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FindLaw tips on ctizenship

 

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(ARA) - Becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen is not easy, but it is possible if you do your homework and carefully follow the rules. In the past 10 years, more than 500,000 people became naturalized citizens of the United States, obtaining numerous rights, benefits and privileges, including the opportunity to vote in U.S. local, state and federal elections.

If you are here legally and would like to become a U.S. citizen, it's important to know that the process can take years. If you are living in the United States illegally (often referred to as being an "illegal alien"), the path to citizenship is much, much more difficult, if not nearly impossible, according to FindLaw.com, the Internet's leading online source for legal information.

In both cases, seeking legal help from an experienced attorney who specializes in immigration law is critical because of numerous changes being proposed to immigration laws in statehouses across the country.

Here are some tips from FindLaw.com on how to become a naturalized U.S. citizen:

Paths to citizenship. A person can become a U.S. citizen at birth or after birth, by applying for "acquired" citizenship through parents or naturalization. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, naturalization is the process by which a foreign citizen is granted U.S. citizenship after fulfilling certain requirements set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Meet basic requirements. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the basic requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization include being at least 18 years old; being a permanent resident for five years (or less in some situations); being a person of good moral character (i.e., no legal trouble); having a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government; and being able to read, write and speak basic English (with several exceptions to this last rule).

Here legally; want to stay. If you are from another country and are living in the U.S. legally, first and foremost, you must obtain and maintain your green card (also known as a permanent resident card), which allows you to live permanently in the United States, to work in the United States and travel abroad for a certain period of time. As a green card holder, the opportunity to apply for U.S. citizenship will be granted after you have established a permanent residence for at least five years (three years if you're married to a U.S. citizen).

What happens to your old citizenship? You do not lose your citizenship in your native country when you become a U.S. citizen. A person who becomes a U.S. citizen through naturalization may keep his or her original citizenship. It is important to consider the decision to apply for U.S. citizenship carefully. While dual citizenship does have some advantages, it can also raise difficult issues since you will have legal rights and obligations in two countries.

If you're here illegally. If you entered the United States without proper documentation, or did not enter through a valid U.S. Customs checkpoint, you are living in the United States illegally, making it next to impossible to be eligible for citizenship. The key is to return to your country of citizenship and start the process to becoming a U.S. citizen there. If you have been illegally in the U.S. for more than 180 days, and you leave to pursue legal status and try to re-enter, you may be barred from returning for three years. If you have been in the U.S. illegally for over one year and then leave, you may not be able to return for 10 years. There are a few very narrow exceptions to the general rule that you must return to your home country and start the process there, and this is where you should get the help of an experienced immigration attorney.

Get legal help. If you're an immigrant in the United States, and are in search of legal help, contact an organization such as The Legal Aid Society, a non-profit organization that can assist immigrants with the following legal issues: deportation/removal defense, family-based petitions, naturalization applications, change of status, VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) self-petitions, appeals, employment/workplace issues and youth representation.

Avoid scams. Each year, the U.S. Department of State conducts a lottery to make diversity visas (DVs) available to 50,000 immigrants who have legally entered the United States. Through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery program, immigrants from under-represented countries have the opportunity to obtain a green card and establish permanent residence. Unfortunately, online scammers often target people who apply for this program through fraudulent websites and emails, so beware.

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