A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Immigrants Rush to Apply for Naturalization Under the New Immigration Policies

The enforcement-centric approach of the Trump Administration towards immigration has shaken the immigrant communities in recent months.

Many immigrant advocates and community-based organizations recommend that green card holders should apply for U.S. citizenship as soon as they become eligible.  Obtaining the U.S. citizenship is the best protection against any changes in immigration policy.  In fact, about one million applications for naturalization were filed during FY 2016, and the number of applications has continued to increase after the election.

To apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization, one must submit the Form N-400 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  To be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must:

  • have been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years (three years for spouses of U.S. citizens, and other exceptions for U.S. military personnel);
  • have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years (and have not been absent for more than one year);
  • have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the five years at the time of filing; 
  • be at least 18 years old;
  • have "good moral character" for at least five years (sometimes longer);
  • be able to speak, read, and write in simple English (exceptions for some long-term residents over a certain age, and persons with qualified medical disabilities);
  • be able to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and government (exceptions for persons with qualified medical disabilities); and
  • adhere to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States (with some modifications and exceptions).

Further, applicant must have lived in the district for at least three months before the naturalization application can be file within that district.

Because of the surge in the application numbers, the processing time of the N-400 applications is getting longer.  For example, in New Jersey, based on our experience, it took at least 7 to 8 months for the naturalization examination to be scheduled for cases submitted in 2016.   Processing time will likely to be longer in 2017.  Interested applicants should submit their applications as soon as possible.

One final caveat:  There are many benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen.  However, naturalization is also the final step of the immigration process, and everything in the applicant's immigration history is scrutinized carefully during the application process.  In fact, an applicant could be placed in deportation proceedings on account of a prior offense or incident. For individuals with special issues and circumstances, they should consult an experienced immigration attorney for an evaluation before submitting their naturalization applications. 

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