Citizenship and naturalization

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Updated: 4/13/2007 3:36 pm
When you’re a citizen of the United States, you’re automatically granted several benefits, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to petition for permanent residence for spouses and family members, and to enjoy a broad range of travel privileges that come with a U.S. passport. You can become an American citizen if you’re born in the United States or if you’re born abroad to parents who are already U.S. citizens. If you don’t meet either of these two requirements, you can still obtain citizenship through a process known as naturalization. Obtaining American citizenship through naturalization requires that you meet certain eligibility requirements, provide required documentation, and complete specific application procedures. In general, you must be 18 years or older and demonstrate an ability to understand, read, write, and speak basic English. You must also reside in the United States for at least five years as a permanent resident, or three years if you’re married to a U.S. citizen or have served in the armed forces of the United States. The residency requirement is waived for spouses of U.S. citizens working abroad for the government and for children who are petitioned by a parent. In addition to fulfilling the age and residency requirements, you must also be of good moral character and demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government. To prove these requirements, you’ll be required to complete a naturalization interview where you’ll be asked to answer in English between five and 10 questions about U.S. history and government. To establish good moral character, you’ll be required to submit a completed fingerprint chart and a listing of biographical information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS (I-N-S). The fingerprints are used to determine if you have a criminal conviction record. Applicants with serious criminal records may not qualify for naturalization and may be susceptible to deportation. If you’re interested in applying for citizenship through naturalization, you must complete form N-400 (N-four hundred) and send the form, the required photographs, and filing fee to the appropriate Immigration and Naturalization Service center. You’ll receive a receipt, an appointment for fingerprinting, and a notice for your naturalization interview. If you pass your naturalization exam, you’ll be scheduled to participate in a swearing-in ceremony, in which you’ll pledge allegiance and loyalty to the United States as a new American citizen.

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