Naturalization is the process by which a permanent resident becomes a US citizen. Many people erroneously say they want to apply for citizenship without understanding that they must first become a permanent resident. An individual must be at least 18 years of age to apply for naturalization. However, some children, below the age of 18, become US citizens automatically, either at birth, or through the later actions of a parent who is or becomes a US citizen. This last group- requiring the actions of a parent- is extremely complicated and often ties officers, attorney and even immigration judges into knots.
Although the process may seem simple on its face, applicants should be warned that USCIS officers will comb through their entire immigration history, including prior arrests, immigration violations, prior marriages and divorces, previously undisclosed children, asylum applications and prior associations. We have seen numerous instances in which applicants file for naturalization and wind up in deportation (removal) proceedings.
Naturalization requires the applicant (1) be at least 18 years of age (2) a permanent resident for 5 years or 3 years if married and living with a US citizen spouse (3) have been physically present in the US for at least 50% of the required residency period (4) are sufficiently conversant in the English language (5) have a basic knowledge of US history and government and (6) are a person of good moral character. This last requirement is often a matter of discretion based on a history of serious immigration violations, criminal convictions, or other prohibited conduct. A person convicted of an aggravated felony after November 29, 1990 is permanently barred from becoming a US citizen.
The process requires an application and an interview which will normally be conducted in the English language. In certain circumstances, the English language requirement may be dispensed with for disabled individuals or for individuals over the age of 55 who have been permanent residents for long periods of time.
After successfully passing the naturalization interview, the applicant will be notified by mail to attend the official swearing in. After the swearing in and receipt of the naturalization certificate, the applicant becomes a U.S. citizen. Although the U.S. government will permit dual citizenship, a naturalized citizen can only travel internationally on a U.S. passport.