Become a U.S. citizen if you qualify

In my most recent Immigration Consultation column, I explain why permanent residents of the United States should apply for citizenship if they are eligible:

This is the column:

Nearly 9 of the more than 13 million permanent residents currently living in the United States are eligible to become citizens. That is a significant number of people who can make a big political difference in this country, because by becoming citizens, they can vote, and voting confers rights and power.

I always advise my clients who are eligible to become citizens as soon as possible. Permanent residency is not an absolute guarantee that you can legally live in the country forever. Permanent residency can be revoked or not renewed by the U.S. government under certain circumstances.

Citizenship offers permanence in the country and increases the possibility of finding better jobs. It also allows them to immigrate more of their family members than a permanent resident. Sometimes, being a citizen makes the waiting time for a family visa shorter.

If you have not become a citizen due to lack of resources, seek help from a non-profit organization that has immigration attorneys or federally accredited representatives to help you for free or at low cost. Please visit these places only if you are in need. If you have the means to pay for legal services, be considerate and do not take the place of a low-income person who truly needs the help of a non-profit organization.

These are the most important requirements for naturalization:

● Be at least 18 years of age.

● Be a permanent resident for at least 5 years immediately prior to processing the application.

● Live in the state where the naturalization application was filed for at least 3 months prior to filing.

● Living continuously in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least 5 years prior to processing the application.

● Be physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months of the 5 years immediately preceding the application.

● Be a person of good moral character.

● Be able to read, write and speak basic English and have some knowledge of U.S. government and history. (There are exceptions for persons of legal age or with a permanent physical or mental disability that does not allow them to meet these requirements).

Permanent residents who are spouses of U.S. citizens and persons who are serving in the military may be able to apply for citizenship more quickly if they meet certain requirements. For example, spouses of citizens may apply for citizenship after having lived as a permanent resident of the United States for three years.

Never lie when applying for citizenship because this can be considered an act of moral misconduct. If you obtain citizenship but are later found to have lied on your application or interview, your citizenship can be taken away.

All individuals should consult with an immigration attorney or a federally accredited representative prior to initiating the process to ensure that they are eligible. This is particularly important for individuals with criminal records, as certain crimes make the applicant ineligible for citizenship, even if they have permanent residency, and they may be subject to deportation from the country.

The government charges $680 for processing, but under certain circumstances, it allows fee waivers.