United States citizenship may be acquired by birth or through naturalization. Naturalization is the process by which a person born outside of the United States becomes a United States citizen. There are many benefits to becoming a U.S. citizen, including: (1) the ability to hold public office; (2) eligibility for Federal jobs; (3) the right to vote; (4) the ability to petition a greater variety of family members; (5) the ability to live outside of the United States for an indefinite period of time and have no concern related to returning; and (6) security from deportation.
Although there are some exceptions to the requirements below, generally, a person is eligible to naturalize if they:
1. are at least 18 years of age;
2. resided continuously in the United States, after having been lawfully admitted for permanent residence, for at least five years (or three years for an individual acquiring legal permanent resident status through a U.S. citizen spouse) immediately preceding the application for naturalization;
3. resided continuously within the United States from the date of the application up to the time of admission to citizenship,
4. have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the above-referenced five or three year period;
5. have resided within the State in the United States in which the applicant filed the application for at least three months;
6. are a person of good moral character; and
7. are attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States.
8. must have an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language;
9. a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, and of the principles and form of government, of the United States. See INA § 316(a), INA § 334(f), INA § 312(a)(1) and INA § 312(a)(2). Click here to view study materials for the civics test.
Attachment to the Principles of the Constitution
A person filing an application for naturalization declares their “attachment” by taking an oath, promising, under INA § 337(a), to:
1. support the Constitution of the United States;
2. renounce and abjure absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which the applicant was before a subject or citizen;
3. support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
4. bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and
5. bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law, or perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law, or perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law.
An absence from the United States for more than six months, but less than one year, will break the continuity requirement, unless the applicant can establish to the satisfaction of the Attorney General that they have not abandoned their United States residence. However, absence from the United States for a continuous period of one year or more will break the continuity requirement.
English Language Requirement
This requirement does not have to be complied with if the applicant (a) is over fifty years of age and has been living in the United States for periods totaling at least twenty years subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence; (b) is over fifty-five years of age and has been living in the United States for periods totaling at least fifteen years subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence; or (c) can not comply with the requirement due to a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment. See INA § 312(b)(2)(A), INA § 312(b)(2)(B), INA § 312(b)(3) and INA § 312(b)(1).
Under INA § 312(b)(3), the Attorney General shall provide for special consideration concerning the civics requirement with respect to any person who, on the date of the filing of the person’s application for naturalization, is over sixty-five years of age and has been living in the United States for periods totaling at least twenty years subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence. Special consideration is currently considered to be a test administered in the applicant’s language involving 10 out of 25 civics questions and where the applicant only needs to answer 6 correctly. Kurzban, Immigration Law Sourcebook, pg. 1312, 11th edition, American Immigration Law Foundation (2008).
Good Moral Character
A person must be of good moral character for a time period of five years prior to filing the application (3 years if LPR status obtained by marriage to a U.S. citizen spouse) and up until the time of admission. Examples of persons who are not considered of good moral character are found in INA 101(f), and include:
1. habitual drunkards;
4. practicing polygamists;
5. controlled substance trafficker, unless it is a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana;
6. one whose income is derived principally from illegal gambling activities;
7. one who has been convicted of two or more gambling offenses committed during the five or three year period;
8. one who has given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any immigration benefits;
9. one who, during the five or three year period, has been confined as a result of conviction to a penal institution for an aggregate period of one hundred and eighty days or more, regardless of whether the offense(s) were committed within or without such period;
10. one who at any time has been convicted of an aggravated felony;
11. one who at any time has engaged in conduct relating to assistance in Nazi persecution, participation in genocide, or commission of acts of torture or extrajudicial killings or relating to severe violations of religious freedom;
12. one who makes a false claim to U.S. citizenship;
13. one who registers to vote, or votes in any federal, state or local election.
The fact that any person is not within any of the foregoing classes shall not preclude a finding that, for other reasons, such person is or was not of good moral character. As an example, a person is may not be considered of good moral character if they don’t support their dependents [8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(i)] or if they commit other unlawful acts that adversely reflect on the applicant’s moral character. 8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(iii). Additionally, certain actions can make the person statutorily inadmissible, and not even eligible for permanent residence status.
Do you have questions about your eligibility for naturalization or the naturalization process or want us to help you apply for naturalization? Please contact a Woodland Hills naturalization immigration attorney for a consultation and let us help you file all of the documents necessary to become a U.S. citizen. In addition to Woodland Hills, we provide immigration attorney services in a variety of other areas, including Agoura Hills, Alhambra, Burbank, Calabasas, Canoga Park, Eagle Rock, Encino, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Los Angeles, Mission Hills, Monterey Park, North Hollywood, Northridge, Pasadena, Reseda , San Fernando , Santa Clarita, Sherman Oaks, Tarzana, Thousand Oaks, Valley Village, Van Nuys, Warner Center, Winnetka, and West Hills. Even if your city is not listed, please don’t hesitate to contact us to see if we can help. Since immigration law is federal, we can help you wherever you live in the United States.