Guide to Naturalization in Florida
Guide to Naturalization in Florida
Immigrants from all over the world are welcomed into the United States and have been over the course of history. During the last 10 years, there were over six million naturalized citizens accepted into the country by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In the 2015 fiscal year alone, the USCIS naturalized nearly 730,000 people.
As an immigrant, becoming a citizen of the United States can be a huge milestone. You have to show you are committed to following the unifying principles that Americans are bound to. By doing so, you will be granted the privileges and rights that come with being a U.S. citizen.
Naturalization in Florida means you are a green card holder, and you will obtain citizenship in the United States in the state of Florida. You need to satisfy certain fundamental requirements first, but how long you need to have held a green card before you can apply for naturalization will depending on what process was used to obtain your green card. Generally, the wait is five years from the date you received your permanent residency, with the exception being for spouses of an American citizen who have to wait three years. There are other exceptions for other classes of immigrants, such as those serving in the United States Military.
When and where you file your application is the deciding factor of how long you have to wait to get an interview for U.S. citizenship after completing your application. Typically, the wait varies between five months to over two years. The waiting period for the interview depends on the backlog at the local USCIS filed office servicing where you reside. You must attend the interview at the location servicing where you reside, and you cannot “forum shop”.
When Can I Apply for U.S. Citizenship? Am I Eligible?
To see if you are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, consider the following requirements:
- You have had a minimum of five years’ lawful permanent residence in the United States — with exceptions for being a spouse of a U.S. citizen, being part of U.S. military personnel, obtaining your green card through asylum or being a refugee.
- During the last five years of permanent residence, you have not spent time outside the U.S. for more than one continuous year prior to your application.
- You have been physically present in the United States for half of the time out of those five years before you file your application.
- You have lived in the state (Florida, in your case) where you are filing your application for a minimum of three months.
- You are ethical, a person of good moral character, and are at least 18 years of age.
- You can read, write and speak English (with the exception of having a medical disability).
- You can pass a U.S. government and history test (with the exception of having a medical disability).
- You commit to being loyal to the U.S. and swear that you believe in the U.S. Constitution principles (certain circumstances allow for exceptions and modifications).
Naturalization is far more than just a formality. The USCIS carefully investigates your background to find any discrepancies. A couple of examples are if you abandoned your U.S. residency or you obtained your green card unlawfully. In this case, your green card can be taken away, and you could be sent out of the country.
How Can I Apply for US Citizenship or Naturalization in Florida?
To apply for naturalization in Florida and U.S citizenship, you need to complete a USCIS Form N-400 and send it in with copy of required photos, a copy of your green card and the appropriate fee. You will be fingerprinted and have an interview later on. Your local USCIS office decides how long you wait after you file your application.
The Steps of Naturalization
There are six main steps you need to go through in your Florida naturalization process:
First, you will need to prove you have a U.S. green card that shows you established lawful permanent residence in the country. This is mandatory (with some exceptions) before you even qualify for application to be a U.S. citizen. Therefore, if you are not at this stage yet, visit ‘Eligibility for a U.S. Green Card‘ to learn more about how to become eligible.
- Overcoming Ineligibility
If you find out you are not eligible for U.S. citizenship at the moment, you may wish to consult with immigration lawyers of Florida services to find out why. It could be that you spent too much time outside the country or that a minor crime you committed in the past hurt your good moral character (which won’t necessarily make you deportable). By having your lawyer look into this, he or she might find that it is as simple as waiting a little longer before you are eligible, or there may be some steps you need to take to become eligible.
- File USCIS Form N-400
Once you are eligible, it is time to file the USCIS Form N-400 to get the process going. You need to send in the copy of your green card at this time as well and go through fingerprinting and biometrics once your application is accepted.
Your application process includes a background check where the FBI runs your fingerprints. You will have an appointment set up for this at your local office.
- Your Citizenship Interview and Exam
Once you have been fingerprinted, you will get an appointment set up for an interview with an officer of USCIS. The exam and interview is an essential part of the naturalization process. It is required by USCIS for all applicants. This tests your ability to read, write and speak English. It also tests your knowledge of the U.S. government and American history.
If you need to study up on this information, USCIS has ample resources for you on their ‘Study for the Test’ website page. During your interview, the USCIS officer will test your English language ability as well as your government and U.S. history knowledge, unless you qualify for the exceptions.
If you have been a permanent U.S. resident or are e 65 or older, your list of questions will be smaller. If you are disabled, there will also be accommodations accessible to you, such as a wheelchair or sign language interpreter, depending on your disability.
In addition, the officer reviews and confirms all the answers to the questions on your N-400. If your interview goes well, you will receive your swear-in ceremony appointment where you will be granted citizenship and get your certificate of naturalization.
- Your Oath of Allegiance Ceremony
After your interview, if you are approved for U.S. citizenship, you will attend a public oath ceremony where you are given the oath to swear your U.S. loyalty. Taking the U.S. Oath of Allegiance during the naturalization ceremony is when you become a U.S. citizen.
In some cases, the oath can be taken on the same day you have your interview. Otherwise, you will get a letter from USCIS in the mail with the location, date and time of the ceremony. Either way, after your oath of allegiance ceremony, you receive your certification of naturalization which shows your U.S. citizenship.
Do I Need a Florida Immigration Lawyer?
Florida Immigration Law is not something you might wish to tackle on your own. Of course, the choice to retain Immigration Lawyers Florida services is yours and is not required, but having a lawyer by your side can help make the U.S. citizenship process go smoother.
An experienced Florida immigration law lawyer ensures everything is done properly to avoid delays. If you have a past criminal conviction, your lawyer can help you overcome any hassles associated with it. Having a past criminal record when you are not a citizen of the United States, no matter how long ago it happened, can prohibit you from naturalization and even lead to you losing your permanent residence in the country.
Importance of Having a Florida Immigration Lawyer
Your lawyer will help you throughout the entire naturalization in Florida process. He or she prepares you for your exam and interview and even attends the interview with you to ensure that the interview is conducted fairly and that there is no bias against you. Your lawyer will also work with you to:
- Complete your Application for Naturalization N-400 Form.
- Obtain your identity photographs that meet particular immigration requirements like size, pose and lighting.
- Gather the necessary documentation.
- Send in your application along with the fees and necessary attached documents required by the Service Center.
Additionally, if any of the following issues apply to you and your case, it is important to hire a Florida Immigration Law attorney to represent you while you are going through the process of naturalization. These issues include you:
- Having a criminal history.
- Having been a defendant in a civil litigation in the prior five years.
- Owing child support.
- Having traveled outside the U.S. frequently or for an extended trip for business or recreation.
- Having unpaid taxes.
- Failing to have registered with Selective Services.
Any of these issues can harm your case, so it is best to seek the help of a professional lawyer before proceeding.
It is important to note that your lawful permanent resident status could be challenged by the Department of Homeland Security in Removal Proceedings if the USCIS feels you have any perceived or actual immigration violations. Plus, if you have put your green card in jeopardy, typically you are not notified about it and do not become aware of it until you have been fingerprinted for a background check for citizenship. At this point, it’s too late. Once the USCIS has labeled you as a violator of immigration laws, you could be denied, placed in removal proceedings or deported.
By hiring an immigration lawyer to handle your citizenship, you will receive a rigorous interview about how you obtained your green card and to see if there is any chance you could be denied citizenship because of moral character or other violations. Even if your immigration situation complicates your application process, a lawyer can still help prepare legal arguments and evidence to help you win your case. This way you do not waste your time and money attempting to gain U.S. citizenship, only to be denied.
What Can Happen When You Don’t Have a Lawyer
You may be tempted to fill in the application and handle the entire process on your own. However, in many cases, if you do go about completing it on your own, you may not understand why your application was denied.
Although you might not think gaining U.S. citizenship is that hard, there are certain details you could be overlooking that could hurt your chances of U.S. entry.
Reasons Your Citizenship Could Be Denied
Some of the reasons you may be denied naturalization are as follows and are a good reason to get yourself a good Florida Immigration Law attorney:
Failure to register with Selective Service. If you are a male between the age of 18 and 26 and have not registered for Selective Service, your case can be denied. You may be able to refile once you reach the age of 31, but as with any rules, there are exceptions.
Obtaining a fraudulent green card. If you are found to have obtained your green card illegally, you may be denied citizenship. Immigration checks your background thoroughly, and even if the fraud was not on purpose, your case could still be denied. You could even be deported in some cases, but this is a worst-case scenario.
Involvement in a crime. Although you might not be worried about a past criminal record, the rules encompassing Florida Immigration Law make it factor in gaining naturalization. Often, your immigration law officer will review every one of your citations, arrests and violations and determine if they warrant you being denied citizenship. In some cases, a crime might even land you in Immigration Court.
Caught lying. If you lie on any part of your Application for Naturalization N-400 Form, or if an officer finds any of your answers to be false or deceptive, it could result in your citizenship being denied — for example, if you were convicted of a crime before and you marked the ‘NO’ box on a question that asked you if you have ever been arrested. Although this is an innocent enough error, the courts will not find it so.
Found to have unpaid taxes. It is grounds for denial if you have unpaid taxes. It is important that you either pay all your taxes or at least have a good accountant or immigration lawyer help you get overdue taxes straightened out by coming up with a payment plan that will satisfy immigration.
Have unpaid child support. This is another thing that can get you denied. It is essential to make all your child support payments in a timely fashion.
Not proficient in the English language. It is important to have English skills before even beginning the application process. You do not need to have an English degree, but you should have a basic command of the English language.
Hiring a professional immigration lawyer will ensure you do not fall under any of these above categories. You do not want anything getting in your way of gaining your U.S. citizenship.
How Much Does It Cost for Naturalization in Florida?
The cost of your naturalization in Florida is $640 currently. This is the fee the USCIS put forth as of December 23, 2016. The fee is always subject to change, so it is important to verify fees before you begin the naturalization process and be sure you pay them all. Your submission will be rejected if you do not pay all of the required fees. The USCIS lists the costs on their “Our Fees” section of its website.
USCIS Local Office Location in Florida Information
You can find more information on USCIS office locations in Florida by visiting the Field Offices section of the USCIS website.
It is always your choice if you want to apply for U.S. citizenship. To prepare, you can find a large list of educational resources from the USCIS. Its Citizenship Resources Center provides more information on the application process, testing, eligibility requirements and all the materials you need to study. You will also find out more about your responsibility and rights as a U.S. citizen.
Get Help from Immigration Lawyers in Florida
Remember, you are not required to apply for U.S. citizenship, and you do not become a citizen automatically as a legal permanent resident (LPR). You have to apply for naturalization. But, before you do, you have to ensure you will be eligible.
Keep in mind that USCIS checks all your background, including any past criminal records and if you obtained your LPR status properly. A fraudulently obtained green card could result in you losing your LPR status along with being denied U.S. citizenship.
This is why obtaining the help of a Florida immigration law firm, like us here at Shane & Shane, is so important before you even begin the application process. We can help to ensure everything is as it should be from the start.
If there are any discrepancies, we can help you go over them and correct anything that could jeopardize your case for U.S. citizenship and naturalization in Florida. We also help to prepare you for the interview and exam portions of the naturalization process, and we sit down with you to ensure there is no bias against you.
Contact us here at Shane & Shane for a consultation with one or more of our Board Certified immigration and naturalization law attorneys.