freedom
  56. Governor
  57. Mayor
  58. Thanksgiving
  59. Thomas jefferson
  60. July 4, 1776
  61. That all men are created equal
  62. The star-spangled banner
  63. Francis Scott Key
  64. The Bill of Rights
  65. Eighteen (18)
  66. The President
  67. The Supreme Court
  68. Abraham Lincoln
  69. Freed many slaves
  70. The Cabinet
  71. George Washington
  72. Form N-400, "application to file petition for naturalization"
  73. The American indians (native Americans)
  74. The Mayflower
  75. Colonies
  76. Freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights:
    • the right of freedom of speech, press, religion, peaceable assembly and requesting change of government.
    • the right to bear arms (the right to have weapons or own a gun, though subject to certain regulations).
    • the government may not quarter, or house, soldiers in the people's homes during peacetime without the people's consent.
    • the government may not search or take a person's property without a warrant.
    • a person may not be tried twice for the same crime and does not have to testify against himself.
    • a person charged with a crime still has some rights, such as the right to a trial and to have a lawyer.
    • the right to trial by jury in most cases.
    • protects people against excessive or unreasonable fines or cruel and unusual punishment.
    • the people have rights other than those mentioned in the Constitution. Any power not given to the federal government by the Constitution is a power of either the state or the people.
  77. The Congress
  78. Republican
  79. Abraham Lincoln
  80. 1787
  81. The Bill of Rights
  82. For countries to discuss and try to resolve world problems; to provide economic aid to many countries.
  83. In the capitol in Washington, D.C.
  84. Everyone (citizens and non-citizens living in the U.S.)
  85. The preamble
  86. Obtain federal government jobs; travel with a U.S. passport; petition for close relatives to come to the U.S.to live
  87. The right to vote
  88. The place where Congress meets
  89. The President's official home
  90. Washington, D.C. (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW)
  91. The White House
  92. Freedom of: speech, press, religion, peaceable assembly, and requesting change of the government
  93. The President
  94. George Washington
  95. November
  96. January
  97. There is no limit
  98. There is no limit
  99. Democratic and Republican
  100. Fifty (50)