The USCIS has released the latest figures on naturalized citizens. The number of naturalized U.S. citizens grew by approximately 676,000 during fiscal year (FY) 2010. In the past decade, a total of 6.6 million became naturalized citizens.
Each year, there are approximately 680,000 new citizens naturalized in ceremonies in the U.S. and other parts of the world. In FY 2009, the Philippines was the third top country of origin for naturalization, with Mexico, India, China and Vietnam rounding the top five.
Seventy-four (74%) percent of all persons naturalizing in FY 2009 resided in the following ten states: California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, Massachusetts, Washington, and Maryland.
Naturalization is the process of becoming a United States citizen. It is often a milestone in an immigrant’s life. A naturalized U.S. citizen may vote in U.S. elections, get a position in federal government, participate in federal programs, obtain a U.S. passport, and bring family members to immigrate into the United States.
To be eligible for naturalization, one must fulfill the eligibility requirements under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Generally, the applicant must be at least 18 years old, be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), maintain continuous residence in the United States for 5 years, and be physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months before filing the naturalization application (Form N-400).
Trips of one year or longer break the continuous residence period and the applicant must complete a new period of residence after coming back to the U.S. On the other hand, trips with a duration of more than 6 months to less than one year are presumed to break the continuity of residence, but this presumption can be rebutted with evidence that the applicant did not abandon permanent residence in the U.S. This evidence may include the filing of U.S. tax returns, presence of family ties in the U.S., and maintaining a home in the U.S.
The applicant must also present proof of residence for at least three months in the state where the application for naturalization is filed.
There is also a requirement that the applicant establish good moral character. This is “measured by the standard of the community” and evaluations are made on a case-by-case basis. Certain activities may disqualify a person under this requirement, such as crimes of moral turpitude (i.e., gambling, habitual drunkenness, prostitution), violations of drug laws, willful failure to support dependents, and crimes involving fraud, harm to persons or damage to property. Crimes involving murder or other “aggravated felonies” present a bar to naturalization.
After the application is filed, the applicant will be scheduled for an interview by a USCIS officer and take a citizenship test, which will test his or her knowledge of the English language and U.S. government and history. If the application is approved, the applicant will be asked to attend a ceremony and take the Oath of Allegiance.
The INA has special provisions for spouses of U.S. citizens and members of the military, as well as children under the age of 18.
For instance, qualified spouses of U.S. citizens may apply for citizenship 3 years after becoming lawful permanent residents and need to be physically present in the U.S. for only 18 months prior to filing the application. Spouses of U.S. citizens stationed abroad may not be required to meet any particular residence or physical requirement.
Children residing abroad who are temporarily present in the U.S. after a lawful admission may apply for naturalization while under 18 years of age if they have at least one U.S. citizen parent who meets certain physical presence requirements in the U.S. On the other hand, children below 18 years old who are in lawful permanent resident status, residing in the U.S., and in the custody of a U.S. citizen parent, may automatically acquire U.S. citizenship.