Pursuing U.S. citizenship is an important journey that can help you achieve better opportunities, social or political freedom, or reunite with your family. However, navigating U.S. immigration laws on your own can be challenging, resulting in delays or issues in receiving your naturalization status. The application is twenty pages long and involves over a hundred responses to questions that can be confusing and difficult to understand or answer without the advice of an experienced immigration lawyer. This is especially true if you have ever committed a crime, lived outside the United States for more than six months after receiving your Green Card or many other circumstances that could make you ineligible to apply.
Understanding the naturalization process and what an immigration lawyer for citizenship can do on your behalf can help you decide if hiring one is right for your situation.
Naturalization Process for Citizenship
Naturalization is the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship for individuals at least 18 years old and who aren’t already U.S. citizens by birthright or parentage. There are several steps you must take to go through the naturalization process:
- Meet eligibility criteria: To begin the U.S. naturalization process, you must fulfill certain requirements. These include being a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) for a specified period, typically 5 years.
If you’re married to a U.S. citizen, the requirement is 3 years. You must also demonstrate good moral character and meet the necessary physical presence and residency conditions.
- Complete Form N-400: The next step involves submitting Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization. This form requires accurate and complete information. Along with the application, you must include supporting documents establishing your eligibility and pay the required application fee.
- Biometric appointment: After submitting your application, you’ll be scheduled for a biometrics appointment. During this appointment, you’ll provide your fingerprints, have your photograph taken, and sign the required documents.
- Attend citizenship interview: An interview with a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer is crucial to the process. During the naturalization interview, the USCIS will review your application and background. Additionally, you’ll be tested on your English language skills and knowledge of U.S. civics unless you qualify for exemptions.
- Receive a decision: Following your interview, you’ll receive a decision regarding your application. Once your application is approved, you’ll receive a notice informing you about the next steps, including the date and location of your Oath of Allegiance ceremony.
- Take the Oath of Allegiance: At the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, you’ll publicly declare your commitment to the United States. By taking this oath, you become an official U.S. citizen. You’ll receive a Certificate of Naturalization, which formalizes your new status.
Do You Need an Immigration Lawyer to Get Citizenship?
Hiring a lawyer for citizenship application is not required to complete the process and become naturalized. However, working with an immigration attorney can help you with your application and address any issues that arise during the procedure. Your immigration attorney can do the following on your behalf:
- Completing documents and forms: The citizenship application process involves completing several USCIS forms and documents. An immigration lawyer can help you draft documents and guide you on completing each form accurately.
- Contacting the USCIS on your behalf: Your immigration lawyer is a liaison between you and the USCIS. They can respond to the agency’s notices regarding your case, answer any questions USCIS officers might ask, and request updates to keep you informed.
- Prepare you for tests: The English proficiency and Civics tests are vital to the application process. An immigration lawyer can prepare you for these tests by showing you the types of questions to expect and conducting practice sessions. They can also offer studying and test-taking strategies to maximize your chances of success.
- Offer advice and representation: The application process includes an interview with a USCIS officer who will review your case. While you can go to the interview alone, it can be a complex and intimidating phase of the process.
An immigration attorney can advise you on how to answer the officer’s questions before the interview. They can also accompany you during the interview to address complex legal matters, represent your interests, and help you remain calm and focused.
Special Cases That May Require an Attorney
While any applicant for U.S. citizenship can benefit from expert legal representation, you may require a citizenship application lawyer if you have a complicated immigration situation.
Even if you meet eligibility requirements, the following circumstances may make it more difficult to gain citizenship without an attorney’s help:
- You failed to pay some of your taxes before applying
- You currently owe back taxes to the IRS
- You have prior arrests or convictions in the U.S. or another country, including expunged records
If you obtained your green card by marriage to a U.S. citizen and are applying for citizenship after three years of obtaining your green card, these issues can also complicate your case:
- You are separated from your spouse or are experiencing other significant marriage problems
- You have filed for a divorce before starting the naturalization process
- The USCIS suspects your marriage is illegitimate or fraudulent
Improve Your Chances of Success With an Immigration Lawyer
Regardless of the complexity of your case, hiring an immigration lawyer is beneficial for your U.S. citizenship application. An experienced immigration lawyer is your first line of defense against missteps that can harm your chances of becoming a United States citizen, or worse, saying something or inputting information in your application that could put your green card in jeopardy.
An immigration lawyer can improve your chances of success by preparing you for tests and interviews, communicating with the USCIS, and ensuring accurate documentation as you complete your application.
How long does the citizenship process take?
The naturalization processing time ranges from the day you apply for citizenship to the day of the Oath. On average, this process ranges from 5 to 7 months. However, processing times vary considerably depending on the USCIS field office.
Who can help me with my immigration case?
An immigration lawyer has the resources to help you handle every stage of your immigration case.
Can a lawyer go with you to the citizenship interview?
Yes. An immigration lawyer can accompany you during the citizenship interview and represent your interests before the USCIS officer in charge.
What are the benefits of hiring an immigration lawyer for the citizenship interview?
An immigration lawyer can prepare you for the interview by explaining the types of questions you might face and offering guidance on answering the USCIS officer’s questions. Because citizenship interviews can be intimidating, a lawyer’s presence can also help you remain calm so you can provide accurate responses.