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Helpful Hints for Citizenship


If you haven’t already, we encourage you to read our blog post A Brief Guide to NaturalizationIt will provide you with a roadmap to qualifications to be able to apply for U.S. citizenship, and then come back to this post for a closer look at the N-400 application and answers to frequently asked questions.

To review: What are the eligibility requirements for U.S. Citizenship?

  • Be a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or green card holder for 5 years, or if you are married and living with a U.S. citizen, you can qualify to apply in 3 years since you obtained residency status.
  • Of the 3 or 5 years, you need to have both continuous and physical presence (for at least half the time you are a permanent resident) in the U.S.
    • Continuous presence is defined as continuous residence in the lawful status in the United States.  Trips abroad of more than 6 months are deemed to break and individual’s continuous presence.  Upon returning the United States, they will not qualify to file for citizenship under the current regulations until “four years and a day” have passed since they reestablished continuous presence
    • Physical presence is defined as the time that an individual is physically present in the United States.  An applicant must be physically present for 2.5 of 5 years, or 1.5 of 3 years if they are married to a U.S. citizen.
  • You must be a person of good moral character in the immediate 5 (or 3) year period prior to filing for U.S. citizenship

 

Frequently Asked Questions: Form N-400

General Requirements

If a person did not get their green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen, can they still apply within 3 years instead of waiting the full 5 years if they are currently married to a U.S. citizen?

You can apply for citizenship at 3 years if you have had permanent residency and have been married to and living with a U.S. citizen for a full 3 years prior to applying. Additionally, you will need to demonstrate that your U.S. citizen spouse has held said status for 3 years preceding the filing of the citizenship application.

Does obtaining U.S. citizenship require that I rescind other citizenship that I have?

No, the U.S. does not require a person to rescind other citizenship they may have in order to become a U.S. citizen. The U.S. allows those with U.S. citizenship to be dual citizens of another country. However, certain other countries around the world such as India, do not allow dual citizenship, and therefore a national of that country would lose their citizenship by naturalizing in the United States.

Exemptions from the U.S. Language and Civics Test

What are the exemptions from the English language test?

There are three exemptions for certain individuals from taking the English and civics test.  Those are:

  • 50 years or older and had residency status for at least 20 years
  • 55 years or older and had residency status for at least 15 years
  • 65 years or older and had residency status for at least 20 years

If you qualify for an exemption under the first two prongs, the English requirement is waived and you may communicate to the officer through an interpreter in your native language.  The civics questions can also be translated and answered in your native language.  If you qualify under the third prong, the English requirement is waived and you are given easier civics questions to study.  You can also use an interpreter throughout your interview.

There is also a disability waiver available in certain situations. If an applicant for citizenship has a cognitive disability or lacks the capacity to answer the English language and civics questions, they can also be exempt from the English Language and Civics tests. To obtain the disability waiver, the applicant, or their caretaker, would need to apply through Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, which must be signed by their diagnosing physician. Form N-648 can be filed with the application, as well as presented at the naturalization interview.

Disability waivers can be extremely difficult to get approved. You should speak with an attorney if you believe that you or your loved one would qualify for this accommodation.

Information About Residence

Do I have to list every residence where I have lived in the past 5 years? What if I don’t?

Yes, you do. USCIS is looking back to establish good moral character for the past five years, so you have to disclose all of this information. It is about being as specific as possible.

For those who are currently stuck outside of the U.S. due to travel restrictions and concern for health and safety, how will this affect their continuous presence?

For those who are outside of the U.S. for 6 months or more are going to have a break in continuous residence. USCIS is extremely strict on this rule, so the applicant will have to re-establish continuous residence in the U.S. from the date they re-enter for four years and one day before qualifying to naturalize, regardless of when their residency status was approved

 

See related blog Options for Lawful Permanent Residents Stuck Abroad

 

Additional Questions (the “Yes/No” questions)

If I answer “yes” to one of the questions related to having a criminal background, does that mean I cannot apply for U.S. citizenship?

It does not automatically preclude the applicant from being able to file for citizenship, however, they should speak with an attorney to discuss the situation to understand the effects it could potentially have on their filing and their immigration status.

If I answer “yes” to one of the questions related to having a criminal background should I immediately involve an attorney or can I file on my own?

If you answer “yes” to any of the additional criminal background or immigration history related questions on the N-400 then you should involve an attorney. USCIS is being extremely strict with all naturalization applications that they are processing. If there is anything they can find with in an application on which they can deny someone, they are likely going to do it.

With an attorney, they can explain and advocate on your behalf in the application and also during the interview as to why a certain criminal or immigration conviction should not prevent the applicant from becoming a U.S. citizen.

If I am a man and I have not applied for the Selective Service (military draft), can I still apply for citizenship?

Yes, as long as you sign up for the Selective Service prior to filing the citizenship application. All men between the ages of 18 and 26, unless you are in valid Nonimmigrant (NIV) status, must sign up for the Selective Service as mandated by U.S. federal law. If you fail to register once you’ve obtained your green card, and you’re between the ages of 18 and 26, then you need to register as soon as possible to be able to file and process your citizenship application.

If you are above the age of 26, then you can no longer sign up for the Selective Service. If you did not sign up prior to your 26th birthday then you should speak with an attorney to strategize on your best options moving forward.

Oath of Allegiance

Can you say “no” to any part of the Oath of Allegiance?

There are exemptions for those who qualify as “conscientious objectors”. If for example, your religion dictates that you cannot join the military or handle firearms, you can apply for an exemption.

Keep in mind that USCIS can request evidence of your reasoning for requesting an exemption from the Oath of Allegiance.

After Filing the N-400

After I file for citizenship, what is my status?

You are considered a green card holder until the time when you take the Oath of Allegiance and receive U.S. citizenship. This means that you can continue to travel and work and receive the benefits as a permanent resident.

Is there a benefit to filing online versus filing on paper?

There is no benefit to filing online versus filing on paper. The cases are processed at the same speed regardless of the manner of filing.

Is there a study guide for the civics test?

Yes! You can find the guide for the USCIS Civics test here.

For many people, becoming a U.S. citizen is a great honor, and with the great honor comes great responsibility. If you would like to look into becoming a U.S. citizen, reach out to our office to schedule an appointment. USCIS fees will be increasing on October 2, so if you’re considering filing for citizenship, make sure to get the process started before fees increase!