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Naturalization: Becoming a U.S. citizen

By Atty. Kenneth Reyes

As Filipinos, we are all undoubtedly aware to a certain extent of the procedures and avenues by which one can obtain permanent residence. After obtaining permanent residence status, many green card holders desire to take that next step – becoming a United States Citizen.

As a United States Citizen, one is afforded many privileges that are not conferred on persons who only have permanent residence status. A United States Citizen is able to petition for the green cards of close relatives, pass on citizenship to existing children and children yet to be born, and vote. Needless to say, naturalization is a very important step that requires familiarity of the requirements and procedures involved. The following is a brief overview of naturalization.

One must initially determine whether one qualifies to seek United States citizenship. To qualify, one must have held his/her green card and have been physically present in the United States for a sufficient amount of time. Generally speaking, one is required to have held his/her green card for a minimum of five (5) years. In addition, one must be physically present in the United States for at least half of those five years.

Exceptions to the general rule having to do with, among other things, minor children and marriage do exist that cannot be fully explored in this article because of space limitations. In addition, local residency requirements mandate that the person seeking citizenship reside within the state or district in which the application is filed for at least three (3) months.

In addition to determining eligibility to apply for naturalization, one should also consider the practical issues. To become naturalized, a determination is made as to whether the applicant is of good moral character. Generally, one is deemed to be of good moral character when it can be shown that one has not committed a crime of moral turpitude or has engaged in so-called “vice” crimes such as prostitution and illegal gambling.

Other considerations, too many to go into detail here, exist in making the moral character determination. If one has done something that may adversely affect the determination of moral character, one must seriously consider whether to proceed with the application for naturalization. The application may bring such actions to the attention of the USCIS, which could result in possible denial of the application and deportation.

Once one has hurdled over the residency requirements and considered the practical issues, the next issue to consider is the appropriate time to file the application. One can apply for naturalization in the three (3) months before the aforementioned required period of residency has been completed. The application is a multi-step process. First, necessary paperwork is required to be filed with appropriate fees. Thereafter, an interview is scheduled where further inquiry is made upon the applicant. Usually, inquiry is made into the applicant’s eligibility and knowledge of U.S. government and history. Finally, if the application is approved, the applicant must take the oath of allegiance to the United States.

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Darrick Tan is an attorney with the Law Offices of Kenneth U. Reyes, P.C. He is a Board of Governor of the Philippine American Bar Association. He is a graduate of Southwestern University School of Law and UCLA. He has been admitted to practice in California and Nevada. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH U. REYES, P.C. is located at 3699 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 700, Los Angeles, California 90010. Telephone (213) 388-1611 or e-mail at tandarrick@gmail.com.

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