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For immigrants in the United States, becoming a citizen is often a long and stressful process. Once achieved, the rewards include rights and privileges such as voting, traveling with a U.S. Passport, bringing family members permanently to this country, sponsoring citizenship for children born abroad and obtaining government benefits.
The legal process is known as citizenship through naturalization, and to get started immigrants must meet six key requirements, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Requirements for naturalization
▪ An applicant must be at least 18 years old at the time of filing.
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▪ Show physical presence in the United States for at least 30 months during the last five years, or 18 months if married to an American.
▪ Show good moral character. This means a clean criminal record for the previous five years, and not submitting false information as part of any immigration form or procedure. (A person with an aggravated felony is ineligible for naturalization.)
▪ Be able to read, write and speak basic English, and show knowledge of U.S. history and government.
▪ Be willing to support and defend the United States and the U.S. Constitution.
Applying for U.S. citizenship
To apply for naturalization, legal residents must submit, by mail or online, Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. The form must be properly filled in, strictly following these USCIS instructions.
The form must be submitted along with $725 fee payment, which includes $85 for the biometric services. USCIS accepts money orders, credit cards, personal and bank checks payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The application also has to include all evidence and supporting documentation listed. Do not send original documents unless specifically required.
Some of these documents are:
▪ Two passport-style photos.
▪ Copy of the permanent resident card, known as a green card.
▪ Copy of current legal marital status document.
▪ Documents for armed forces members or their spouses, such as certification of military or naval service using Form N-426.
Biometric services appointment
Once the application has been submitted, USCIS will schedule an appointment for the biometric services — to take fingerprints, photo and signature. The information is later sent to law enforcement agencies for criminal and security checks.
The procedure, in a local USCIS Application Support Center, normally takes 15 to 20 minutes. It is important to show up on time for the appointment.
Applicants must bring with them the following:
▪ Notification of the appointment, Form I-797C.
▪ Valid photo IDs such as passport, green card or driver’s license.
▪ Any other documented specifically requested in the notification.
Naturalization interview and exam
One of the key requirements for obtaining U.S. citizenship is the much feared naturalization test, in which immigrants must prove they can read, write and speak basic English, and have essential knowledge of U.S. history and government. There are some exemptions to the English language requirement.
USCIS publishes study guide materials for the civics portion of the test — which encompasses 100 questions and answers — and for the language section. There are plenty of other free online resources. Immigrants can also watch a video about the interview and test process.
Applicants must correctly answer six of 10 questions to pass the civics test. In the English portion, they must correctly read and write one out of three sentences. The ability to speak English is determined by the USCIS officer conducting the interview on Form N-400.
This interview consists of questions about the applicants’ background and his or her N-400, which is signed at that time. Some original documents ought to be brought to the interview, including:
▪ Green card.
▪ Valid driver’s license or other state-issued identification.
▪ Passport and other travel documents.
▪ Evidence of current legal marital status.
▪ Evidence that previous marriages, if any, have legally ended.
▪ IRS income tax returns.
▪ List of trips outside the United States, with departure and return dates, during the last five years.
▪ Criminal record, if any, such as arrest reports, court dispositions, sentencing reports and evidence of probation completion.
Once USCIS approves the Application for Naturalization, the agency will coordinate the date to take the Oath of Allegiance in a public ceremony. It is preferable not to postpone it.
Immigrants first turn in their green cards, then swear loyalty to the Constitution and at the end receive their Naturalization Certificates, which is official proof of U.S. citizenship. Authorities recommend that new citizens also obtain U.S. passports through the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Afterward, new citizens are encouraged to register to vote and update their Social Security records at their nearest Social Security Administration office.
Citizenship carries with it benefits and obligations, such as:
▪ The right to U.S. government protection.
▪ The right to vote.
▪ The right to work.
▪ The right to live permanently in the United States.
▪ The obligation to obey all federal, state and local laws.
▪ The obligation to report income to the IRS.
▪ The obligation to register with the military Selective Service, for males aged 18 to 25.
Read more about legal and immigration issues in Spanish at AccesoMiami.com.