“The things that the flag stands for were created by the experiences of a great people. Everything that it stands for was written by their lives. The flag is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history.”
These words were written by Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, and they reflect on the spirit of this great nation. Becoming a U.S. citizen will be one of the most important days in your life. It will culminate in a ceremony that will signify the end of the long immigration road and a new beginning to the privilege of living as a naturalized U.S. citizen.
There are many reasons to become a U.S. citizen. The most important is the ability to vote in America. With rare exceptions, only citizens of this country can vote in our democratic process. Other benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen include:
- Ability to obtain government benefits.
- Avoiding deportation if you are convicted of a serious crime.
- Retaining residency: Permanent residents are always at risk of losing their green cards if they spend long period of time outside the country.
- Immigration benefits for family members: U.S. citizens receive priority treatment when it comes to bringing family members and fiancés to the United States.
- Tax consequences: Permanent residents are not always treated the same way for tax purposes, especially for estate taxes.
These are a few of the benefits that U.S. citizens receive. However, the road to naturalization can be difficult. There are many requirements you must meet on your road to citizenship which are discussed below. In order to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you must be:
- 18 years or older
- Lawfully admitted for permanent residence
- Have five years of continuous residence as a lawful permanent resident (LPR); three years if obtained LPR status through marriage to a U.S. citizen
- Have been physically present in the United States for at least half that time
- Have resided for at least three months in the USCIS district where the application is being filed
- Be a person of good moral character
- Demonstrate basic literacy in the English language
- Demonstrate knowledge of U.S. civics and history
- Take an oath of allegiance to the United States
Applicants must be at least 18 years old unless the person honorably served in the military during designated periods of armed conflict or is a minor with at least one U.S. citizen parent.
An applicant must have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence. Lawfully admitted for permanent residence means having been legally accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws.
Residence and Physical Presence
An applicant is eligible to file if, immediately preceding the filing of the application, he or she:
- has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence;
- has resided continuously as a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. for at least 5 years prior to filing;
- has been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the previous five years (absences of more than six months but less than one year shall disrupt the applicant’s continuity of residence unless the applicant can establish that he or she did not abandon his or her residence during such period)
Good Moral Character
Generally, an applicant must show that he or she has been a person of good moral character for the statutory period (typically five years or three years if married to a U.S. citizen) prior to filing for naturalization. USCIS is not limited to the statutory period in determining whether an applicant has established good moral character. An applicant is permanently barred from naturalization if he or she has ever been convicted of murder. An applicant is also permanently barred from naturalization if he or she has been convicted of an aggravated felony as defined in section 101(a)(43) of the Act on or after November 29, 1990. A person also may not be found to be a person of good moral character if during the last five years he or she:
- has committed and been convicted of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude
- has committed and been convicted of 2 or more offenses for which the total sentence imposed was 5 years or more
- has committed and been convicted of any controlled substance law, except for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana
- has been confined to a penal institution during the statutory period, as a result of a conviction, for an aggregate period of 180 days or more
- has committed and been convicted of two or more gambling offenses
- is or has earned his or her principal income from illegal gambling
- is or has been involved in prostitution or commercialized vice
- is or has been involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the United States
- is or has been a habitual drunkard
- is practicing or has practiced polygamy
- has willfully failed or refused to support dependents
- has given false testimony, under oath, in order to receive a benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
- has committed the offense of driving under the influence.
An applicant must reveal all relevant facts to USCIS, including his or her entire criminal history, regardless of whether the criminal history disqualifies the applicant under the enumerated provisions.
Attachment to the Constitution
An applicant must show that he or she is attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States.
Applicants for naturalization must be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language. Applicants exempt from this requirement are those who on the date of filing:
- have been residing in the United States subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for periods totaling 15 years or more and are over 55 years of age;
- have been residing in the United States subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for periods totaling 20 years or more and are over 50 years of age; or
- have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant¹s ability to learn English.
United States Government and History Knowledge
An applicant for naturalization must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and of the principles and form of government of the United States. Applicants exempt from this requirement are those who, on the date of filing, have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant¹s ability to learn U.S. History and Government.
Applicants who have been residing in the U.S. subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 20 years and are over the age of 65 will be afforded special consideration in satisfying this requirement. Examples of typical U.S. civics and history questions include:
- What are the three branches of the U.S. government?
- What do the stars and stripes on the flag represent?
- What is the Bill of Rights?
- Who are the two U.S. Senators from your state?
Men in the U.S. between ages 18 to 25 years must show that they have registered for Selective Service, or if they have not, that failure to do so was not willful.
Oath of Allegiance
To become a citizen, one must take the oath of allegiance. By doing so, an applicant swears to:
- support the Constitution and obey the laws of the U.S.;
- renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title; and
- bear arms for the Armed Forces of the U.S. or perform services for the government of the U.S. when required.
In certain instances, where the applicant establishes that he or she is opposed to any type of service in armed forces based on religious teaching or belief, USCIS will permit these applicants to take a modified oath.
These are the requirements to become a U.S. citizen. Remember, it is a privilege, not a right, to become a U.S. citizen. Therefore, USCIS is very stringent is adhering to these requirements. The 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan once said that “Freedom is the deepest and noblest aspiration of the human sprit.” Becoming a U.S. citizen is the greatest way to enjoy these freedoms.