Naturalization is the process whereby lawful permanent residents (LPR’s or “green card” holders) become American citizens upon satisfying certain requirements. Permanent residents do not automatically become U.S. citizens after satisfying the naturalization requirements but rather, must apply for naturalization and take the Oath of Allegiance; indeed, many permanent residents elect to remain in the U.S. without applying for naturalization. Nonetheless, it is wise for a lawful permanent resident to apply for naturalization as soon as he or she is eligible because recent changes in immigration law make it easier to strip a permanent resident of their status. For example, a permanent resident who commits an aggravated felony may be deported even after residing in the U.S. as a “green card” holder for many years. If you need help with the process to become a citizen, a Michigan naturalization lawyer could guide you through step by step. Our dedicated immigration attorneys are here to support you through this challenging yet rewarding process.

Eligibility for Naturalization

To be eligible for naturalization, an LPR must be lawfully admitted to the U.S., must have resided continuously in the U.S. for at least five years in LPR status (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen), and must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of that period. Also, the LPR must be able to read, write, and speak the English language, and must exhibit a basic knowledge and understanding of U.S. government and history, with limited exceptions.

The residency requirement can best be understood to mean that the applicant must have maintained his principal dwelling in the U.S. during the applicable five- or three-year period, so that even if they live abroad for a portion of that period, the primary home where they live is in the U.S. This is separate from the physical presence requirement, though the two concepts are closely related. There is an exception made for those who have served in the military and were discharged honorably during time of war, provided certain conditions are met. For these military service members, obtaining lawful permanent residency and maintaining residence are not pre-requisites for naturalization. More information about service members and naturalization is provided in our article: U.S. Armed Forces and Their Family Members.

Additionally, applicants for naturalization must be deemed to possess good moral character. Therefore, prospective applicants for naturalization who may have had any type of encounter with the law or who have a criminal history are advised to see an immigration attorney prior to applying for naturalization. For some, there may not be an obstacle to showing good moral character. Others could find themselves facing the prospect of deportation instead of naturalization, and, thus, may find it beneficial to refrain from applying for naturalization altogether.

Naturalization Documents

Applicants for naturalization can usually apply in the 90-day period prior to the completion of the five- or three-year residency requirements. After filing the application, the applicant must maintain their residency in the U.S. (but not necessarily physical presence) until they are sworn in as a citizen of the United States. The children of green card holders may be able to naturalize derivatively through the naturalization of their parents.

The Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) is filed along with the appropriate supporting documentation with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After the application is received by USCIS and after the applicant has been fingerprinted, an interview is scheduled with a USCIS officer. The officer will verify the information in the application, question the applicant regarding his eligibility for citizenship, test his English skills and abilities, and conduct the short civics exam. Soon after the application is approved, the applicant will be scheduled for the swearing-in ceremony, where the applicant will take the Oath of Allegiance and obtain his Certificate of Naturalization. With the Certificate of Naturalization, the new U.S. citizen is eligible to apply for a U.S. passport. A Michigan naturalization lawyer at our AV rated immigration law firm could help someone put together all of the necessary documentation for this process.

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