Applying for American Citizenship Introduction It is essential that all permanent residents who are eligible for naturalization seriously consider applying for United States citizenship. In today’s restrictive immigration environment, it is very easy for a permanent resident to be deported, even after many years in the United States, and even despite the existence of an American spouse and children. Often, when a permanent resident naturalizes, his or her children under 18 who reside with them automatically become American citizens. In addition to making deportation impossible, unless American citizenship is acquired fraudulently, becoming an American also can have tax, employment, and other benefits. For all these reasons, any permanent resident that is eligible for American citizenship should apply unless there are good reasons for not doing so. Indeed, some permanent residents should not apply for American citizenship because doing so actually can result in their deportation. This document is intended to help you understand these issues, but it does not constitute legal advice. General Requirements to Naturalize Although there are exceptions, most applicants for naturalization must fulfill age, residence, physical presence, and good moral character requirements. Specifically, most naturalization applicants must have been a permanent resident and have maintained a residence in the United States continuously for five years since obtaining permanent resident status. Persons with permanent resident status living in marital union for three years with a U.S. citizen spouse are eligible for citizenship. Although overseas travel is permitted after applying for citizenship, a U.S. residence must be maintained between filing for naturalization and obtaining citizenship. Most citizenship applicants must reside for three months in the state of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) district of filing. Additionally, most applicants must have been physically present in the United States at least half of the required time period prior to filing, i.e., either half of five or three years. Absences from the United States of over six months, but less than one year, during either the five or three year periods break the continuity of residence, unless the applicant can prove that residence was not abandoned. Absences of over one year break the period of required residence where the applicant does not obtain the CIS’ approval of an application to preserve residence. Applications for citizenship may be filed no more than 90 days before the applicant’s fifth or third anniversary date as a permanent resident. All naturalization applicants must demonstrate good moral character. Good moral character is determined not only by an examination of the applicant’s police records, but also general conduct. Some behavior, such as failure to pay child support or taxes, certain driving offenses, and criminal convictions can result in a finding that an applicant lacks the required good moral character for American citizenship. The spouses of U.S. citizens who work abroad sometimes can apply for citizenship immediately after acquiring permanent resident status and without satisfying the residence or physical presence requirements. This includes the spouses of U.S. citizens working for either the U.S. government, an international organization of which the United States is a member, selected American research institutions, American corporations engaged in U.S. foreign trade and commerce, and certain religious workers who are regularly stationed abroad. These permanent residents can file for American citizenship immediately after they have acquired permanent resident status, or any time later, despite lengthy absences from the United States. Citizenship applicants working for the U.S. government, international organizations of which the United States is a member, selected American research institutions, or American corporations engaged in U.S. foreign trade and commerce may be exempted from the continuous residence requirement, but not the physical presence requirement. To qualify, however, they must establish that they have never departed the United States for one year after obtaining permanent resident status, and that their absence is on behalf of the above U.S. entities before one year of continuous absence. There are a few other unusual exceptions to the basic requirements to naturalize. Permanent Residents Who Have Been Arrested Any permanent resident who has ever been arrested must consult with a knowledgeable immigration attorney, and especially before applying for United States citizenship. Some permanent residents with criminal records are nonetheless eligible for American citizenship. Others with criminal records are not eligible for U.S. citizenship. Most importantly, some permanent residents with criminal records will be placed in removal proceedings if they apply for U.S. citizenship. Any permanent resident who has ever been arrested anywhere at any time must consult with an immigration attorney, not only before applying for naturalization, but also before leaving the United States. Today, permanent residents with ancient and insignificant criminal records often are detained indefinitely, without bond, after a brief trip overseas. These very important warnings apply to any permanent resident who has ever been arrested, even if the criminal case was ultimately dismissed and/or the criminal record has been expunged. Dual Citizenship The United States recognizes dual nationality. Consequently, when a permanent resident naturalizes, American law does not require him or her to give up his or her original nationality. On the other hand, some permanent residents will automatically lose their original nationality upon the acquisition of American citizenship under the laws of their original country of nationality. Persons concerned about maintaining their original nationality after acquiring American citizenship must discuss those concerns with their consulate, and perhaps, too, with a lawyer in their country of original citizenship. Please contact us if you have questions or if you would like our assistance in applying for American citizenship. This document does not constitute legal advice.