Citizenship & Naturalization

Often times, our office receives inquiries about traveling documents and renewal for Green Cards. What is interesting is that many of these inquiries involve applicants that have been Permanent Residents for well over five (5) years. Many of these applicants are eligible for naturalization; yet they still do not pursue citizenship. Citizenship is not a burden nor is it a requirement. It is a privilege allowed upon immigrants to no longer be residents of this country but to belong to the United States once naturalized. It grants us the right to say that although we may have been born elsewhere, we are now American.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship Manual describes most accurately this important benefit and personal achievement:

The United States has a long history of welcoming immigrants from all parts of the world. The United States values the contributions of immigrants who continue to enrich this country and preserve its legacy as a land of freedom and opportunity. USCIS is proud of its role in maintaining our country’s tradition as a nation of immigrants and will administer immigration and naturalization benefits with integrity.

United States citizenship is a unique bond that unites people around civic ideals and a belief in the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The promise of citizenship is grounded in the fundamental value that all persons are created equal and serves as a unifying identity to allow persons of all backgrounds, whether native or foreign-born, to have an equal stake in the future of the United States.

Hiring a lawyer for citizenship can very likely be the difference in an approved application or one that is denied.

How to Get Naturalized in the United States

“Naturalization” is the term in immigration law that refers to the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Commencing naturalization proceedings is a major step in making the United States one’s home. However, not every person physically present in the United States is eligible to apply for naturalization. In order to apply for naturalization, one must first become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) and then meet many other extensive eligibility requirements. Furthermore, there are many cases where one may already be a U.S. citizen and not realize it.

Overview of the New Edition of the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization (12/23/16 edition)

Beginning on December 23, 2016, applicants for naturalization have been required to use the 12/23/16 edition of the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization for new applications. In this article, we will provide a general walk through of the current version of the Form N-400, which saw significant changes from previous editions of the Form. Please note that this overview is not intended to be a “do it yourself” guide. Those seeking naturalization are well advised to consult with an experienced immigration attorney for a case-specific evaluation for eligibility for naturalization. Most applicants are also well advised to work with an experienced attorney through each step of the process, including completing the Form N-400.

The Selective Service Requirement and Immigration Law

Male U.S. citizens (USCs) and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are required to register for selective service between the ages of 18 and 25. In the immigration context, if an alien who was required to do so fails to register for selective service, there may be adverse immigration consequences, including a non-permanent bar to naturalization if such failure was proved to be willful. This article will explain the selective service requirement in the immigration context and the consequences for failing to register with selective service if required to do so.

USCIS Releases New Edition of the Form N-470

On May 27, 2016, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published an updated edition of the Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes. The new edition, dated May 11, 2016, will be the only edition of the form that USCIS will accept starting on July 26, 2016.

Recognized American Institutions of Research

This article contains the list of recognized American Institutions of Research and other related organizations. An LPR may obtain approval through the Form N-470 process to work at such an institution abroad for one year or more and to preserve continuous residence for naturalization purposes.

Overview of Form I-942, Request for a Reduced Fee

On December 23, 2016, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) introduced the Form I-942, Request for Reduced Fee. The current version’s edition date is December 23, 2016. The Form I-942 will allow qualifying applicants for naturalization to seek a reduced filing fee. In this article, we will examine the eligibility and filing requirements for the Form I-942.

Matter of Gomez-Beltran: Good Moral Character Bar for Giving False Testimony in Immigration Proceedings

On June 27, 2016, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rendered a precedent decision titled the Matter of Gomez-Beltran, 26 I&N Dec. 765 (BIA 2016). The Board held that if an alien, during the period for which he or she is required to establish good moral character, gives false testimony under oath in proceedings before an immigration judge with the subjective intent of obtaining immigration benefits, the alien is barred from establishing good moral character under section 101(f)(6) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In this article, we will discuss the facts of the case, the Board’s reasoning in reaching its decision, and the effects of the decision going forward.

Continuity of Residence Requirement for Naturalization

In order to be eligible for naturalization, most applicants must generally have resided continuously in the United States for a period of five years prior to the naturalization application and subsequent to becoming a permanent resident unless he or she falls under certain exceptions. The applicant must also reside in the United States continuously from the date on which he or she applies for naturalization to the date on which he or she is naturalized. Certain absences from the United States during that five-year period may lead to a finding that the LPR’s period of continuous residence was “interrupted.” A finding of interruption of continuous residence would make the LPR ineligible for naturalization until he or she could satisfy all of the naturalization requirements. In this article, we will use the relevant statutes, regulations, agency guidance, and administrative and judicial precedent to explore issues regarding the interruption of permanent residency with regard to eligibility for naturalization.

Cases Where Absence of One Year or More Do Not Disrupt Continuity of Residence

If an applicant for naturalization was absent for a continuous period of one year or more, that will lead to a finding that the applicant’s continuous residence was interrupted, regardless of the applicant’s professed intent. The question of “intent” for absences of one year or more is only relevant in determining whether an applicant has abandoned his or her LPR status; it is not relevant to continuous residence for naturalization purposes. However, there are certain situations in which an applicant may remain abroad for one year or more and it will not be considered an interruption of his or her continuous residence. Some of these scenarios also exempt the applicant from the corresponding physical presence requirements to naturalization, although not all. In this article, we will review the situations in which an absence from the United States of one year or more will not lead to the interruption of continuous residence for naturalization purposes.

Physical Presence Requirement for Naturalization

In order to procure naturalization, an LPR must meet both a continuous residence requirement and a physical presence requirement for a statutory period subsequent to his or her admission as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) and immediately preceding his or her application for naturalization. In most cases, the continuous residence requirement is five years and the physical presence requirement is at least one-half of those five years. In this article, we will discuss the physical presence requirement for naturalization.

Situations where Continuous Residence/Physical Presence Requirements are Modified or Inapplicable

In this article, we will examine situations in which the continuous residence and/or physical presence requirements for naturalization are either modified or inapplicable. Such situations include modified continuous residence and the physical presence requirements for spouses of U.S. citizens, surviving spouses or children of U.S. citizens who died in military service, and persons seeking naturalization based on service in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Permanent Bars to Good Moral Character

If an alien is subject to a “permanent bar” to good moral character, he or she will be permanently precluded from establishing good moral character, regardless of whether the action that the alien committed to cause the permanent bar to attach occurred in the relevant statutory period. In this article, we will study statutes, regulations, and administrative guidance to examine the permanent bars to good moral character.

Expedited Naturalization for the Surviving Spouse or Child of an Alien Who Died While Engaged in U.S. Intelligence Activities

Under very limited circumstances, the surviving spouse or child of a deceased alien who died while engaged in U.S. intelligence activities is eligible for naturalization under special rules. This provision is noted in the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS’s) Policy Manual (PM) at 12 USCIS-PM D.5. However, the PM does not describe the provision, and no details about it are found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations. Rather, the rules regarding this naturalization provision are in section 305 of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 1997, Pub. L. 204-293 (October 11, 1996). In this article, we will reproduce section 305 of Pub. L. 204-293 and explain the rules regarding naturalization contained therein.

Rare Situations Involving Public Charge and Naturalization

The rules for naturalization do not contain a public charge test or otherwise incorporate the public charge statutes. There is no requirement that an alien repay public benefits in order to be eligible for naturalization. There are, however, very limited scenarios in which public charge issues may affect a naturalization application. In this article, we will refer to a legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Field Guidance on rules regarding public charge inadmissibility and deportability to look at the limited ways in which public charge concerns may interact with a naturalization application.

Naturalization Applicants 75 and Older No Longer Automatically Exempt from Fingerprinting Requirement

On July 26, 2017, the United States Citizenship Immigrant Services published a Policy Alert (PA) titled “Biometrics Requirements for Naturalization.” The PA-2017-03 makes a minor change to the USCIS Policy Manual (PM) at 12 USCIS-PM B.2. The change has to do with the biometrics requirements for naturalization. The USCIS will no longer automatically waive the fingerprint requirement for naturalization applicants age 75 or older.

Deriving Citizenship Through Parents After Birth

There are certain scenarios in which a child born abroad without U.S. citizenship at birth may become a U.S. citizen through the naturalization of one or both parents. The current law on this subject derives principally from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA). For children who were 18 years of age before the effective date of the CCA on February 27, 2001, previous laws under the old INA § 320 guide the acquisition of citizenship. There are provisions for both children residing in the United States (INA § 320) and children residing outside of the United States (INA § 322). This article will explain the rules for the acquisition of citizenship by a child on account of the naturalization of one or both parents.

Rules for Whether Individual Must Have Been an LPR Before Turning 18 to Derive Citizenship Under Old Section 321

From December 24, 1952, to February 27, 2001, the derivation of citizenship after birth for alien children born abroad to alien parents, or to an alien parent who subsequently lost U.S. citizenship, was addressed in the old section 321 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The old section 321 still applies to cases where the child born abroad turned 18 before the effective date of the current section 320 on February 27, 2001. A specific provision of the old section 321 of the INA – section 321(a)(5) – has been a subject of inconsistent decisions issued by various federal circuit courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The question that has led to disparate decisions is whether, in order to derive citizenship, a child had to reside in the United States as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) prior to reaching the age of 18 and after his or her parent(s) were naturalized, or whether the child merely needed to “reside permanently” in the United States but not necessarily as an LPR under the same circumstances. In this article, we will examine the language of the old section 321, the various interpretations of the old section 321(a)(5), and the implications of the standing Board precedent and the circuit split on the issue for individuals who are still affected by the old section 321.

Supreme Court to Review Gender-Based Distinctions in Derivation of Citizenship Rules

On July 8, 2015, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision titled Morales-Santana v. Lynch, 804 F.3d 520 (Jul. 8, 2015), wherein it held that gender-based distinctions for deriving citizenship from one unmarried U.S. citizen parent under the pre-1986 immigration laws guiding derivation of citizenship unconstitutional. On June 28, 2016, the Supreme Court granted the government’s petition for certiorari (review) of Lynch v. Morales-Santana, Docket No. 15-1191. In this article, we will examine the Second Circuit’s decision in Morales-Santana v. Lynch and the issues that the Supreme Court will review in Lynch v. Morales-Santana.

Recap of Oral Argument in Lynch v. Morales-Santana (Derivation of Citizenship Case)

On November 9, 2016, the United States Supreme Court head oral arguments in Lynch v. Morales-Santana, No. 15-1191. Morales-Santana v. Lynch is a case before the Supreme Court on appeal from a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit titled Morales-Santana v. Lynch, 804 F.3d 520 (2d Cir. 2015). The litigation concerns whether the Immigration and Nationality Act, having previously contained different physical presence requirements for the foreign-born children of unwed U.S. citizen mothers for the purpose of derivation of U.S. citizenship than it had provided on for the foreign-born children of unwed U.S. citizen fathers, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. In this article, we will examine the oral argument conducted in Lynch v. Morales-Santana, and the clues that may be gleaned with regard to the thinking of the Justices regarding this very important case.

Sessions v. Morales-Santana: Supreme Court Strikes Down Gender Distinctions in Derivation of Citizenship Laws

On June 12, 2017, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana, 582 U.S. __ (2017) (formerly Lynch v. Morales-Santana). The case dealt with the constitutionality of disparate residency requirements for unwed U.S. citizen mothers and unwed U.S. citizen fathers for the conferral of U.S. citizenship to children born abroad. Although the issue specifically dealt with a previous scheme of derivation of citizenship statutes, its result implicates the current derivation laws as well. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored the opinion of the Court, holding that the gender-based distinctions that gave preferential treatment to unmarried mothers over unmarried fathers in the conferral of citizenship to children born abroad violated the implicit equal protection guarantee Fifth Amendment. Accordingly, children of unwed U.S. citizen mothers will now be subject to the stricter residency requirements that apply to unwed U.S. citizen fathers.

Establishing Alienage for Non-Citizen Born Abroad to One U.S. Citizen Parent

While individuals born to one U.S. citizen abroad sometimes automatically derive U.S. citizenship, they do not in all cases. This brief article examines cases where an individual needs to prove that he or she did not derive citizenship at birth through a U.S. citizen parent.

Section 322 Naturalization For Children Born and Residing Outside of U.S. (Includes U.S.C. Grandparent Scenarios)

In general, section 322 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is a means for a child to gain citizenship who did not automatically gain citizenship through the child’s U.S. citizen parent at birth or subsequently under section 320 of the INA. Section 322 provides an avenue for a child born who was born abroad and who generally still resides abroad to obtain citizenship through the application of his or her U.S. citizen parent. Also under section 322, in the event of the death of the U.S. citizen parent, the child’s U.S. citizen grandparent or U.S. citizen guardian may be able to apply for naturalization on behalf of the child. Interestingly, in cases where the child’s U.S. citizen parent does not (or did not at the time of death) meet the physical presence requirement to satisfy section 322, the child may nevertheless gain citizenship through the U.S. citizen parent’s own U.S. citizen parent, provided that the grandparent meets the citizenship and physical presence requirements. In this article, we will examine section 322 in detail and with specific emphasis on when U.S. citizen grandparents may play a role in the naturalization process of the child.

The Citizenship Clause and Jus Soli Citizenship (Citizenship by Birth in the United States)

This article will explain the rules for jus soli citizenship, or citizenship by virtue of the place of birth, in the United States. With a limited exception for children of certain diplomatic officials, any person who is born in the United States gains citizenship at birth. Because this applies regardless of the immigration status of the parents, the United States has extremely generous citizenship acquisition laws in this regard. In this article, we will look at the United States Constitution, important case law, statutes, and regulations to examine how jus soli citizenship in the United States works.

Dual Citizenship

Why is dual citizenship is discussed? Can I retain dual nationality? Will I lose U.S. citizenship if I acquire other nationality? Can I become a U.S. citizen without losing nationality of my country of origin? Will the law penalize me for becoming national of another country while remaining U.S. national? This and many other similar questions relating to dual citizenship arise in several important contexts and keep popping up in question-posts on legal blogs like AVVO, Law QA and here on MyAttorneyUSA.

Understanding Citizenship, Nationality, and Nationality without Citizenship

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), it is impossible to be a U.S. citizen without being a U.S. national. Furthermore, it is impossible for a noncitizen to apply for U.S. nationality but not U.S. citizenship. However, persons born in American Samoa, certain persons in the Northern Mariana Islands who opted to remain U.S. nationals rather than to become U.S. citizens, and those born to one or two noncitizen national parents, there are U.S. nationals who lack U.S. citizenship. In this article, we will explain the meaning of the terms “national” and “citizen” and examine when a person can be a noncitizen national.

Immigration Issues for Noncitizen Nationals

As defined by section 308 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), certain persons born in American Samoa or Swains Island may be U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens, at birth. There is also a limited class of persons from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) who had the opportunity to opt for nationality without full citizenship. In this article, we will discuss immigration considerations for noncitizen nationals under the INA. Among these are filing family-based petitions for alien relatives, acquiring proof of status, and naturalization.

Family-Based Immigrant Visa Petitions Filed by Noncitizen Nationals (Usually American Samoans)

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) contains provisions that allow U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to file immigrant visa petitions on behalf of certain alien relatives. However, there are no provisions in the INA covering immigrant visa petitions filed by noncitizen nationals (generally a person from American Samoa). There are two major Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) precedent decisions that set forth the rules for noncitizen nationals filing family-based immigrant visa petitions. In this article, we will examine those two decisions and explain the rules for filing an immigrant visa petition as a noncitizen national of the United States.

Form N-565 Now Filed With Phoenix Lockbox Facility - Credit Card Payments Accepted

On April 24, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the USCIS Phoenix Lockbox Facility is now accepting the Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document. The Nebraska Service Center ceased accepting the Form N-565 on April 18, 2018, and now forwards all Form N-565 applications to the Phoenix Lockbox. The USCIS’s decision to move Form N-565 processing to the USCIS Phoenix Lockbox Facility means that applicants may now pay the filing fee by credit card using the Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.

USCIS Allows Online Filing of Form N-565 and Form N-336

On May 25, 2015, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will now enable online filing of the Form N-565 and Form N-336, two naturalization-related forms.

USCIS Begins Issuing Redesigned Certificates of Naturalization and Certificates of Citizenship

On June 5, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it had begun issuing redesigned Certificates of Citizenship and Naturalization on the same day. The USCIS stated that notwithstanding the new certificate designs, “the process of applying for and receiving [these certificates] has not changed.” Those who already have Certificates of Naturalization or Citizenship do not have to renew them. Previously issued certificates will continue to be accepted as proof of citizenship.

Applicants May Apply For Certificate of Citizenship Online

On January 29, 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made the Form N-600 and Form N-600K available for online filing.

Accommodations and Medical Disability Exceptions to the English/Civics Requirement for Naturalization

On December 12, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued Policy Alert (PA)-2018-12, titled “Sufficiency of Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions (Form N-648).” The alert updates the USCIS Policy Manual with new guidance on when an applicant for naturalization may be granted an exception to the English language and civics requirements due to a physical or developmental disability. The new rules become effective on February 12, 2019, and have been published in the USCIS Policy Manual (PM) at 12 USCIS-PM E.3. In this article, we will examine the new policy guidance for disability exceptions to the English and civics requirements for naturalization. We will also discuss the related issue of accommodations for those seeking to satisfy the English language and/or civics requirement.

USCIS Clarifies Rules on Marijuana and Conditional Bars to Good Moral Character

On April 19, 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published Policy Alert (PA) PA-2019-02, titled “SUBJECT: Controlled Substance-Related Activity and Good Moral Character Determinations.” The PA modifies the USCIS Policy Manual (PM) 12 USCIS-PM F.5, which deals with conditional bars to good moral character. The PM clarifies that any violation of federal controlled substance law is generally a conditional bar to good moral character. It clarifies that this includes marijuana-related activities where such activities were not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.

Certificate of Naturalization Does Not Confer Citizenship if Acquired Unlawfully (Matter of Zhang)

On June 28, 2019, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) published a precedential decision in the Matter of Zhang, 27 I&N Dec. 569 (BIA 2019). In Matter of Zhang, the Board held that while a Form N-550, Certificate of Naturalization, is evidence of U.S. citizenship, the Form N-550 does not confer citizenship if it is acquired unlawfully.

Deriving Citizenship Through Parents at Birth Abroad

With the limited exception of children of diplomats, all children born in the United States – including certain U.S. territories – acquire U.S. citizenship and nationality at birth. Under certain circumstances, the child of one or two U.S. citizens may acquire citizenship at birth when born abroad. In this article, we will examine the current rules for deriving U.S. citizenship at birth. This article is updated to reflect the Supreme Court of the United States’ important decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana, 137 S.Ct. 1678 (2017). Our article will generally follow the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Policy Manual (PM) guidance and the U.S Department of State's (DOS's) Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) guidance on the subject.

International Orgs for Meeting Physical Presence Requirement for Transmitting Citizenship to Child Born Abroad

In certain cases, a U.S. citizen mother and/or U.S. citizen father may transmit citizenship to a child when the child is born abroad, without the child having to be naturalized. Under INA 301(g), the physical presence requirement in many cases encompasses “any periods of honorable service in the Armed Forces of the United States, or periods of employment with the United States Government or with an international organization as the term is defined in section 288 of title 22 by such citizen parent, or any periods during which such citizen parent is physically present abroad as the dependent unmarried son or daughter and a member of the household [of such a person].” In this article, we will examine the list of qualifying international organizations for purpose of the INA 301(g) physical presence requirement.

Effect of Multiple DUIs in Statutory Period on GMC for Naturalization

On October 25, 2019, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr published a precedent decision in Matter of Castillo-Perez, 27 I&N Dec. 664 (A.G. 2019). In the decision, which we discuss in detail in a separate article, the Attorney General held that two or more convictions for driving under the influence during the statutory period in which an applicant for cancellation of removal must establish good moral character should generally lead to a finding that the applicant was not of good moral character for the statutory period. On December 10, 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published new policy guidance addressing Matter of Castillo-Perez in its Policy Manual (PM). The PM update examines how the Attorney General’s decision should be applied in the context of good moral character determinations for naturalization applicants.

U.S. Service Members and Veterans May File the Form N-400 Online

The USCIS announces online filing of the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, for U.S. service members and veterans.

Relief for Delayed Naturalization Applications Under INA 236(b)

If the USCIS fails to adjudicate a naturalization application within the 120-day period following the applicant's naturalization examination, the applicant may seek relief in the U.S. district court having jurisdiction over his or her place of residence. If the district court finds that it has jurisdiction, it may decide the applicant's application or remand to the USCIS with its instructions. In this post, we examine this particular form of relief, codified at INA 236(b).

DOS Loosens Rules for Derivation of Citizenship at Birth for Children Born Through ART/IVF

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) changed its interpretation of the rules governing the derivation of citizenship at birth for children born through assisted reproductive technology (ART) to a married U.S. citizen and foreign national couple.

Requesting Social Security Updates With Form N-400

The USCIS is introducing Social Security questions on the 04/01/24 edition of the Form N-400 to make it possible for naturalization applicants to request SSNs or replacement Social Security cards while applying for naturalization.