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Documents Show Proof of Citizenship

October 24th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Citizenship VerificationProof of citizenship is critical to immigrants who’ve chosen the United States as their adoptive country and who want to assure their standing under the U.S. Constitution as the rights, privileges and responsibilities laid out in the nation’s founding documents apply strictly to those who hold citizenship status. But proof of citizenship is also a practical matter as citizenship documentation also supports hiring criteria for U.S. employers.

While citizens born within U.S. borders normally have state-issued birth certificates, immigrant citizens receive federally-issued documents to prove their U.S. citizenship. Naturalized citizens and derivative citizens– generally those born outside the United States but who have a U.S. citizen parent or grandparent– are issued a Naturalization Certificate or Certificate of Citizenship, both of which show proof of citizenship.

Proof of citizenship documents for both natural-born and immigrant citizens include:

  • Birth Certificate: A document that shows natural-born U.S. citizenship
  • U.S. Passport: A document that shows U.S. citizenship and also serves as a travel document
  • Certificate of Citizenship: A document issued to citizens born outside the United States
  • Naturalization Certificate: A document issued to immigrants aged 18 and older who’ve gained citizenship through the naturalization process

The two proof of citizenship documents available to immigrants are a U.S. passport and a Naturalization Certificate. A passport, which is issued by the U.S. Department of State, not only serves as proof of citizenship, but it also serves as a travel document for those who travel outside the United States. Naturalized citizens who need to replace their Naturalization Certificate can do so by filing Form  N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization / Citizenship Document. While both a passport and a Naturalization Certificate are valid as proof of citizenship, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suggests a U.S. passport as the most practical document. Besides serving as both proof of citizenship identification as well as a travel document, the passport application is arguably the more convenient option as the process could expedite faster than the certificate option, according to USCIS.

Applying for U.S. Citizenship

October 19th, 2016 by Romona Paden

Citizenship ApplicationWhile most Americans are natural-born, those living in the country who are foreign-born must apply for U.S. citizenship to become naturalized citizens. Immigrants choosing naturalization can apply with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for U.S. citizenship once certain conditions and criteria are met.

Becoming a U.S. citizen starts making several determinations. For those who aren’t U.S. citizens by birth– or who haven’t derived U.S. citizen from a parent– must determine whether or not they’ve met certain eligibility requirements. Once these requirements are satisfied, an immigrant can fill out Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Basic naturalization eligibility requirements include:

  • Must be at least 18-years-old
  • Must be a permanent resident of the United States who’s been issued a Permanent Resident Card, formerly called an Alien Registration Card
  • Must have held permanent resident status for five years or more, though the requirement drops to only three years in some cases
  • Must not have travelled outside the United States for 30 months or more in the last five years
  • Must have not travelled outside the United States for one year or more in the last five years (or in the last three years in some cases)
  • Must have resided for the last three months in the state or district in which the citizenship application is processing
  • Must be able to read, write and speak basic English
  • Must know basic U.S. history and hold an understanding of the form and principles of the U.S. government

USCIS suggests immigrants interested in the U.S. citizenship process to complete a worksheet to ensure all qualifications are met. With these conditions, immigrants can move forward in the naturalization process by preparing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

With the form, applicants are required to submit two passport-style photos and to supply the required documentation. When the form is submitted to the appropriate USCIS office, the agency sends a notice of receipt.

Once the application is moving through the USCIS system, immigrants must complete a biometrics appointment, which is scheduled through the agency. After this and the other initial processes are completed, the naturalization applicant will complete an interview with a USCIS officer. After this interview, USCIS sends applicants a notice to inform applicants the naturalization request has been granted or denied. When documentation is incomplete or if an immigrant fails the language or civics test, USCIS could also categorized the citizenship application as continued.

With the granting of the request to naturalize, USCIS sends approved applicants notice of Oath of Allegiance ceremonies. It’s only after taking this oath that an immigrant is considered a citizen of the United States.

Green Card Process and Procedure Time Frames

October 17th, 2016 by Romona Paden

Get a Green CardA number of variables play into the amount of time it takes for immigrants to get a green card in applying for permanent residency in the United States. Among these are the category of the green card and whether an immigrant files the application from inside or outside the United States.

Most immigrants who seek permanent resident status– a green card– do so through sponsorship of a family member or an employer in the United States. Other immigrants apply for green cards through refugee, asylee or other humanitarian status. It’s also possible for individuals to file without sponsorship or holding a humanitarian status.

Each green card category carries its own processes and procedures with specific necessary steps to follow. For those who apply for a green card from within the United States, for instance, the application process is referred to as an adjustment of status. For those who live in countries outside the United States, the green card application goes through consular processing.

Applying for a green card from within the United States is essentially a request to move from nonimmigrant or parolee status to immigrant status– something U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes as an adjustment of status. While it’s possible to request this adjustment while still holding nonimmigrant status.

For those who are outside the United States, green card applications move through consular processing. In these cases, individuals who are granted approval of an immigration petition and who have an immigrant visa number immediately available can apply for admittance into the United States as a permanent resident.

It’s important to note that USCIS only allows individuals to file green card applications, regardless of whether it’s an adjustment of status application or a consular processing application, after the applicant has established green card eligibility.

Understanding the green card categories and eligibility criteria are crucial components to expediting the green card process, it’s likewise important to note that USCIS can only issue green cards when a visa is available. Visa availability is determined by guidelines established by the U.S. Congress. The USCIS offers a “Visa Availability & Priority Dates page for guidance.

Once an applicant establishes eligibility and correctly files all necessary paperwork, USCIS processes the applications in the order they’re received.

Paying the Green Card Application Fee

October 12th, 2016 by Romona Paden

Application Fee for Green CardWhen an immigrant fills out a green card application to live and work in the United States as a permanent resident, specific details determine the application fee costs. While most immigrants will pay the normal fees, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also offers assistance in covering the costs to immigrants who qualify.

In most instances, the fee for Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status costs applicants a $985 application fee plus an additional $85 to cover biometrics costs, which brings the total amount to $1,070. These green card application fees and the biometrics fees are applied to immigrants who range in age from 14 to 79.

Children who are under age 14 and who aren’t filing the green card application with at least one parent are also charged the I-485 application fee, but this group isn’t required to pay the biometrics fee. These same guidelines apply to green card applicants who are age 79 or older.

No application charges apply for immigrants who gain admittance to the United States as a refugee.

Applicants who simply can’t afford the green card application fee can also receive assistance to remove the financial burden through a fee waiver process. These fee waiver forms, which include Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver  and Form I-912P, HHS Poverty Guidelines for Fee Waiver Requests from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Applicants can request a fee waiver under certain conditions, which includes means testings of income relative to requested benefits, or household income at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time of filing or financial hardship.

Applicants who pay their green card application fee independently of federal assistance can use a credit card, s debit card, or a pre-paid debit card or gift card. Applicants can also pay the green card application fee with a check drawn on from a U.S. bank account that includes both the U.S. bank routing number and the checking account number.

For those who are already in the U.S. while filing the green card application and paying the associated fees, checks and money orders must be made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. USCIS guidance specifically directs applicants to avoid filling out payee information as USDHS or DHS.

Defining Citizenship

October 10th, 2016 by Romona Paden

Definition of CitizenshipCitizenship is defined as the legal status of holding all of the rights and obligations required of and bestowed to those who are subject to the laws of the United States. U.S. citizens have the right to live, work and vote in the country and are also obligated to pay taxes to the United States government.

Natural born citizens of the United States are born on U.S. soil. Naturalized citizens of the United States include people who are native to other countries around the world but choose the United States as their adoptive homeland. Natural born and naturalized citizens each hold all the rights and protections afforded by the U.S. government.

While those born in the country are U.S. citizens by default, those who naturalize are faced with a much more rigorous process. Far from simply transplanting from one geographic location that falls outside U.S. borders to a place located inside U.S. borders, becoming a naturalized citizens requires assimilating into the nation’s culture and developing an understanding of the nation’s laws and history.

Becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen includes a number of requirements. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides a basic overview of these, some of which include:

  • Lawful admittance as a permanent resident of the United States
  • Holding permanent resident status for at least five years
  • Demonstrate continuous permanent residency
  • Demonstrate physical presence
  • Demonstrate good moral character
  • Demonstrate an attachment to morals and ideals of the U.S. Constitution
  • Pledge an oath of allegiance to the United States

While holding the status of U.S. citizen falls under a legal category, the essence of U.S. citizenship goes well beyond a technical definition. As many of those who’ve chosen naturalization have used their status as citizen to contribute and serve their adoptive country in varying capacities.

Some well known naturalized U.S. citizens include Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger, both of Nobel Prize winners. Czech Republic-born Madeleine Albright who served as the first female U.S. Secretary of State in the Bill Clinton Administration.

Passing the Citizenship Test

October 5th, 2016 by Romona Paden

Naturalization TestImmigrants who’ve lived and worked in the United States for years might decide to trade in their Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status for naturalized citizenship. For those who choose naturalization, passing the citizenship test is a big portion of reaching the goal.

The citizenship test is made up of English-language testing as well as 100 civics and history questions. Of these, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) interviewer verbally asks naturalization candidates up to 10 questions.  To pass the test, candidates must respond to at least six of the questions with correct answers.

In essence, the citizenship test is intended to underscore the rights and responsibilities that are held by U.S. citizens.

While the vast majority of the citizenship tests are required to be given in English with candidates required to respond in English, some naturalization candidates who are advanced in age and hold extended time as a permanent resident are exempted from the English language requirement and are allowed to take the citizenship test in the language of their choice.

As of 2015, USCIS reports a 91 percent pass rate among test takers.

At least part of the reason for the high pass rate among citizenship test takers is likely the vast resources USCIS has put into the development of test study tools. The tools come in an array of formats, which lets each individual citizenship test applicant to  study using the best approach for them. Besides standard text, electronic formats include audio, flash card and interactive tools that are available in English, Spanish, Chinese and a growing list of other languages.

In-person resources are also available as USCIS has awarded a total of $53 million through 262 grants– available through funding opportunities of the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program– to organizations that serve immigrants through citizenship preparation services. USCIS estimates these grants have provided citizenship testing assistance to 138,000 permanent residents in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

In 2016, USCIS offered two funding opportunities that made $10 million in competitive funding available to citizenship preparation programs. Through these programs, immigrants preparing for naturalization increase their English-language skills and also learn U.S. history and civics.

USCIS estimates approximately 8.8 million permanent residents living in the U.S. today are eligible for citizenship.

Permanent Resident Cards Show Immigration Status

October 3rd, 2016 by Romona Paden

Permanent Resident Cards Demonstrate StatusObtaining a lawful permanent resident (LPR) card is a primary step for immigrants looking to live and work in the United States. A permanent resident card– commonly referred to as a green card— is the legal identification that shows permission for an immigrant to reside and get employment in the country.

Immigrants who choose to move to the United States to live and work are among the country’s most industrious people. For those who apply for and receive a permanent resident card from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an immigrant’s drive to gain a better life and to perform at the highest potential comes one step closer to reality.

With a permanent resident card, USCIS grants authorization for immigrants to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. As holders of permanent resident cards, immigrants gain legal status to stay in the U.S. and to work in any capacity for which they’re qualified.

The actual Permanent Resident card is a plastic identification that can be carried easily in a wallet or billfold. The card includes an individual’s biographic information, photograph, fingerprint as well as an expiration date. Those who hold a permanent resident card have permission to live and work in the United States indefinitely.

Besides the right to live and work in the United States on an ongoing, indefinite basis, immigrants who hold permanent resident cards are also protected by the laws governing the country, states and local jurisdictions.

While permanent resident card holders are endowed with many of the rights of U.S. citizens, the status also carries with it a number of responsibilities. These include:

  • Obey all laws of the United States, the individual states and localities
  • File income tax returns and report income to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as well as to state taxing authorities
  • Support the democratic form of government and not to try to change the government through illegal means
  • Register with the Selective Service in cases where Permanent Resident card holders are male aged 18-25

Candidates for permanent resident cards are usually sponsored by a family member already in the United States or by a U.S. employers. However, refugees and asylees can also apply for a Permanent Resident card. In still other cases, individual immigrants can apply for the Permanent Resident card without sponsorship.

Naturalization Numbers Hit Four-Year High

September 28th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Numbers Up for NaturalizationInstitutional efforts encouraging legal permanent residents (LPRs) to apply for U.S. citizenship ahead of the 2016 elections look to be paying off as the number of green card holders applying for naturalization are up by 26 percent over the same period during the same period the year before. The number– approximately 718,500 in the fiscal year 2016 period through June– represents an 8 percent increase over the number four years ago before the 2012 election.

The increase in the naturalization application rate, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) data, is likely directly correlated to a naturalization push from the White House and interest groups. But while some organizers behind the efforts suggest the rise in naturalization applications is predominantly reactionary to Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy,  Pew analysts question the political influence on the numbers as  “naturalization data shows there have been much larger percentage increases in past years, with jumps not always coming during election years.”

The pattern for increase in naturalization applications correlates to the current 2016 presidential election year as well as to the previous 2012 election year when USCIS saw a 19 percent increase in immigrant citizenship applications. However, in the run up to the 2008 election, USCIS actually experience a 62 percent decrease in naturalization applications from the previous year.

Essentially, Pew analysts point out in their report that economics is likely a stronger driver of naturalization applications than presidential politics. For instance, the highest spike in naturalization applications since government tracking began in 1907 occurred in fiscal year 2007. The nearly 1.4 million applications at the time represented an 89 percent increase over the previous year. The flood, according to Pew, can be attributed to a $235 adult application fee increase that took the cost from $330 to $595.

The Pew report points out that naturalized Asians and Latinos are highly appealing to Democratic leaders as the two groups have “long favored Democratic presidential candidates in past elections.” On top of this, naturalized Asians and Latinos tend to have a higher voter turnout rate than their U.S.-born counterparts.

In this election year, naturalized immigrants comprise 24 percent of eligible Hispanic voters. Sixty-one percent of eligible Asian voters are naturalized immigrants.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone TPS Extension

September 26th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

TPS Extension for GuineaA six-month Temporary Protected Status (TPS) extension has been granted to TPS  beneficiaries under the designations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ends the benefit completely on May 21, 2017. TPS for the three West African countries, originally granted in November 2014 due to threat of the spread of the Ebola virus, is no longer necessary.

“After reviewing country conditions and consulting with the appropriate U.S. government agencies,” according to a September 22 release from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), “Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has determined that conditions in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone no longer support their designations for Temporary Protected Status. The widespread transmission of Ebola virus in the three countries that led to the designations has ended.”

Current beneficiaries receive an automatic extension of the TPS status as well as an extension of their current Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) through May 20 of next year. These beneficiaries aren’t required to file any additional TPS applications or pay any fees in order to receive the extension in order to retain current benefits.

While the TPS extension ends next spring, beneficiaries of the status will still continue to hold any other immigration status they have maintained or acquired while registered for TPS. For those who don’t currently have an immigration status besides TPS, DHS “urges individuals who do not have another immigration status to use the time before the terminations become effective in May to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.”

The six-month extension is intended to ensure an “orderly transition” as TPS designation ends.

TPS, categorized as a statutory provision within the Immigration and Nationality Act, is a designation placed on foreign countries by the DHS secretary. TPS is granted when conditions in these foreign countries temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from safely returning home or when these countries aren’t able to handle the return of nationals adequately.

Foreign nationals who are granted TPS can’t be deported from the United States and can also obtain work permits. TPS beneficiaries are also eligible to receive Advance Parole travel authorization.

Additional TPS information is available at Federal Register notices contain further details about the six-month extension for orderly transition before the termination of the TPS designations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

New Citizens Celebrate Constitution

September 19th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Naturalizations to Take Place on Constitution DayMore than 38,000 immigrants are slated to become some of America’s newest citizens through 240 naturalization ceremonies across the country that correspond with Constitution Week and Citizenship Day from September 26-23. Celebrating 239 years since the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787 and “I Am an American Day,” a commemoration that began in 1940, the ceremonies underscore the meaning of U.S. citizenship with reflection on the connection between the Constitution and citizenship.

According to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) press release on the celebrations taking place during the week, “The Constitution plays a meaningful role in the lives of new Americans. It not only establishes the rule of law, but also creates the framework for an immigration system that enables immigrants to become full citizens with the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as any other.”

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. and Ellis Island in New York City are among the most famous sites where the naturalization ceremonies will be held. These venues reflect the USCIS partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), which began in 2006.  Other iconic landmarks where ceremonies will take place are the Lincoln Memorial and Yosemite National Park.

Earlier this year, USCIS committed to performing 100 naturalization ceremonies on NPS sites in recognition of the NPS 100-year anniversary. “These picturesque and quintessentially American places inspire new citizens and those who witness naturalization ceremonies to celebrate and experience our country’s history and natural beauty, and to protect it for future generations,” reads the Constitution Week release from USCIS.

USCIS Director León Rodríguez is among officials who will administer the Oath of Allegiance to the nation’s newest citizens. Administering the Oath of Allegiance, he says, is an honor as the new citizens add to the “diversity strength and character of our country.”

Naturalization ceremonies are also scheduled to be held at U.S. courts where federal judges will preside over the event and administer the Oath of Allegiance.

Guest speakers at other naturalization ceremonies around the country include NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Mary Giovagnoli, deputy assistant secretary for immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

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