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How to Apply for U.S. Citizenship When You Are a Refugee

Many people find themselves in the U.S. after escaping from their home countries due to war or fear of persecution. Some of these immigrants become refugees and asylees in the U.S.

The U.S. immigration process for someone seeking to move from being a refugee to an American citizen can be long and difficult to navigate. However, with the help of an experienced immigration attorney, asylees and refugees can fast-track their way to becoming U.S. residents.

Read on to find out how the U.S. immigration system works and the steps you’ll have to follow to acquire legal citizenship.

Obtaining Refugee Status

Foreigners who want to become refugees in the U.S. should apply for refugee status while they are still in their home country. However, asylum seekers can request for asylum while they are at the U.S. borders, at the entry points, or inside the country.

The easiest way to get your U.S. refugee application considered is to be referred to the Refugee Admission program. The program gives priority to people referred to them by non-governmental organizations, the U.S. embassy, or other humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations. 

Priority is also given to special humanitarian concern groups recommended by the U.S. refugee program. If one of your family members is already in the U.S. on a refugee or asylee status, you also have high chances of being granted refugee status.

For your refugee application to be approved, you must show that you can’t stay in your home country due to persecution based on political, nationality, race, or religious factors. You also have to provide proof of persecution and give a detailed affidavit explaining why you are afraid to go back to your home country. 

Finally, you’ll have to undergo a medical exam and be investigated to prove you are not a threat to U.S. security.

When your application is approved, you will be issued with a visa, which you’ll use to enter the United States. If your refugee application request is denied, you cannot appeal the decision.

Seeking Permanent Residency Status

Before refugees can become U.S. citizens, they become permanent residents or green card holders.

The provision of a green card to a refugee is usually a lengthy and challenging process. However, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) assists immigrants and refugees looking to acquire green cards. An immigration attorney in Las Vegas can also help you acquire a green card.

For a refugee to be eligible to become a permanent U.S. resident, he or she must have been in the country for at least one year. When you become a permanent resident, they can live and work in America. 

Eligibility for Citizenship by Naturalization

Naturalization refers to the process through which a refugee or a foreign national gets U.S. citizenship. However, before a refugee can qualify to apply for citizenship by naturalization, he or she must have lived in the U.S. as permanent residents for five years. 

The same case applies to asylees.

However, refugees may be eligible to apply for citizenship by naturalization much earlier than asylees as the years of permanent residency are calculated differently. 

For refugees, the years they have stayed in the United States can be rolled back. This means that their five years of permanent residency can be calculated from the date they entered the country. 

For example, if you have spent five years in the U.S. as a refugee, and apply for a green card after five years, then you have already fulfilled the five-year term. This means that you are eligible to apply for citizenship when your permanent residency application is approved.

Coming to asylees, the application for citizenship is a little different than that of refugees. For the former, only one year of their time in the U.S. before permanent residency is approved can be included in the five-year term required for application for citizenship. 

For instance, if an asylee has been in the U.S. for four years and at the end of the fourth year, they decide to apply for permanent residency, once the residency is approved, only one year of the four years will count in the five-year citizenship requirement. Therefore, the asylee will have to wait four years before they can apply for citizenship.

Don’t Get Confused by the Green Card Date

Your green card will have the date your permanent residency was approved. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recognizes the rollback provision for refugees. Therefore, if you are a refugee, the green card will also have the date you gained entry in the U.S. 

If you are an asylee, the card will include a date one year before your permanent residency was approved.

The green card date is supposed to guide you on when your five years as a permanent resident in the U.S. elapses. Although you can’t rely exclusively on the date to apply for citizenship, you can use it to know if you have met the five-year citizenship requirement. 

The Early Citizenship Application Rule

The 90 days early citizenship application rule allows you to apply for citizenship 90 days before your five years of permanent residency have passed. 

The early application rule is based on the argument that the USCIS may not call you for your citizenship interview until the 90 days have elapsed.

Applying for Naturalization

Once you meet the legal requirements to apply for citizenship, you will need to submit an application form together with the necessary supporting documents and a $725 fee to the USCIS.

The IRC can help you to fill in the form and prepare the necessary documents. 

You’ll also need to take a biometric test, where the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice will carry out a background check. Once you are cleared, you will be invited to an in-person interview with USCIS officers. 

The USCIS officers may ask you questions related to:

  • Your background
  • The application
  • Your knowledge of the U.S. constitution
  • Your character 
  • Your willingness to take the oath of allegiance
  • Your ability to read, speak, and write English

Get Help from Las Vegas Immigration Attorneys

If you are applying for a refugee or asylum status, an immigration attorney can help you. You can ask the lawyer any questions you have about the process and what is expected from you. 

If you are already in the U.S. living as a refugee or asylee, a Las Vegas immigration attorney can help you pursue your permanent residency application. A skilled lawyer can make the application process easier. Moreover, the attorney will explain the proper procedure to follow and give you clear options to resolve any pending issues.

An immigration attorney will help you to fill the documents required to apply for citizenship by naturalization. The attorney will also guide you on the best way to prepare for your interview. 

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Becoming a Naturalized U.S. Citizen

bigstock-Close-up-of-male-hands-with-pe-46137757The naturalization process is one which allows a foreign citizen to become a full fledged United States citizen, granted the same rights and privileges as any natural born citizen, including the right to vote in federal elections, which is something that visa holders and lawful permanent residents can’t do, even if they have been in the United States for a majority of their lives.

Qualifying for Naturalization

In order to qualify for naturalization, a person must be a lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least five years.  If the person seeking naturalization is married to a U.S. citizen, then the wait is reduced to just three years.  The wait may be substantially reduced if the person seeking naturalization served in the military for a qualifying period of time.  A child can be naturalized if the child was born to U.S. citizens on foreign soil, even if the family remains outside of the country for an extended period of time after the child’s birth.

Children Born to Foreign Parents

Children who were born on foreign soil to foreign parents may not need to apply for naturalization because, if the children’s birth or adoptive parents became naturalized U.S. citizens before the child turned 18, then the child may already be considered a U.S. citizen.

English and Civics Testing Requirement

Prior to becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen and taking the Oath of Naturalization, which finalizes the process, the foreign citizen seeking to be naturalized must successfully pass a basic English and civics test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Certain exemptions to this testing requirement exist for individuals who have been in the United States for a certain number of years and those who are at least a certain age – if a person may qualify for an exemption to the testing requirement, then an attorney can advise the person of this fact and the benefits which the exemption provides.

Other Benefits of Working with an Attorney

Along with getting the most up to date information on testing exemptions which may exist for foreign citizens who are trying to become naturalized U.S. citizens, a person who partners with an experienced immigration and naturalization attorney for help through the naturalization application process receives several major benefits that those who try to apply for naturalization on their own don’t get to enjoy.  Benefits like being able to have an experienced legal professional look over an application to ensure it is filled out completely and properly, and having a professional on hand to offer custom tailored advice to a person’s specific immigration related questions..

Prior to Naturalization

Until the naturalization process is finalized, a foreign citizen may still be deported or removed from the United States and sent back to his or her country of origin for violations of major U.S. laws and for violations of certain immigration policies.  Only after naturalized citizenship is granted is a former foreign citizen free from the risk of being ordered removed from the country.  However, if a naturalization is procured by fraud, then an immigration court may revoke the fraudster’s citizenship and have the person returned to his or her country of origin.

Citizenship by Naturalization

bigstock-Immigration-Rally-In-Washingto-7293583Becoming a citizen of the United States has many benefits and privileges. As a citizen of the United States, you can vote in elections, run for public office, and sponsor foreign citizen family members for permanent residency. If you are not already a citizen, you can apply for citizenship through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by filing an application for naturalization using USCIS Form N-400. Anyone who meets the conditions of naturalization may apply.

Ways to become a Citizen

There are two ways a person can gain citizenship. The most common is by birth in the United States or a U.S. territory. You are also considered a United States citizen if you are born in a foreign country to parents that are United States citizens. If you were not born in the United States or not born to U.S. parents, you can file the application form N-400 to begin the process of naturalization, assuming that eligibility requirements for naturalization can be met.

Conditions for Becoming a Citizen

You must be considered eligible for naturalization in order to file the application form N-400 for citizenship into the United States. One condition of eligibility is that you must live continuously in the United States for at least five years. There are some exceptions to this rule, like if you were employed in certain overseas jobs or if you were on active military service. You must also prove you are a person of good moral character.

In other words, you can not have a serious criminal record, can not participate in any criminal activity, and must swear to uphold all laws of the United States. Another condition of becoming a citizen of the United States is a basic understanding and ability to communicate in English. You must also understand basic American politics and basic history of the United States. You will be tested on these subjects at the end of your citizenship application process, but some people may be exempt from certain exam requirements.

Steps to Become a United States Citizen

You must first correctly complete and submit your Application for Naturalization Form N-400. During this process you will need to provide documentation that proves you meet residency requirements. You will need to provide two passport photos and pay the required filing fee. Once your Application for Naturalization Form N-40 is filed with all necessary documents and fees you will receive a letter from the USCIS to setup an appointment for fingerprinting.

Once the USCIS is satisfied with the documents you have provided and you have gone through the fingerprinting process you will receive another letter for an interview regarding your request for citizenship. This interview will consist of a series of questions asked by an immigration official to make sure that you are eligible to become a United States Citizen. This will also be the time you will take the naturalization exam.

After successfully going through the interview process and passing the citizenship test, a citizenship ceremony will be held. During this ceremony you will take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States to finalize the process, and you will receive a certificate of naturalization. You will also relinquish your green card during this time, as it will no longer be necessary for you to possess a green card as a citizen.

Seeking Help

Although not required, individuals who are interested in applying for U.S. citizenship by naturalization should speak with an experienced immigration attorney. The attorney will help the person determine whether or not eligibility requirements are met and, if so, can help the person file the necessary forms with the government.