Interviewer: What are the paths to citizenship once you’re a permanent resident? How do you naturalize? What are the steps involved?
Permanent Residents Who Are Not Married to US Citizens Must Wait Five Years before Becoming a Naturalized Citizen; Permanent Residents Married to US Citizens Wait Three Years
Jeanne: Well, first of all, you have to wait a certain amount of time. If you are just a generic permanent resident, you have to be a permanent resident for five years in order to naturalize.
Permanent Residents Who Join the Military during a Time of War Can Become Naturalized Citizens in One Year
If you’re married to a US citizen, you can naturalize after three years. If you join the military during a time of war – which, we are technically still in a time of war – you can naturalize after one year. Although, quite frankly, anybody who’s joining the military right now with a green card, they are starting the naturalization process while they’re in boot camp.
Many People Fear Taking the Required Citizenship Exam
For a green card holder, the absolute quickest route to getting citizenship is to join the military. Aside from that, five years is not that long a time. Because, besides the misconception that, “Well, I’m safe, because I have a green card,” the other biggest preventative is test-taking anxiety. Think back to your days of going to school. People don’t like to take tests. They think, “Oh, I have to pass a test, and I don’t speak English. Or I don’t speak English well enough.”
Okay, well, let me knock down a few of those barriers. Here’s the test. There is a pool of 100 questions. The questions are published. They’re available in English and Spanish on the Internet, and the answers are there as well. Some of the questions have a variation of answers that they’ll accept. For example, they include who’s the vice president of the United States? They’ll accept Joe Biden. They’ll accept Biden.
Jeanne: Truthfully, who cannot memorize 100 pieces of information? That’s not hard.
Interviewer: People seem to have an unnatural fear of passing this test.
The Citizenship Exam Is Comprised of Ten Questions; a Passing Grade Is Answering Six Correctly
Jeanne: Absolutely. The thing of it is, you’re only going to get asked 10 questions and you only have to pass six.
Interviewer: That’s pretty easy.
Jeanne: I’ve been at citizenship interviews where the applicant was knocking it out of the park and answering every question. They stop at six. They don’t even ask you all 10 questions if you answer six correctly.
The Second Part of the Test Is Writing a Sentence in the English Language
Then, the second part of the test is that you have to write a sentence in English. They supply you with the sentence. If you have studied those 100 pool questions, you most probably can write those sentences. For instance, from one interview, the sentence was, “Delaware was the first state.” You don’t have to know that Delaware was the first state. Once you pass the six questions, they’re going to give you a piece of paper and say, “Write down this sentence. Delaware is the first state.”
Maybe not everybody knows how to spell Delaware, but if you’ve been studying a group of questions where Delaware shows up frequently, because it’s an answer to several questions, such as, name three of the 13 original colonies. Really, it’s only three. You’ve seen the word Delaware, so you might have the ability to remember how to spell it.
Another question is you have to be a citizen to vote. You can misspell the word as long as you get it basically down, they’ll pass you. When somebody tell me, “Well, I can’t pass the test,” I answer, “Well, I really doubt that.”
Interviewer: To me, it sounds more as if they just haven’t really tried to look into it because it sounds like they make every effort to accommodate people taking this test.
You CAN Pass the Citizenship Test: The Government Has Made Exceptions for the English Language Portion of the Test for Permanent Residents of 20 Years or More
Jeanne: There are times when you don’t have to know the English part of the test. If you are over 50 and have been a permanent resident for 20 years, if you’re over 55 and have been a permanent resident for over 15 years, you can take the civics test in your native language. If you’re over 65, you can take the test, but instead of a pool of 100 questions, it’s a pool of about 19 questions. Really, seriously, you can’t memorize 19 facts?
That’s the other big barrier to taking the test. We see that people have this in bred fear of test-taking. I have known people who don’t speak any English at all and I have personally seen them pass the test. They just learn to mimic.
People might remember back in the late seventies and eighties a music group called ABBA, A B B A. The band members were all Swedish. They didn’t speak any English. They just memorized the words. I think they eventually learned English, but when they first hit the scene, somebody just prompted them on how to pronounce the words. They did not speak English when they started, at all. It was just mimicry.
A Five-Year Look-Back: Establishing Good Moral Character on the Pathway to Citizenship
Interviewer: Tell us what other things need to be done to naturalize.
Jeanne: You have to have a certain amount of time in the United States. You have to have what they call good moral character. What that means is they’re going to look back over the last five years. They look for any behavior in the last five years that could be questionable. Now, there are a few things that if you just present them correctly, you can get by within the last five years.
Some Minor Offenses Are Not Taken into Consideration
Outside of the five-year period of time, it just depends on who the client is on your case. If the client served some time or did XY or Z back in the day, we try to work around it. There are many adults that maybe as teenager were arrested for joyriding or criminal mischief. As long as it’s outside the five-year period of time, for the most part, we can work around it.
It Is Advisable to Consult with an Experienced Immigration Attorney If You Have a Record of Past Offenses
Now, there is the heavy-hitter crime that you really need to worry about, but those are the ones that are going to get you deported. It’s always wise to seek counsel from an experienced immigration attorney simply because those laws change quite a bit, because they don’t go through Congress. Congress acceded responsibility for that to the Attorney General. They can just decide tomorrow that spray painting a wall is an aggravated felony under immigration law.
What you have done in your past that could possibly cause you problems in the future could change daily. If you have any priors, it’s wise to have somebody take a look and do an analysis to make sure you’re going to not be rejected or even deported based on something from your past.
Past Offenses Can Result in Deportation if They Are Discovered during Your Naturalization Process
Interviewer: If you have something in your past can the act of applying to be naturalized end up getting you deported?
Interviewer: That’s a scary thing.
Jeanne: There are an awful lot of people who don’t even look at it. They just suspect that something that they’ve done is bad, and so they never even inquire. Now, when we’re talking about past, I mean, I’ve got clients who, say they come in and they say, “Well, you know, I’ve always thought about naturalizing, but 20 years ago, XYZ happened.” I reply, “Well, that could be a problem, but give me some more information. I need to know exactly what you were convicted of as opposed to what you were charged with.”
The Laws Have Changed Over Time So It Is Always Beneficial to Discuss Any Past Offenses with Your Immigration Attorney
Some people back in the day, back 20 or 30 years ago, that same crime might have got you deported, but the law has changed. I’ve had people who’ve been lifetime permanent resident holders and, say, they visit Mexico all the time. Two, three times a year, they’re going to Mexico. For 20 years, they don’t have any problems. Then, the port of entry that they use suddenly becomes up-to-date with the latest technology. When their A number is entered into it, up pops this old crime, and they are denied entry at the border, or they get taken into custody. That’s happened before.
Sometimes that is the main reason clients come to me in the first place. They’ve always wondered about that offense they committed back in the day when they were young and stupid. They haven’t had any problem so far, but they have an aging relative. If the relative passes away, they might have to go to Mexico for the burial, and they’re faced with the decision, “Do I risk it? Or maybe I should go talk to an attorney, so I know what might happen, or maybe I’ve just been worried about nothing, because it really is nothing.”