What are the requirements to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization?
Despite anti-immigrant rhetoric and a tighter enforcement of immigration law aimed at slowing legal immigration, the Trump administration is giving up to $10 million to help permanent residents become American citizens.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced Tuesday it is accepting applications for grants for citizenship preparation programs in communities across the country.
One of the key requirements for obtaining U.S. citizenship through naturalization is the much feared naturalization test, in which immigrants must prove they can read, write and speak basic English, and have essential knowledge of U.S. history and government. (There are some exemptions to the English language requirement.)
Many pro-immigrant organizations, which usually have limited resources to help low-income foreigners become U.S. citizens, provide citizenship instruction and naturalization application services to green card holders. These groups can now apply for a portion of the grant money under the Citizenship Instruction and Naturalization Application Services Program.
Additionally, the Refugee and Asylee Assimilation Program will fund up to four organizations that help permanent residents who entered the country under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program or were granted asylum.
The deadline to apply for the grant is Aug. 13. Award recipients will be announced in September, said the immigration agency.
Naturalization test changes on the horizon
USCIS publishes study guide materials for the civics portion of the test — which encompasses 100 questions and answers — and for the language section. There are plenty of other free online resources. Immigrants can also watch a video about the interview and test process.
USCIS announced earlier this month that it is planning changes to the naturalization test for an implementation date of December 2020 or early 2021. A working group with members from across the agency — with input of outside experts — has been reviewing and updating the test questions, and will also assess potential changes to the oral section of the test.
“The purpose of this test redesign is to create a meaningful, comprehensive, uniform, and efficient test that will assess applicant’s knowledge and understanding of U.S. history, government, principles, and values,” states the Revision of the Naturalization Civics Test Memorandum.
Applicants must correctly answer six of 10 questions to pass the civics test. In the English portion, they must correctly read and write one out of three sentences. The ability to speak English is determined by the USCIS officer conducting the interview.
The agency did not provide details about the potential changes in the test, which updated last time in 2008.
More than 750,000 people became American citizens in fiscal year 2018, “a five-year high in new oaths of citizenship,” according to USCIS.
But the agency, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, has been harshly criticized by immigration rights activists and immigration attorneys who complain about the slow pace of the application process not only for U.S citizenship, but also for visas, work permits, green cards and other benefits.
Requirements for naturalization
▪ An applicant must be at least 18 years old at the time of filing.
▪ Show physical presence in the United States for at least 30 months during the last five years, or 18 months if married to an American.
▪ Show good moral character. This means a clean criminal record for the previous five years, and not submitting false information as part of any immigration form or procedure. (A person with an aggravated felony is ineligible for naturalization.)
▪ Be able to read, write and speak basic English, and show knowledge of U.S. history and government.
▪ Be willing to support and defend the United States and the U.S. Constitution.
Applying for U.S. citizenship
To apply for naturalization, legal residents must submit, by mail or online, Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. The form must be properly filled in, strictly following these USCIS instructions.
The form must be submitted along with $725 fee payment, which includes $85 for the biometric services. USCIS accepts money orders, credit cards, personal and bank checks payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The application also has to include all evidence and supporting documentation listed. Do not send original documents unless specifically required.
Some of these documents are:
▪ Two passport-style photos.
▪ Copy of the permanent resident card, known as a green card.
▪ Copy of current legal marital status document.
▪ Documents for armed forces members or their spouses, such as certification of military or naval service using Form N-426.
Daniel Shoer Roth is a journalist covering immigration law who does not offer legal advice or individual assistance to applicants. Follow him on Twitter @DanielShoerRoth. The contents of this story do not constitute legal advice.
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