For those legal permanent residents (LPRs) who have been considering becoming a U.S. citizen, now would be a good time to start the process! The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services filing fee is scheduled to increase by over $500 in the near future.
On Nov. 14, 2019, the USCIS issued a proposed regulation that would substantially increase many filing fees. The filing fee for naturalization is set to go from $640 to $1,170. Most applicants also have to pay a biometrics fee of $85. The regulation is going through a notice and comment period of at least 30 days, but the new fees could become effective shortly after that period. The timing for the increase could be delayed by a number of months, but in general it would be a good idea to file now.
It is likely that a large number of people will file in the near future to avoid the higher fee, so filing soon can help an LPR to get ahead of that wave. (A number of other filing fees will also have a substantial increase. The cost for a U.S. citizen to obtain legal permanent residence for a spouse will increase from $1,760 to $2,875.)
The process by which a foreign national becomes a U.S. citizen is known as naturalization. Most foreign nationals must have been an LPR for five years (three if married to a U.S. citizen) before they can apply to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. The naturalization process is fairly simple for most LPRs. It is only one form and can usually be done without the assistance of an attorney.
For most naturalization applications, the following are the main requirements:
—have been an LPR for five years (three years if married to a U.S. citizen)
—have been physically present in the U.S. during the preceding five years for at least half of the time (with no single absence of 180 days or longer)
—must speak English
—must have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and civics
—must be of good moral character.
For the proof of good moral character, USCIS will closely examine the LPR’s marital and employment history (especially to review whether the LPR status was obtained by fraud), criminal history (partially to examine whether the foreign national could actually be deportable), proof of payment of U.S. taxes, proof of supporting all children, etc. Regarding criminal history, USCIS expects you to even list all traffic tickets.
There are some exceptions to the English and history and civics requirements. For someone who has been an LPR for over 20 years and is over 50, there is no English language test and they can take the civics test in the language of their choice. The same is also true for someone who has been an LPR for over 15 years and is over 55. For someone who has been an LPR for over 20 years and is over 65, not only is there no English language test, but they are also given a simplified version of the civics test.
The form for applying for naturalization is the N-400. It can be downloaded from the USCIS website — www.uscis.gov — which also has a wealth of information guiding naturalization applicants through the process. At the N-400 landing page, there is a section titled “Related Links” which has helpful information including a link named “A Guide to Naturalization” which leads to a 58-page book with detailed and clear information about the naturalization process. Links to the right of this guide also lead to information about naturalization and includes videos, study booklets, printable flashcards, online practice tests, etc.
Some applicants may be able to qualify for a waiver or reduction of the naturalization filing fee. See Forms I-912 and I-912P for a complete fee waiver. See Forms I-942 and I-942P for a partial fee waiver. Waivers have become harder to obtain and that trend will likely continue, however lower-income applicants should review the income requirements as many people do qualify for a fee waiver or reduction.
In the past, the U.S. has required that naturalizing foreign nationals give up any foreign citizenships at the time of the swearing-in ceremony to become a U.S. citizen. (Sometimes the swearing-in ceremony is the same day as the interview but it can also be a few weeks after the interview.) Many foreign countries have refused to recognize the loss and have continued to recognize their citizens, so the U.S. has substantially backed off of the requirement. Once sworn in as a U.S. citizen, the person must apply for a U.S. passport. All future entries to and exits from the U.S. must be on a U.S. passport, so it is important to apply as soon as possible after being sworn in as a U.S. citizen. All first-time passport applicants must apply in person. The basic cost is $145.
Filing for naturalization does provide the USCIS with the opportunity to thoroughly review all the immigration and criminal history of the foreign national. If the foreign national is in doubt as to whether something in their history could lead to the denial of the naturalization or even loss of legal permanent residence, they should contact an attorney.
Alice Gruber has been practicing U.S. immigration and naturalization law since 1995. Since 2007, she has practiced in Cooke County for a range of small to medium-sized corporate clients nationwide, quarter horse ranches in Texas and individuals. If you’d like to suggest a specific immigration topic for a future column, email email@example.com.