The best way to earn the right to vote and live in the U.S. without losing your right to return is by gaining U.S. citizenship. Orange County Immigration Attorney advises clients from Orange County, CA, on the suitable ways they can attain citizenship in the United States. Just like an application for seeking immigration benefits, you must meet the eligibility requirements to be a U.S. citizen. Everything you need to know about U.S. citizenship is discussed in this article.
U.S. Citizenship: An Overview
The United States is known for welcoming immigrants from different parts of the world and valuing their contributions in the country. With U.S citizenship, you acquire a bond that unites you with people held together with their belief in the rights and freedoms, as highlighted in the U.S. constitution. U.S. citizenship allows individuals from all backgrounds to have equal stakes in deciding the country’s future. USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) is the agency responsible for administering citizenship and naturalization policy and law.
How Do You Become a U.S. Citizen?
You can acquire or derive citizenship in the United States at birth. Being born in the various territories of the U.S. in specific dates also makes you a U.S. citizen. The U.S. territories and dates are as follows:
- Guam (on or after April 11, 1899)
- Puerto Rico (on or after April 11, 1899)
- The Republic of Panama or Canal Zone (on or after February 26, 1904)
- Virgin Islands (on or after January 17, 1917)
- The Northern Mariana Islands (on or after November 4, 1986)
Individuals born in American Swains and Samoa Islands are nationals rather than citizens of the United States. You will be considered a U.S. citizen at birth if one or both of your parents had U.S. citizenship at your birth time. If you are not a citizen by birth, you may gain citizenship through naturalization, which is formalized by filing a naturalization application with the USCIS.
Which U.S. Agency has the Naturalization Authority?
The U.S. Congress has, over the years, established a uniform naturalization rule under its constitutional power. Congress also uses its power to enact laws governing the means people use to earn U.S. citizenship. Before 1991, various courts had the power to exercise the naturalization authority as designated by the laws enacted by Congress. The DHS (Department of Homeland Security) Secretary was handed this power by the Congress on 1st October 1991.
USCIS currently carries out activities that are crucial in implementing the authority of the DHS Secretary. These days, a naturalization applicant can have an eligible court or the USCIS administer the Oath of Allegiance. When taking this oath, you will be acknowledging an allegiance duty as a citizen and swearing to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and laws.
Do Naturalized U.S. Citizens Enjoy the Same Rights and Privileges as U.S. Born Citizens?
You must have lawful permanent residence in the United States before being naturalized by the USCIS. As a naturalized U.S. citizen, you will enjoy the privileges and rights of U.S. Citizenship. The various rights and privileges associated with U.S. citizenship include:
- Voting in federal elections
- Participating in a jury
- Running for an elective office (where citizenship is a requirement)
- Traveling with a valid U.S. passport
- Expanding and expediting your ability to bring your relatives to the U.S.
- Obtaining citizenship for minors born overseas
- Obtaining various federal and state benefits that noncitizens cannot get
- Being eligible for federal and various law enforcement jobs
General Requirements for U.S. Citizenship by Naturalization
The process of naturalization allows a national or foreign citizens to acquire U.S. citizenship. As an applicant, you have the burden of proving that you meet various naturalization requirements. The requirements may include being 18 years or older, being a lawful permanent resident, having continuous residence in the country, and being physically present in the country for thirty days. Discussed below are these requirements in detail:
Lawful Admission for Permanent Residence
Apart from being at least 18 years of age, you must verify with the USCIS that you gained lawful admission for permanent residence in the U.S. when filing for naturalization. Obtaining a lawful permanent resident (LPR) status by fraud or mistake may make you ineligible for naturalization. All individuals with an LPR status are usually issued Permanent Resident Cards (PRC). USCIS will ask you to produce the PRC and prove that you were in the country five years prior to the application.
The Continuous Residence Requirement
You can meet this criterion by showing proof of living in the US for at least five years prior to making a naturalization application. USCIS will ask you to establish that you resided in the service district or state with jurisdiction over your application three months before the filing date. Various categories of applicants, including various spouses of U.S. citizens and various military members may qualify for a shorter continuous residence period.
USCIS will require you to be physically present in the country for at least half the time of your continuous residence period. Pursuant to INA § 316(a), an applicant must demonstrate physical presence in the United States for a minimum of 30 days before applying for naturalization. Though the physical presence and continuous residence requirements are different, they have various attributes in common. You have to satisfy each one of them for naturalization.
Good Moral Character
As a naturalization applicant, you must show that you have been and are continuing to be an individual of good moral character. USCIS will expect your good moral character evidence to date back five years before you applied for naturalization. Your conduct before this five-year period may also help USCIS determine whether you meet the good character requirement.
Naturalization applicants need to demonstrate an ability to speak, read, and write words in the ordinary forms of usage apart from showing that they understand the English language. Demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the principles, form, and fundamentals of the history of the U.S. government can help you meet this requirement. If you have been an LPR for a specific time or you are a particular age, the English understanding requirement may be exempted. You may also get a medical exception for civics and English requirements if you have a mental impairment or developmental disability.
Attachment to the Principles of the U.S. Constitution
Being attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution may be translated as having the active support of the Constitution. USCIS expects you to have a mental attitude and an understanding of the laws enshrined in the Constitution. When meeting this requirement, you will be renouncing any form of allegiance you have with foreigners.
What Background and Security Checks are Crucial When Gaining U.S. Citizenship by Naturalization?
The USCIS will conduct a background investigation of you once you file for citizenship by naturalization. In this investigation, USCIS will focus on various security and criminal background checks. The procedures may involve checking your name against the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations) database and collecting your fingerprints. You will undergo these procedures before being scheduled for a naturalization interview.
The collection of fingerprints is a requirement for every naturalization applicant, regardless of age. Other biometrics collected together with fingerprints include signature and photographs. Failing to appear for this appointment without informing USCIS may result in your naturalization application being canceled. USCIS will submit your biometrics to the FBI to facilitate a thorough criminal background check on you.
Can a USCIS Officer Grant You a Fingerprint Waiver?
Fingerprint waivers usually apply to individuals with psychiatric conditions, skin conditions, physical deformities, and birth defects. Only authorized USCIS officers can grant an applicant a fingerprint waiver after meeting with the individual. The officer also needs to determine your inability to be fingerprinted before granting you the waiver. However, USCIS will request you to bring clearance letters from the local police to prove the good moral character requirement of a naturalization interview.
What You Should Know About FBI Name Checks
The FBI runs the names of all naturalization applicants against its Universal Index in its National Name Check Program. In this process, your name will be searched against the applicant, administrative, criminal, and personnel files used for law enforcement purposes. The FBI will share the findings of this process with the USCIS to help in your naturalization application.
Good Moral Character and U.S. Citizenship
When determining whether you meet the good moral character requirement, a USCIS officer will review your record, oral testimony, and statements (filed in the application). Various kinds of criminal conduct may automatically prevent you from meeting this requirement and make you subject to deportation or removal proceedings. USCIS is always on the verge of facilitating naturalization applications for individuals who are not a threat to national security or public safety.
When Does the Statutory Period for Proving Good Moral Character Begin?
Your naturalization provision will determine the applicable period for showing that you meet the good moral character requirement. In most cases, this period begins five years before the date of applying for naturalization. USCIS will also review your conduct outside of this statutory period. You have higher chances of being a morally upright individual if you underwent character reformation throughout this period. USCIS will consider the following factors when assessing your character reformation and current moral character:
- Your background, family ties, and community involvement
- Education, credibility and employment history
- Law-abiding behavior such as paying taxes and meeting financial obligations
- Presence or absence of criminal history and compliance with probation
- Length of time in the country
Pieces of Evidence Used to Prove Good Moral Character
Your testimony during the naturalization interview can serve as evidence when USCIS is reviewing your moral character. A USCIS officer will ask you whether you engaged in any questionable, unlawful, or criminal activity in the past. If you have an arrest record, you must submit a certified court disposition for the arrest whether it led to a conviction or not.
What are the Permanent Bars to the Good Moral Character Requirement?
A murder conviction can permanently prevent you from meeting the good moral character requirement when applying for naturalization. Aggravated felonies, severe religious freedom violations, torture, genocide, and persecution, are among the permanent bars to good moral character. In the immigration context, an aggravated felony refers to an offense carrying at least one year in prison as the minimum penalty. Examples of these offenses include rape/sexual abuse, theft, trafficking of controlled substances, trafficking of destructive devices or firearms, and money laundering.
Obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship or a Certificate of Naturalization
Once you meet the eligibility requirements for deriving or acquiring U.S. citizenship or becoming naturalized, you are eligible for a USCIS issued certificate documenting your U.S. citizenship. You will have the burden of proof to establish whether you met the requirements for issuance of a Naturalization Certificate or a Citizenship Certificate. USCIS officers strictly guard the certificates to prevent people from unlawfully distributing them or fraudulently using them. You must accomplish the following to obtain one of these two certificates:
- Filing an appropriate form with supporting pieces of evidence
- Appearing for an interview conducted by a USCIS officer
- Meeting the crucial eligibility requirements
- Taking the Oath of Allegiance (if required)
Eligibility for a Citizenship Certificate
You must either submit Form N-600 (an Application for Certificate of Citizenship) or Form N-600K (Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate to obtain a Citizenship Certificate. Form N-600 may apply to your case if you automatically derived citizenship after birth or acquired citizenship at birth. If you are a child of a U.S. citizen living outside of the U.S., Form N-600K will be suitable for your case.
Your application must comply with the instructions of the specified form and accompanied by an appropriate fee. You should also attach any supporting evidence in the application. Form N-600 can be filed before or after an applicant reaches 18 years of age. On the other hand, Form N-600K can only be filed when the applicant is below the age of 18 years.
Eligibility for Naturalization Certificate
You must submit Form N-400 (an Application for Naturalization) along with any supporting evidence to USCIS when applying for naturalization. USCIS expects you to comply with the form instructions and pay the appropriate filing fee. Establishing that you met all the eligibility requirements for the issuance of a Naturalization Certificate is also mandatory.
General Contents of a Certificate of Citizenship and a Certificate of Naturalization
A Certificate of Citizenship or a Certificate of Naturalization will bear your identifying information and act as a confirmation to your U.S. citizenship. The documents will have your complete name, USCIS registration number, marital status, country of birth, and place of residence. It will also contain your photograph, signature, and descriptors, including height, date of birth, and sex. Additional information on the certificates may include the date of issuance, certificate number DHS seal, the signature of the USCIS director and statement affirming your compliance to the requirements.
A USCIS officer will issue you a Certificate of Citizenship or a Certificate of Naturalization after approving your application and ensuring that you take the Oath of Allegiance. Failing to surrender your Alien Registration Card or Permanent Resident Card may prevent you from being issued the certificate. If you establish that your card was destroyed or lost, a USCIS officer may waive this requirement.
When applying for a Certificate of Citizenship or Naturalization Certificate, you will be required to acknowledge your ability and willingness to take the Oath of Allegiance. You must recite this oath orally during a public ceremony in the presence of a USCIS officer. Though the Oath of Allegiance is usually recited in English, you may request a translator to help translate it for you. You can also ask for a modification of this oath based on your unwillingness to use the phrase “under God” or your religious affiliations.
Replacing a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship
Form N-565 (an Application for Replacement Naturalization or Citizenship Document) can help you request a replacement Naturalization or Citizenship Certificate from the USCIS. You should submit the form as indicated in the specified instructions with an appropriate fee. USCIS only allows you to replace a mutilated or lost certificate. The replacement service is free if a USCIS officer committed a clerical error when preparing the certificate or issued you a certificate with wrong identifying information.
USCIS allows you to request for your name on a Naturalization Certificate to be changed based on a court-ordered name change following a divorce or marriage. You can also have the name changed in the certificate if you legally change your gender. USCIS would not change your date of birth on a Naturalization Certificate unless there was a clerical error caused by a USCIS officer.
Contact an Immigration Attorney Near Me
A convenient way to avoid costly delays brought by errors in your citizenship application is by seeking legal advice from an immigration lawyer. Orange County Immigration Attorney offers legal services and representation on immigration issues. We can help reduce the chances of deportation or removal proceedings from affecting your citizenship or naturalization application - call 714-909-0426 for a free consultation with our immigration lawyers.