NOTE: USCIS filing fees for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization increase 83%, from $640 to $1,170 on October 2, 2020.
Even prior to the pandemic, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services made the news for processing delays across visa categories. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to additional delays, including green card printing backlogs. The agency blamed declining requests for immigration services when it requested $1.2 billion in funding from Congress earlier this year. When the negotiations fell through, USCIS contacted approximately two-thirds of the workforce to warn of furloughs starting August 30, 2020. Amid the budget woes, DHS also published a final rule increasing prices for many immigration benefits, including increasing the cost to apply for citizenship from $640 to $1,170 starting on October 2, 2020.
Recently, an independent government watchdog determined that the appointment of top officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were invalid due to the agency’s disregard for the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. Federal judges have already struck down some H-1B requirements, but we could see increased legal challenges for policies enacted during the past two years.
Even green card holders have been subject to restrictions during the President’s travel bans. Many permanent residents are considering naturalization to not only avoid the uncertainties of shifting immigration regulations, but to participate fully in the U.S. democratic process.
When should I file for U.S. citizenship?
Naturalization, or the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, is largely a personal choice based on your circumstances and goals. We will provide information on the requirements and eligibility for citizenship, as well as an overview of the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens.
Typically, you must be a green card holder for 5 years before applying for naturalization. Some spouses of U.S. citizens are eligible if they have been a lawful permanent resident for at least 3 years and have been living in marital union with the same U.S. citizen during that period.
You must maintain continuous residence for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen as described above). You must also establish that you have resided in the state or service district for 3 months prior to filing. If you travel outside the U.S. for more than six months but less than a year or you are absent for more than 1 year, you may break the continuity of residence. Even multiple absences of less than 6 months may concern an immigration officer: you need to provide additional evidence that your actual dwelling place and residence is in the United States. You must show that you have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years preceding your filing (or 18 months out of 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen).
If you are considering naturalization, you should consult with an attorney when planning extended travel to ensure you are maintaining your permanent residence.
USCIS will evaluate whether you are a person of “good moral character” and requires that you demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. constitution. You must also have an understanding of U.S. history and government and be able to read, write, and speak basic English to pass the required civics and English test. The interview will be conducted in English and you are expected to be able to answer in English. When you pass the interview and test portions, you will be scheduled for an oath ceremony. Last fall, USCIS started piloting changes to the tests, with changes set to go into effect later this year or early 2021.
What happens if I don’t pass?
You can take the English and civics tests between 60 and 90 days after the date of your initial interview. If you fail once again, you must apply for naturalization again. If there was wrongdoing or bias on the part of the interviewing officer, there may be an opportunity to appeal the decision, but this is a rare occurrence. There is no limit to the number of times you can apply for naturalization.
Becoming a Citizen
At the ceremony, you will be required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The oath is as follows:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
At the ceremony, you are required to return your green card. It will no longer be needed as you will receive a Certificate of Naturalization after taking the oath. You should review the certificate and notify USCIS of any errors before leaving the ceremony.
Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities
As a green card holder, you are probably already familiar with tax reporting requirements and other responsibilities that come with living and working in the United States. After you become a U.S. citizen, you are afforded additional rights and responsibilities. You should update your Social Security record, apply for a U.S. passport if you intend to travel abroad, and you can register to vote. USCIS states that U.S. citizens are eligible to:
Only citizens can vote in federal elections. Most states also restrict the right to vote, in most elections, to U.S. citizens.
- Serve on a jury.
Only U.S. citizens can serve on a federal jury. Most states also restrict jury service to U.S. citizens. Serving on a jury is an important responsibility for U.S. citizens.
- Travel with a U.S. passport.
A U.S. passport enables you to get assistance from the U.S. government when overseas, if necessary.
- Bring family members to the U.S.
S. citizens generally get priority when petitioning to bring family memberspermanently to this country.
- Obtain citizenship for children under 18 years of age.
In most cases, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizenis automatically a U.S. citizen.
- Apply for federal jobs.
Certain jobs with government agencies require U.S. citizenship.
- Become an elected official.
Only citizens can run for federal office (U.S. Senate or House of Representatives) and for most state and local offices.
- Keep your residency.
A U.S. citizen’s right to remain in the United States cannot be taken away.
- Become eligible for federal grants and scholarships.
Many financial aid grants, including college scholarships and funds given by the government for specific purposes, are available only to U.S. citizens.
- Obtain government benefits.
Some government benefits are available only to U.S. citizens.
Explore additional rights and responsibilities on the USCIS website.
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