What are some of the advantages of citizenship over permanent residency?
- Permits extended travel out of the U.S. without the possibility of loss of right to return;
- Many countries waive visas for U.S. citizens, making travel easier for some;
- Permits sponsoring additional foreign relatives for permanent residence;
- Permits sponsoring spouses and parents as immediate relatives without waiting for immigrant visa availability;
- May transmit citizenship to children;
- Permits voting and full participation in U.S. democratic process.
What are the requirements for naturalization?
- Applicants must be at least 18 years of age;
- A lawful permanent resident for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen);
- Physical presence in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least 2 ½ of the five years preceding application, or 1 ½ of the preceding three years if married to a U.S. citizen (absences of six months to a year may be permissible without breaking continuity with an explanation supporting intent to maintain U.S. residency; absences of more than a year break continuity);
- Residence in the USCIS district of application for at least three months;
- Demonstration of good moral character for five years (three years if married to a U.S citizen). Law and USCIS policy describe a lengthy list of crimes and certain non-criminal activities which can impact a determination of good moral character;
- Willingness to adopt the principles of the U.S. Constitution;
- The ability to read, write, speak and understand conversational English, with exceptions for persons with physical or mental impairments and those with lengthy stays and who are over the age of 50;
- Ability to demonstrate knowledge of American history by taking and passing a test, also subject to exemption for impairment and age; and
- Willingness to take an oath of allegiance to the United States.
What happens if I am naturalizing on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen and we separate before the interview?
In short, you will not be able to naturalize on that basis and will have to wait the full five years required of others. Permanent Residents married to U.S. citizen spouses must have been "living in marital union" with their spouse for the three years preceding naturalization application. USCIS policy, however, imposes the "living in marital union" requirement for the three years preceding the naturalization interview as well. As such, separation, divorce, or death of the U.S. citizen spouse after filing of a naturalization application but before the interview will terminate eligibility of the Permanent Resident spouse to naturalize on the three year schedule. Such permanent residents retain the eligibility to naturalize on the regular five year schedule.
What elements of U.S. history and government am I supposed to know?
USCIS has compiled a list of 100 questions it uses for all naturalization civics tests. At the interview, the examining officer selects 10 of these questions, of which the applicant must answer 6 correctly from memory. USCIS provides study materials on its website.
What is the Oath of Allegiance?
The oath of allegiance is a set of promises individuals make when they become naturalized U.S. Citizens:
"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."
Does the US acknowledge dual citizenship?
Yes, the U.S. recognizes dual citizenship in certain cases. It is permitted, for example, where a person becomes a U.S. citizen through naturalization and their country of birth does not require its citizens to give up their native citizenship upon naturalization (depends on the citizenship laws of the individual’s native country). It is also allowed when an infant born in the U.S. to foreign parents, who acquires U.S. citizenship at birth, also acquires their parent’s citizenship upon birth, or where a child is born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent acquires dual citizenship at birth through their parentage combined with being born in a country where citizenship is acquired at birth regardless of parentage. Dual citizenship is also allowed where a U.S. citizen acquires foreign nationality by other automatic means.
However, U.S. law bars dual citizenship where a U.S. citizen performs certain “expatriating acts” voluntarily and with the intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship. These acts include the act of “obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon one's own application after the age of 18” and other acts that are performed voluntarily with the intention of giving up their U.S. citizenship as shown by the person's statements and conduct.
The U.S. State Department's official position on dual nationality is posted on their website. Additional general information about the acquisition of U.S. citizenship by means other than naturalization and the circumstances which can lead to loss of citizenship is available here.
Can I leave the US while waiting for adjudication of my naturalization application?
Yes. The law states that naturalization applicants must maintain “residence” in the U.S. while awaiting adjudication of a naturalization application and through the Oath ceremony, but "residence" does not mean "physical presence." In general, a visit abroad of under six months would not by itself create a break in residency. Nevertheless, buying a house, getting a job, and getting married while on that trip may demonstrate an intent to abandon residence, regardless of its duration. Absences of six months to a year create a rebuttable presumption of a break in residency, and a twelve month or greater absence is deemed a disruption. Those planning trips abroad during the naturalization process should also be aware of when they will be required to appear for biometrics, interview, and their oath ceremony.