Hi everybody, this is Ben Frear, an Immigration Lawyer, practicing Immigration Law across the country. In this post I am going to cover eight things that you should know about going from green card to citizenship. The goal of this post is to inform you about the process. However, given the pitfalls that you could encounter during the citizenship process, I encourage you to seek the advice of an immigration lawyer who will be able to guide you through the process.
The first thing to know is that citizenship is only available to lawful permanent residents.
In the past, people have reached out to me who were in the United States on a temporary non-immigrant visa. They asked me if they could go directly from a temporary visa status to citizenship status. I had to tell them no. Of course, people on a temporary visa can eventually become US citizens. But, before they apply for citizenship, they first have to become lawful permanent residents(green card holders).
The second thing to know is that you have to have a green card for a number of years before you can apply for citizenship.
The number of years that you have to wait depends on how you obtained your green card. If you obtained your green card through marriage you can apply for citizenship after having your green card for three years. If you obtained your green card in some other way, you will have to wait five years before you can apply.
Third, you have to demonstrate that you have been physically present in the US.
Physical presence means that you have been in the United States for at least 30 months during the five year period leading up to your application. So, to determine eligibility you look back five years and count the months. If you can count 30 months spent in the United States during the past five years, then you meet the requirement of physical presence. If not, you will have to wait.
Fourth, you will have to prove that you had continuous presence in the United States over a three or five year period depending on how you obtained your green card.
In order to meet this requirement who could not have spent more than 6 months outside of the United States during the three or five year period. On your application for citizenship you will have to list all of your trips outside of the United States. During your citizenship interview, the interviewer will question you about your trips. If they feel that you have not maintained continuous presence they will deny your citizenship. There are exceptions that are available in a limited number of situations.
Fifth, you have to satisfy the interviewer that you are a person of good moral character.
Under the current administration, the citizenship interviewer will question you about any convictions that could lead to a denial of citizenship.
There are certain offenses that will temporarily bar you from citizenship. Others will make you ineligible all together. For example, if you have a conviction for a dwi and you are currently on probation, you cannot successfully apply until you are off of probation and five years have passed.
Allegations of fraud can also lead to a finding that you lack good moral character. The US government takes fraud seriously. For example, if you lied on an application for benefits or used fraudulent documents in the past there is a good chance that the interviewer will decide that you are not a person of good moral character. If you have anything in your background that may lead the interviewer to deny your citizenship, it is critical that you consult with an immigration lawyer.
Sixth, you should know that as an applicant for citizenship you will have to pass an English language and US civics test.
For the language requirement you have to demonstrate that you can write and speak basic English. If you are nervous about the English test, check out Duolingo which is an amazing online learning platform. I have been using it for years to learn Spanish. As a result of using Duolingo, my Spanish has improved considerably.
For the civics exam, you will be given a booklet that you can study that contains 100 questions. Of the 100 questions, ten will be asked on the exam. You will be required to get six of the questions correct in order to pass. If you are over the age of 50 and have lived 20 years or more or you are over 55 and have lived in the US for 15 years or more you may be exempt from the civics test requirement.
Seventh, if you are a male and you obtained your green card between the ages of 18-26, then you have to show proof that you registered for selective service.
If you didn’t register for selective service, you will have to explain why you did not register. The typical explanation of “I didn’t know that I had to register for selective service” will usually be accepted by USCIS.
Finally, it is important for you to know that if your citizenship is denied, there is an appeal process to consider.
Citizenship is very important to green card holders. Denials can lead to extreme frustration. This frustration is amplified when you feel that you were denied for an invalid reason. If you were denied for an invalid reason, you can seek an administrative review. If you are denied at the administrative review level, you can seek judicial review in Federal Court. To learn more about the process, read this post.
I hope that these tips are helpful in preparing for your US citizenship application. As always it is wise to consult with an immigration lawyer regarding your particular case.