Recently I have had an influx of questions on naturalization. In response to these questions this month’s article will cover the general requirements for acquiring United States citizenship. In general there are a number of different ways to acquire U.S citizenship based on the specific facts of your case. Consequently, this article will not be able to address every specific case but rather the general facts about the naturalization process.
There are eight basic requirements of acquiring U.S citizenship. I will briefly discuss each of those eight requirements.
1. An applicant must first be a permanent resident. This requirement signifies that an applicant cannot be in any other status other than a lawful permanent resident when he/she applies for citizenship. Therefore, an applicant who is the United States on a professional work visa or other legal status must first acquire permanent residence before submitting his/her naturalization application. INA § 318, 8 U.S.C. § 1429. There are some minor exceptions to this rule.
2. An applicant must be at least 18 years of age. INA § 334(b), 8 U.S.C. § 1445(b). There is an exception to this age requirement due to an applicant’s military involvement.
3. An applicant must be a continuous resident for five years as a permanent resident. This requirement is usually where most of my applicants have their concerns. This requirement signifies that before applying for citizenship an applicant must reside in the United States in a continuous manner. Consequently, if you are a permanent resident but you live and work in Jamaica you will probably not meet this requirement. Occasional visits to the United States will not suffice for this requirement.
4. An applicant must have resided for three months within the state that the citizenship application was filed. In other words if an applicant lives in Georgia he/she must have resided in Georgia for at least three months before the application is mailed to the service center that has jurisdiction over Georgia applicants. Again, in some circumstances the physical and residence requirements may be waived depending on the facts of the case.
5. An applicant must be physically present in the United States for at least one-half of the five years or one-half of the three years for spouses of United States citizens.
6. Must have resided continuously within the United States from the date the application was filed up to the time of admission to citizenship. In other words, once your naturalization application is submitted you must not depart the United States. INA § 316(a)(2), 8 U.S.C § 1427 (a)(2).
7. Must not be absent from the United States for a continuous period of more than one year during the periods for which continuous residence is required. 8 C.F.R. § 316(c)(1)(ii). In light of this requirement it is important for applicants to first establish their continuous presence and obtain U.S citizenship if they wish to reside outside of the United States. Again, just as with the other requirements, there are certain exemptions from disqualification based on the one year continuous absence rule.
8. An applicant must be a person of good moral character. This requirement was established to disqualify applicants who committed certain crimes. Of course not all applicants with a criminal background will be disqualified.
The above-mentioned eligibility requirements are the first basic requirements that an applicant must consider before applying for citizenship. In addition to the above-mentioned eligibility requirements there are specific application procedures that must be followed to achieve citizenship. Applying and acquiring U.S citizenship is an excellent way to safeguard and protect yourself as well as your family. Always remember that there is nothing permanent about permanent residence. However, once you become a United States citizen you and your family will then enjoy all the rights and privileges that are associated with citizenship.
Disclaimer: This article is provided as a public service and is not intended to establish an attorney client relationship. Any reliance on the information contained herein is taken at your own risk. The information provided in this article should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.
About the Writer:
Safiya Byars is a native of Jamaica and an attorney in Decatur, Georgia. Her firm is located at 160 Clairemont Avenue, Ste. 200, Decatur, Georgia 30030. Her firm handles all Immigration Matters, Deportation, Domestic Relations, Criminal Defense, Business Formation and Litigation, Landlord/Tenant and Estate Planning. To discuss your case, please contact Attorney Byars at 404-992-6506 or 678-954-5809 or via email. or visit her Firm’s website.