Naturalization is the process by which someone applies to become a United States Citizen. There are several criteria that must be met:
- You must be able to speak and understand English.
- You have to be over 18 years old.
- You are required to have maintained a Green Card or legal Permanent Residence for at least five years unless you obtained your Green Card through marriage to a United States Citizen, in which case the requirement is only three years.
- You must pass a test on American history and civics.
Competency in English is required throughout the interview process, starting with being able to understand and respond to the interviewer’s questions in English. There is also a written test where you will answer questions on civics and history. There is a bank of 100 questions and ten are chosen at random for each test. You must answer six of those ten questions correctly. If you are over 50 and have lived in the United States for over 20 years as a Legal Permanent Resident, or if you are over 55 years and have 15 years as a Legal Permanent Resident, then the English portion of the test may be waived. Unless you have a proven disability, the civics portion of the test may not be waived.
How difficult is the civics section of the test?
There are some tricky questions. You will need to know details such as how many people are in the House of Representatives and the names of the original 13 colonies. There are technical questions, for instance who elects the president, the answer being the Electoral College, not the American people. The questions can be esoteric, but there are study tools and the government provides applicants with booklets and cds to help you succeed. In addition, I always provide practice questions, so you will have an additional resource with which to study. As a Naturalization candidate, you are required to answer six out of ten civics questions correctly.
What is continuous residence?
Persons seeking Naturalization must continuously reside for the last five years in the United States. If a you leave the country for more than a year, Citizenship may be denied based on the fact that continuity has been broken. Temporary visits abroad do not break the continuity of residence, however. The following apply to maintaining one’s Legal Permanent Residence and obtaining United States Citizenship:
- Being out of the country for more than a year will result in the revocation of your Green Card, which is a requirement for naturalization.
- If you do leave the country for more than a year, a reentry permit is required to return to the United States.
- In cases of natural disasters or other emergencies, if you have been abroad for over a year, you can petition the government for an exception.
What is the difference between Physical Presence and Continuous Residence?
As mentioned earlier, people seeking Citizenship are required to maintain a Legal Permanent Residence in this country for five years, or three years if you have obtained your Green Card through marriage to a United States Citizen. Physical Presence, whether basing it on five or three years, means that you literally have to be in the Unites States for one day more than half that time. So if it is the typical five-year requirement, you will need to prove you have been physically present here for two and a half years plus one day.
You must count the days of every trip you have made abroad. It is possible for you to stay on the path to prove Continuous Residency, but if you have been out of the country for more than half the time, you must delay your Naturalization application until you have reached Physical Presence of one day more than half the past five or three years.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has provided an informative reference for individuals and families seeking United States citizenship called A Guide to Naturalization. It is written in plain English and provides additional details.
What questions do you have about becoming a United States Citizen? Is your situation unique?
Contact me today for a consultation – it might turn out that your case is not as difficult as you think.
Laraine E. Schwartz, Esq.Winograd and Schwartz
Attorneys at Law, PC
440 60th Street, Suite 206
West New York, NJ 07093