Commonly Asked US Naturalization Questions

Who is Eligible to Apply for Naturalization in the US?

Once a person has resided continuously within America for five years (or three years in the case of a spouse of a US citizen) after having been admitted to permanent residence in the US, he or she becomes eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. This is the residence requirement for naturalization. This three or five year period of residence in the U.S. is called the “statutory period” of qualification for naturalization. Naturalization applications can be filed 90 days before the end of the statutory period.

Residence Requirements for Naturalization

How does USCIS determine if I have continuously resided in the US during the statutory period?

For naturalization purposes, “residence” means a person’s “principal, an actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent”. Thus, USCIS does not care where you meant to make your residence, they only care where you were actually, physically living for most of the time during the statutory period.

Physical Presence Requirements for Naturalization

For how long must a Legal Permanent Resident of the United States be physically present in the US before he or she can apply for naturalization?

A legal permanent resident of the U.S. must have been physically present in the US for half of the statutory three or five-year period to qualify for naturalization.

Physical Presence and Residence in the US are two different things. However, an absence from the US of six months or more will create a rebuttable presumption that your residence has been broken. An absence of a year or more will completely break your continuous residence. These periods of continuous residence and physical presence in the US must be carefully calculated before an application for naturalization is filed.

In some cases, people who served in the US military can obtain naturalization without having to meet the usual requirements of physical presence and residency in the United States.

Common Questions About the English Language and History and Civics Tests for US Naturalization

With a few exceptions persons who apply for naturalization in the US must pass an English Language test and a History and Civics test.

What if a Person Cannot Pass the English Language Test for Naturalization?

In some cases, a person may request a medical exception to the English language test for naturalization. People who have reached a certain age and who have resided in the US as permanent residents for certain lengths of time may have the English language test waived. An applicant must be at least 50 years old to fit into one of these statutory exceptions.

In some cases, a person can request an exception to the English Language test based on medical disability. To do this the person must obtain a certification from a medical professional stating that they are unable to learn a new language because of a medical disability or impairment. This is called a Medical Certification for a Disability Exception.

What if a Person Cannot Pass the History and Civics Tests for Naturalization?

People who would like to request an exception to the history and civics tests for naturalization must also obtain a certification from a medical professional stating that they are unable to learn new information due to a serious medical disability or impairment. This is done on the same form as the certification for an exception from the English Language test, which is form N-648.

How can I apply for a Medical Certification for a Disability Exception to the English Language or History and Civics Exams for Naturalization?

To apply for this exception an applicant must have form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exception completed by a medical doctor or psychologist. On this form, the doctor or psychologist must describe the disability or impairment that makes the person unable to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of English and/or History and Civics. The medical professional must describe the clinical methods which were used to diagnose the applicant’s disability or impairment and describe how this disability or impairment affects the person’s ability to learn English, History, or Civics. The disability or impairment may be physical or mental, but it must be described with great precision for the N-648 Medical Certification form to be approved.

Top Questions About the Good Moral Character Requirement for US Naturalization

What is the “Good Moral Character” Requirement for Naturalization?

To obtain naturalization a person must be found to have had “good moral character” for the statutory period (that is, the three or five-year period immediately before he or she applied for citizenship). In the eyes of USCIS good moral character is defined in terms of the standards of the average citizen in the community. However, convictions for certain crimes, including murder or “aggravated felonies” do permanently bar a person from being deemed to have a good moral character for naturalization purposes. Lesser crimes or bad acts can bar a person from naturalization if they have been committed within the statutory period, but the decision of whether good moral character exists must be made on a case by case basis by the immigration officer adjudicating the case. In making this decision the officer must take into consideration any extenuating circumstances which existed before or at the time that the acts in question were committed, and what the standards of the average person in the community are regarding such an act.

How Can I Show That I Have Good Moral Character for Naturalization Purposes?

If you have never been convicted of a crime the issue of good moral character will most likely not be raised in your naturalization case. If you have been convicted of crimes this does not bar you from applying for naturalization. However, you will have to show that you have rehabilitated yourself since your convictions for these crimes. Evidence of this rehabilitation should be submitted with your naturalization application.

USCIS may look at criminal conduct which occurred either before the statutory period (the three or five-year period before the filing of the naturalization application) or after this period. However, crimes committed within the three or five-year period before the filing of the naturalization application will be more heavily weighted than those committed before it. Therefore, in some cases, it is wise for a naturalization applicant to wait until any criminal convictions, as well as the sentences imposed for them, are outside of the statutory period.

Should I Apply for Naturalization if I have Criminal Convictions on My Record?

What if a person applies for naturalization and is refused because of criminal convictions? Can that person be put in removal proceedings because of these convictions? Yes, they can. This is a danger which must be taken into consideration in deciding whether to apply for naturalization. If you have any convictions on your record you should consult an experienced immigration attorney about the possible dangers before applying for naturalization.

Top Questions on Derivative US Citizenship

Can I Derive US citizenship through a US citizen parent?

Some children can derive citizenship from their parents. For example, if a child born abroad is under 18 years old and residing in the United States as a legal permanent resident while living in the legal and physical custody of at least one U.S. citizen parent, that child is a U.S. citizen. The child becomes a US citizen on the first day on which all of the above circumstances apply. This is why some foreign-born children of US citizen parents can come into the US on an immigrant visa and automatically become U.S. citizens once they arrive here. Of course, they must then apply for a certificate of citizenship to prove their status, but they are US citizens.

For other children of US citizens who were born abroad, it can be more complicated to determine whether they are US citizens or not. There are complex rules which determine which children born abroad to US citizen parents are born as US citizens. Depending on the year in which the person was born, which parent was a US citizen, and in some cases how much time that US citizen parent spent in the US in his or her own life, some children who were born abroad acquired US citizenship from their parents. There are complex rules which explain how these laws apply to such children born abroad. An experienced immigration lawyer should be consulted to determine whether a child born abroad is a US citizen.

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