Who is eligible to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization?

There are certain naturalization eligibility requirements for people based on certain circumstances, including any time spent in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The Migration Policy Institute notes that in 2014, 47 percent of the people living in the United States but born elsewhere had been naturalized to become citizens. That totals 20 million people who achieved citizenship. The MPI states that in one year, in 2014, 653,416 people were naturalized. Anyone in Tennessee interested in the process should know what is required as well as how long it could take.

Basic requirements

Generally, to become naturalized, people must be at least 18 years old and be able to read, speak and write in English. Further, someone's criminal record will be considered, especially the seriousness and age of the crime, though it does not necessarily exclude him or her from eligibility. Everyone will be tested on basic U.S. history and civics as well.

Residency requirements

There is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all formula for what is required of people who wish to be naturalized. The majority of people - 90 percent, according to the UCSIS - fall into the first category of eligibility, which is someone who is 18 years old and has been a permanent resident for the last five years. The time spent living in the country must be contiguous, or, in other words, the person must not have left the U.S. for six months or longer during that time.

Eligibility also extends to someone who is at least 18, married to and living with a U.S. citizen for at least three years and the spouse has been a citizen for the past three years. Again, that timeframe must be contiguous.

Military exceptions

Someone who has served for at least a year in the U.S. Armed Forces and is a permanent resident is considered eligible. Anyone who is at least 18 and served for less than one year may be eligible if he or she has lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident continuously for five years. The same applies to someone who is 18 and was in the U.S. Armed Forces for more than a year but discharged more than six months prior to applying.

The U.S. does not require any permanent residency from people who served active duty military service during the following:

  • World War I or II
  • Korea, Vietnam and Persian Gulf
  • Anytime on or after Sept. 11, 2001

Someone who was married to a member of the armed forces who died during active duty is simply required to be a permanent resident on the day of the interview with USCIS.

Next steps

Once someone determines that he or she is eligible for naturalization, the next step is to file the appropriate paperwork with the USCIS, which will require several photos of the person, a photocopy of the person's permanent resident card (when applicable) and either a check or money order for the fees. Extreme care is required when completing the forms - many naturalizations are denied because the applicant forget to disclose some important fact on the form.

After the documents are reviewed, the USCIS will hold an interview, after which the application will be granted, denied or continued. A continued application means that more information may be necessary. The last step for people whose applications have been granted is to take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. at a naturalization ceremony.

The USCIS states that the average length of time the naturalization process takes is six months. That timeframe could easily be longer for people who are unsure of what they are doing or those who make mistakes. People who wish to learn more about this topic should speak with an immigration attorney in Tennessee.

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