Applying for U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization
Many permanent residents choose to apply for naturalization when eligible, in order to gain the significant advantages of U.S. citizenship. Some of the significant advantages are (1) ability to vote; (2) avoidance of any future removal proceedings which could result in removal (deportation) from the U.S.; and (3) avoidance of the possibility of losing permanent resident status by residing outside the U.S. for more than 6 months.
A lawful permanent resident who has resided continuously in the U.S. after being admitted as a permanent resident may apply for naturalization. During the 5 year period before the application is filed, the individual must show physical presence in the U.S. for at least half of that time. Absence from the U.S. of more than 6 months breaks the continuity of the continuous residence, unless it can be shown that the individual did not intend to abandon the U.S. residence.
Requirements for Naturalization
The applicant must demonstrate that he or she has been and still is a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States. While the law allows an examination of an applicant’s character at any time during his/her life, the essential inquiry focuses on the 5 years preceding the application. Good moral character does not mean moral excellence, and is not destroyed by a single lapse in judgment.
An applicant is required to demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including the ability to read, write and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language. No extraordinary or unreasonable conditions may be imposed on an applicant in the testing. An applicant is also required to demonstrate a knowledge of the fundamentals of the history, principles and form of government of the United States. Individuals over the age of 50 who have been permanent residents for more than 20 years are exempt from the English and civics requirements; individuals over the age of 55 who have been permanent residents for more than 15 years are likewise exempt.
Children and U.S. Citizenship Status
Birth in the U.S. establishes U.S. citizenship, but some people born outside the U.S. are actually U.S. citizens. Detailed laws govern whether an individual born outside the U.S. is a U.S. citizen; these laws focus on the following factors: (1) the date the child was born; (2) the citizenship of both parents; (3) whether the U.S. citizen parent(s) resided in the U.S. for the requisite period of time; and (4) whether the child resided in the U.S. for the requisite period of time. Frequently, these situations are complicated by the need to establish the parent-child relationship in order to establish citizenship.
Derivative U.S. citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act
A child born outside the U.S. after February 27, 1983 automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when at least one parent is a U.S. citizen and the child is residing in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence.