- Tip #1: Do it early. You need to be at least 18 and have had your green card for 5 years while residing in the U.S. during those 5 years. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, it is only 3 years for these requirements. You can start the process, however, before you hit these marks. Begin you application process three months before either the 3 or 5 year point. This will also demonstrate to the government your true desire to be an American citizen. The longer you wait, the more questions they will have in their mind.
- Tip #2: The Facebook standard for good moral character. You need to have had good moral character for the last five years. If you've stayed out of trouble and met all your personal obligations, you will likely have achieved "good moral character." Think of it this way, if you have done something that you would not want to post up on your Facebook account, then you probably need to speak to an immigration attorney. Any crimes of moral turpitude, drug conviction, alien smuggling, prostitution or aggravated felonies do not show good moral character. If you were convicted of an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990 it is a permanent bar to citizenship. However, if you have spent less than 180 days in jail during the period for which good moral character must be shown then you may be okay. Habitual drunkards and persons who have provided false sworn testimony to obtain immigration benefits also can't show good moral character. Further, there is no good moral character where a willful failure to pay child support, failure to file tax returns, commission of adultery where a "viable" marriage was destroyed or the receipt of public benefits where fraud was involved.
- Tip #3: No telenovelas or univision and no listening to La Torre De Jalisco ("Gooooool") when watching soccer. You need to be able to read, write and speak basic English and then pass a U.S. history test in English. I taught ESL many years ago; you can't learn English if you are always surrounded by Spanish.
- Tip #4: Count to 70. If you are 50 years or older and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years or more as a permanent resident, or 55 years or older and 15 years as a permanent resident, you can take the history test in your own language.
- Tip #5: You will need to do an interview with the Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS). Hire a lawyer to go with you if you have any reason to be nervous. This won't cost much and it will make the interview easier.
- Tip #6: You may not need to naturalize if you had a parent or grandparent who was a citizen. Check with an immigration attorney to see if maybe you are already a citizen by virtue of the arcane and complicated citizenship rules!
Scott McVarish, Lead Attorney at the Immigration Law Office of Los Angeles, is available for speaking engagements, interviews, seminars and trainings on this and many other immigration law topics. Providing pro bono (donated) legal services at such community education events are part of this law office's "Giving Back" to the community philosophy.