Citizenship is preferred to green card status, even though both grants an individual the right to live in the United States, and travel abroad with the ability to return. Citizenship bestows upon an individual rights that a green card holder cannot posses, such as the right to vote, to serve on a jury, and other rights that only citizens can possess. More importantly, citizenship provides an individual with peace of mind. A green card holder can lose his or her status if he or she resides outside of the United States for an extended period of time. Also, if the green card holder is convicted of, or admits to, certain crimes the green card can be taken away. Such a result often causes families great hardship. A alien who is naturalized cannot lose his or her citizenship unless the alien lied or committed fraud during the immigration process, or engage in some form of treason against the government.
In order for a green card holder to become a naturalized United States citizen there is a waiting period that must be complied with. Aliens that obtain a green card through marriage must wait 3 years in order to apply for naturalization. Aliens that otherwise obtain a green card must wait 5 years to apply for naturalization. It is important to note that not every green card holder is eligible for citizenship, and the alien should consult with an experienced immigration attorney, such as the attorneys at Hilf & Hilf, PLC, before beginning the process. Furthermore, if the alien wanting to become naturalized was previously convicted of a crime, it may be advisiable for him or her not to try to become naturalized. If the government learns of an alien’s criminal record during the naturalization process, it could lead to removal prooceedings that otherwise would have been avoided. Again, it is important to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer if there are criminal law issues that could impact the alien’s immigration status.
The alien must submit Form N-400 Application for Naturalization to begin the process. Once the application is processed the alien is scheduled for an interview.
At the interview the alien must demonstrate that he or she can read, write, and speak English at a basic level, unless they are exempted from the requirement due to their age and the length of time they resided in the United States, or due to a medical condition or disability.
Also at the interview, in most instances, a alien who wants to become a citizen must pass a citizenship test, which is in English. The citizenship test requires a basic knowledge of civics (United States government and the rights that citizens have), and United States history. The hearing officer usually asks no more than 10 questions. If the alien gets 6 out of 10 questions right they will pass this portion of the test. The alien can obtain materials concerning questions asked on the citizenship exam in advance in order to properly prepare. If the alien fails the test, they can have a second opportunity to try to pass between 60 and 120 days from the time of the original test. Special accomodations to the English requirement and/or the length of the test are allowed based upon the aliens age, as long as they have resided in the United States for an extended period of time as a permanent resident. This requirement can also be waived for disabled individuals.
There are sometimes circumstances where a foreign born individual with a parent or parents that are United States citizens can obtain United States citizenship derivatively, without the need for naturalization. If this possibility exists for you or a family member, it is recommended that you consult with an experienced immigration lawyer to advise you as to your options, such as the attorneys at Hilf & Hilf, PLC.