If you’re interested in becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States, you may benefit from working with a San Antonio immigration attorney who understands the process, can fill out and file your forms for you, and appeal if the U.S. government hands down an unfavorable immigration decision.
U.S. Citizenship: The Basics
Many people choose to become naturalized U.S. citizens. Naturalization is the process by which a person becomes a citizen, and it doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it takes quite a while to become a U.S. citizen, and the whole process begins with lawfully entering the United States.
Whether you enter on a visa, with a green card, or as a refugee or asylee, you must obtain a green card and be a permanent resident for five years (three in some cases) to apply for naturalization.
Entering the U.S. on a Visa
If you’re not a United States citizen, you generally need a visa to enter the United States. There are dozens of visas available, including those that allow you to come to the U.S. to visit for a short period of time, some that allow you to attend school, and many that enable you to work in the U.S.
If you choose to apply for a nonimmigrant visa, you will be required to provide evidence that you intend to stay in the U.S. temporarily. There are many cases where people can become a permanent resident from a nonimmigrant visa such as if you meet your spouse in the U.S. and get married or obtain an employment sponsorship. USCIS will deny your visa or green card if they believe your intent was not to temporarily stay in the U.S. but to adjust your status to a green card.
If your goal is to become a U.S. citizen, especially if you have familial connection that would qualify you for a green card, you should choose an immigrant visa.
If you’re interested in getting a visa to come to the U.S. for any reason, a San Antonio immigration attorney can help you find the right visa for your needs.
Tip: It’s important to work with someone who understands U.S. immigration law. Choosing the wrong type of visa for your needs can have disastrous consequences. For example, if you come to the U.S. on a visa that allows you to go to school but not work, you may face serious consequences if you get a job.
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Entering the U.S. with a Green Card
Some people are permitted to enter the U.S. without a visa because they have a green card. A green card is authorization to live and work anywhere in the United States. Only lawful permanent residents of the U.S., such as people who are the spouses, children, or other immediate family members of citizens or green card holders, are allowed to enter the U.S. this way.
You may be eligible to apply for a green card if you currently reside outside the U.S., and a San Antonio immigration attorney may be able to help you.
Entering the U.S. as a Refugee or Asylee
Refugees and asylees are special categories of people who come to the U.S. seeking protection from persecution in their home countries. The major difference between refugees and asylees lies in where they asked the U.S. for permission to enter. If you ask the U.S. government for help outside the U.S., you may be given permission to enter the country as a refugee; if you ask from inside the U.S. (you have up to a year after your arrival in the country to do so), you’re considered an asylee.
Refugees and asylees are allowed to petition the government for a green card after being physically present in the U.S. for at least a year after your admission as a refugee or asylee.
Applying for Citizenship
Applying for citizenship is a process – it doesn’t happen overnight. The following steps outline what you and your attorney need to do so you can become a naturalized citizen.
Determining Eligibility for Citizenship
You must be eligible to become a U.S. citizen, which means you:
- Must be at least 18 years old (unless a parent is applying for you)
- Are a permanent resident of the United States and have a green card
- Have been a permanent resident for at least five years (three years for spouses for U.S. citizens)
- Must have been physically present in the U.S. for a specific period of time prior to your application (your attorney can explain your requirements)
- Know the fundamentals of U.S. history, as well as the form and principles of the U.S. government
- Are able to read, write and speak basic English
- Are a person of good moral character
- Are registered with the Selective Service if you’re a male of a certain age
- Are willing to perform military or civilian service for the U.S. if required by law
- Promise to support the Constitution of the United States
- Understand and are willing to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States
Preparing the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
Your attorney will help you complete Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, which is required if you want to become a citizen.
Paying the Application Fee for Citizenship
You must pay an application fee to file Form N-400, as well as biometric fees (if required).
Attending a Biometrics Appointment
If you’re required to take biometrics, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will notify you. At your biometrics appointment, USCIS will collect your biometric information (such as your fingerprints and signature).
Completing Your Naturalization Interview
You’ll have to attend a naturalization interview. During your interview, the official you’re speaking with will attempt to verify the information on your petition. You’ll also take the citizenship test at this time.
Citizenship Test Questions
During your naturalization interview, the official interviewing you will administer the citizenship test. You must answer six of ten questions on civics correctly (you can get the USCIS list of possible questions here). The English portion of the test is threefold: Your interviewer will ask you to read one of three sentences correctly and write one of three sentences correctly to demonstrate your ability; your ability to speak will be evaluated the whole time.
Receiving a Decision from USCIS
USCIS will mail you its decision after your interview.
What Rights and Responsibilities Come With U.S. Citizenship?
Being a U.S. citizen entitles you to specific rights, and it requires you to uphold certain responsibilities, as well. As a citizen, you can vote, travel the world on a U.S. passport and bring certain family members to the United States. You can also obtain citizenship for your children who are under the age of 18, become an elected official, and become eligible for federal grants and scholarships to further your education.
Rights of U.S. Citizens
When you become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you gain the following rights:
- Freedom to express yourself
- Freedom to worship as you wish
- The right to a prompt, fair trial by jury
- The right to vote in elections for public officials
- The right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship
- The right to run for elected office
- The freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
Responsibilities of U.S. Citizens
All U.S. citizens have the following responsibilities:
- Support and defend the U.S. Constitution
- Stay informed on issues affecting your community
- Participate in the democratic process
- Respect and obey federal, state and local laws
- Respect the rights, beliefs and opinions of others
- Participate in your local community
- Pay income and other taxes honestly – and on time – to federal, state and local authorities
- Serve on a jury when called upon
- Defend the country if the need arises
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Becoming a U.S. Citizen?
If you’re interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, we may be able to help you. Call our office today to discuss your options for naturalization – we’ll be happy to explain what you can do during a free consultation.