Naturalization is the process by which the citizen of one country becomes a citizen of another country. For the purpose of this article, naturalization will refer to naturalization in the U.S. Naturalization is a rather lengthy process and takes about a year from application to conclusion.
U.S. citizens are primarily of two kinds: natural-born and naturalized. The former is anyone born as a United States citizen, and the latter are those born citizens of other countries.
There are several criteria for applicants to satisfy, followed by an interview that is a part of the vetting process. Lastly come tests in the subjects of civics, English, and U.S. history.
When you successfully complete all the steps, you take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. and become a citizen.
Why Should You Apply for Naturalization?
For many green card holders, it is a natural question. They already have the right to live and work in the U.S. permanently. Why should they make an effort to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization? What additional rights and benefits would they receive?
The most important is that a citizen can vote, but a green card holder cannot. If you can vote in local, state, and national elections, you will become more integrated with a nation and its future course.
A green card holder may live in the U.S. for years, but he or she is still a foreigner. A naturalized citizen is an American. That is a huge difference.
A naturalized citizen can receive federal benefits and grants. This includes important components of social security, such as Medicaid and federal financial assistance.
- Sponsoring family members
A green card holder can sponsor, at most, a spouse or child under the age of 21. A naturalized citizen can sponsor a broader set of relatives, including parents, adult children and their families, and siblings and their families.
The wait time for relatives of naturalized citizens is shorter. Also, depending on circumstances, it is easier for the children of a naturalized citizen to migrate to the U.S. and become naturalized citizens.
- Be Elected
A naturalized citizen can hold a federal job and also be elected to any public office (other than President of the United States). The most illustrious example is the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian by birth, who became California’s governor.
The federal government is one of the largest job providers in the U.S. The military and law enforcement also require typists, clerks, accountants, database administrators, nurses, etc. Being a naturalized citizen, you can apply for jobs in the U.S. Armed Forces, FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and similar.
- You can leave and enter at will
As a U.S. citizen, you can leave and enter the country whenever you want. You could stay in another part of the world for several years and still return, without a hitch.
Moreover, you have access to one of the most powerful passports in the world. You can travel to Mexico, Canada, and almost all European nations without a pre-approved visa. In fact, only a few nations require an American to have a valid pre-approved visa before arrival: China, India, Russia, Vietnam, and a few more.
It also goes without saying that you would be given the full protection of American laws and consular services as a U.S. citizen.
How Does Naturalization Happen?
The path of naturalization is lengthy. We share the essential elements of the process that has been put in place by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- Eligibility Requirements
- The applicant has to be at least eighteen years of age.
- The applicant has to have completed five years as a legal permanent resident or three years as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.
- Able to understand English.
- Must be without any questionable incidents in the past (i.e., warrants pending in another country or history of criminal activity).
The application has to be made through Form N-400, otherwise known as the Application for Naturalization.
Along with the N-400, you have to provide a copy of your green card and current passport. The application is also accompanied by two photographs as specified by USCIS and a fee of $725, which includes $85 for biometric services.
The N-400 can be filed from abroad or from within the U.S.
If you offer documents that are not in English, attach certified, translated copies of the same.
The typical time needed to process the form is about five to eight months.
Following the application, you would be asked to provide your fingerprints. The USCIS would provide a center where you can have your fingerprints taken. This allows the Department of Homeland Security to scrutinize your application swiftly.
After a few months, you will receive a letter asking you to appear for an interview before USCIS. You would be asked questions about your past life, your stay in the U.S., and your future plans. The questions are typical and not an interrogation.
Following the interview, you have to appear for a written test of your knowledge of English, civics, and U.S. history. The test standards are quite basic, and with a few days of study, you should be able to score well.
Within at most a year, the process is over, and you receive an invite to take the Oath of Allegiance. The date and venue would be communicated, and you would be asked to return your green card.
Can Naturalization Be Denied?
Under some circumstances, your request for naturalization can be denied.
- Criminal past: The DHS will perform a thorough background check if you apply for naturalization. If a criminal past comes to light, it is grounds for your application to be rejected.
- Continuous residence: The applicant has to have stayed in the U.S. for five years (three in the case of a U.S. citizen’s spouse) prior to application. It is best not to travel abroad for extended periods during this time. Travel for work and vacation is of course allowed, but it must never exceed six months.
- Physical presence: The applicant must have been present in the U.S. for thirty continuous months during the five years preceding the application. In the case of an applicant whose spouse is a U.S. citizen, the requirement drops to eighteen continuous months during the three years preceding the application.
These conditions must be met to seek U.S. citizenship through naturalization.
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