The United States welcomes immigrants from all over the world. In the United States there are two primary ways to achieve citizenship. The first is by being born within the territory of the United States. The second is through the process of naturalization.

Naturalization Criteria

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) administers the country’s naturalization laws and policy, and investigates applicants to determine whether they are eligible for citizenship. USCIS permits the following classes of people to apply for naturalization, so long as they meet other eligibility requirements:

  1. Those who have been permanent residents of the U.S. for the 5 years immediately preceding their application;
  2. Those who have been permanent residents in the U.S. for three or more years and are married to a U.S. citizen;
  3. Those who have qualifying service in the U.S. armed forces; and
  4. Children of U.S. citizens who live outside the United States.

If you apply for naturalization, you must also meet these eligibility criteria:

  1. Eighteen years in age or older;
  2. Good moral character;
  3. Basic knowledge of U.S. government, except if you have mental or physical impairments that prevent this;
  4. Continuous presence and residence in the U.S.; and
  5. Able to read and write English, unless you are mentally or physically impaired, or 55 years old with 15 years of permanent residence, or 50 years old with 20 years of permanent residence.
Naturalization Application Process

The USCIS process of investigation is lengthy. It includes fingerprinting and criminal background checks. The FBI runs a “name check” on all applicants, checking the names against its Universal Index, which among other things, contains its administrative, applicant, and criminal files.

If you apply for naturalization, USCIS will also review your immigration record and conduct an interview with you. USCIS officers are authorized by law to administer the Oath of Allegiance, subpoena witnesses, and request evidence on any eligibility criteria. The burden of proving you are eligible for naturalization, however, lies with you.

At the interview, the USCIS officers may ask about anything related to your application, including your marriage, your green card, any absences from the United States once you were given a green card, places you’ve lived or worked, your affiliations, your belief in the principles of the United States Constitution, your knowledge of English, United States history and government, your moral character, your willingness to pledge allegiance to the United States, and if applicable, any criminal activity in your record.

It takes 120 days from the date of the initial naturalization interview for USCIS to issue a decision. In the decision-making process, a USCIS officer must abide by laws, regulations, precedent decisions, and governing policies. If the USCIS officer takes longer than 120 days, you are entitled to ask a district court to review your application.

If your naturalization application is approved, further internal procedures involving a “re-verification” or quality control review are followed before you are asked to appear at a ceremony to pledge allegiance to the United States. If your application is denied, USCIS must issue a written denial notice specifying facts in support of its denial and citing what eligibility requirements you did not meet. You or an authorized representative such as a Maryland Citizenship Attorney can request a hearing before a USCIS officer within 30 days of receiving the denial. Once the USCIS sends you another notice of decision denying your application, you may request judicial review in a district court.

Obtaining citizenship is an exciting event in an immigrant’s life. However, it can be difficult to understand the immigration laws and procedures surrounding citizenship if you are not a lawyer. We recommend that you contact an experienced Maryland Citizenship Attorney at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC so that we can help you make a smooth transition to the United States. Call us at (301) 519-2801, or submit our online contact form today.