MARCH 2014

New Barriers to the U.S. Citizenship Process

By Rhodora Derpo

Immigration Attorney

Immigrant Rights Advocate

The Form N-400 -- the standard form that all legal permanent residents must complete as part of the citizenship application -- has been revised and will now contain 21 pages instead of 10. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will debut the new version of the Form N-400 starting on May 5, 2014. The new form will be more detailed and ask new questions about an applicant's ties to terrorist groups, militias, genocide, prisons, and military training. The changes are meant to guide immigration officials in determining which applicants should become eligible for naturalization; the changes were made, in part to make the form more efficient and easier to process.

However, some organizations that help U.S. green-card holders apply for citizenship complained that the changes would result in a more time-consuming process for the 8.8 million legal permanent residents (green card holders) eligible for citizenship nationwide. These organizations assert that the daunting process could ultimately intimidate people into not applying for citizenship. Eric Cohen, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco, states, "At a time when we are all trying to naturalize as many people as possible, this will be a lot more laborious, time-consuming and discouraging for some people to fill out." Jean Atkinson of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network adds, "We are concerned that the new form will impact the vulnerable populations we serve. It's safe to say the level of English it requires is significantly higher than the level required to pass the citizenship text."

There's No Better Time than Now

The changes to the N-400 form go into effect on May 5. All those eligible to apply for naturalization should take advantage of the simpler form and submit their Form N-400 now. The eligibility requirements remain the same under the new N-400 form. The filing fees of processing a citizenship application is still $680 and includes the $595 filing fee and the $85 biometric fee for processing fingerprints.

U.S. Citizenship Eligibility

To become a U.S. citizen, a legal permanent resident in most cases must:
• Be at least 18 years old;
• Have lived in the U.S. continuously for five years;
• Be able to speak, write, read, and understand basic English;
• Answer questions that demonstrate knowledge of U.S. government and history;
• Undergo a successful background check;
• Demonstrate attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution;
• Take the oath of citizenship swearing allegiance to the U.S.

Some of the above requirements are waived for certain groups:

• Spouses of U.S. citizens can naturalize after three years of continuous residence, if the sponsoring spouse has been a U.S. citizen for all three years;
• Foreign-born minor children become citizens when their parents naturalize;
• Foreign-born minor children who are adopted by U.S. citizens are eligible for citizenship upon their arrival in the U.S.;
• Military personnel, their spouses and foreign-born minor children are eligible for expedited and overseas citizenship processing with the possibility of having some of the eligibility requirements diminished or waived. Additionally, in the case of death as result of combat while serving in active duty, citizenship may be granted posthumously to the military member and immediate family members.
If you have questions regarding the changes to the new citizenship form, my firm is offering a FREE 30-minute phone consultation for the month of March. Nagsa-salita po ako ng Tagalog.


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