There are generally two methods by which a person may become a U.S. citizen, operation of law or naturalization. Examples of instances where one becomes a U.S. citizen by operation of law are birth in the United States or birth abroad to U.S. citizens or nationals. Naturalization on the other hand requires affirmative application and satisfaction of statutory eligibility requirements.
Subject to exceptions, the applicant for naturalization must be lawfully admitted for permanent residence for at least five years, must be 18 years of age at the time of filing of the application, and satisfy certain residency requirements. Residence is not the equivalent of physical presence. Persons married to U.S. citizens must reside in the United States for three years while all others must reside in the United States for five years preceding the filing of the application. The person must also reside within the state or within the INS district where the application will be filed for at least three months immediately preceding the filing of the application. As mentioned above, residence is not equivalent to physical presence, which is required for at least half of the required residence time preceding the date of filing the application. There are specific rules that govern physical presence. Although absences of more than one year are deemed to interrupt the continuous physical presence there are exceptions and caveats.
In addition to these requirements the applicant must show that he is a person of good moral character, is not under an order of deportation, is not within certain category of barred classes of persons, and satisfies the literacy and knowledge of history and government requirements. The term “good moral character” is a legal term of art that is defined by statute and case law. It is very important that before filing an application for naturalization the person consult an immigration attorney to evaluate the situation especially if there have been any arrests or convictions. The filing of a naturalization application by a person that has certain criminal convictions or that cannot establish “good moral character” may result in deportation proceedings.
The decision to apply for naturalization is one that should be taken seriously. In light of recent changes in immigration laws it is beneficial to become a citizen as soon as one is eligible because even the slightest infraction may trigger deportation. However, the mere filing of an application may also trigger unintended consequences including deportation. Thus, we urge all persons to consult a knowledgeable immigration attorney before applying for naturalization. To learn more about this process, please contact our office at 1-888-905-0202 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.