BY: ISABEL MCNEISH
Whether to apply for US Citizenship or not is a debated question among foreign military spouses. Being a US Citizen can make life easier for you and your family in terms of traveling, living overseas, or applying for certain jobs, but it can also cause issues if you already have a different citizenship that you are planning to keep. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to become a citizen or not.
Keep in mind that this information is based on personal experiences and personal research of USCIS processes. Each case if different, and you should always be prepared to do excessive research on your own.
A common question among foreign military spouses is when to apply for citizenship. If you are a permanent resident (green card holder) and married to a US Citizen, you have to wait for about 3 years before applying. You can calculate your eligibility date by following this link.
However, if your active duty spouse receives accompanied orders overseas, you may be eligible to expedite your citizenship. Each case is unique, and we encourage you to connect with your legal office on base if you are expecting to go overseas. More information about this below!
Applying for U.S. citizenship can be a very long and complex process, therefore, it is important that before you complete and mail the citizenship N-400 form to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you are satisfied that you meet all the requirements below:
Ø Green Card - you must have a green card before you become eligible to apply for citizenship.
Ø Age - you are at least 18 years old.
Ø Permanent residence – you have lived in the U.S. lawfully as a permanent resident for at least 5 years, or three years as the spouse of a refugee, or received your green card through political asylum.
Ø Foreign national spouse of a U.S. Citizen – you have lived in the U.S. lawfully, as a permanent resident, for three years and have been married for three years. (this is you!)
Ø Physical presence - during those five or three years, you have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the time. (this is a tricky one if you plan on traveling home during deployments etc. Make sure you spend a good amount of time in the US as well)
Ø Travels - you have not spent more than one year outside the U.S.
Ø Home - you have not established a primary home in another country.
Ø Local residence - you have lived in the state or district where you are filing your application for at least three months.
Ø Character - you have “good moral character”.
Ø English fluency - you can read, write and speak English.
Ø Civics Test - you can pass USCIS’s test about U.S. history and government.
Ø Loyalty to the U.S - you are willing to swear that you believe in the principles of the U.S. Constitution and will be loyal to the U.S.
If you are sure that you meet the above requirements, the next step is for you to complete the form (N-400) and include a copy of your current green card, any required photos and the application fee (currently $725). If you are applying on the basis that you are married to a U.S. citizen, you will need to include a copy of your spouse’s birth certificate/passport/naturalization certificate, and a copy of his/her military identification card.
Once USCIS receives your N-400 form, they will notify you via email and send an official notice in the mail, within weeks or months (depending on the office that is handling your application), giving you instructions for your next appointment (the fingerprinting appointment).
Naturalization eligibility interview
During this interview, the immigration officer will go through your N- 400 form and ask questions about it, to determine your eligibility for naturalization. While doing this, the officer will be assessing your level of English. If the immigration officer is not sure about your level of English, he/she will give you a speaking and writing English Test. It is also during this interview that you will be asked orally, 10 questions from the 100 civics questions you are expected to know on U.S. government and history. You must get 6 questions right.
After your N-400 has been approved, you will be scheduled for the oath ceremony, to take the oath of allegiance. It is at this ceremony that you will be given your certificate of naturalization.
Our Tips for Foreign Military Spouses
Ø Immigration issues/inquires? Consult the legal office on base. It is free! If your base does not have an immigration specialist, they will refer you to a base that does. The legal office will also help you to complete the N-400 form and ensure that there are no mistakes.
Ø Changed your address? Notify USCIS within 10 days.
Ø Your spouse has received new orders? Whether you are stationed abroad or in the United States, if your spouse has received PCS orders overseas and you are in the orders, contact USCIS. Depending on the case, your naturalization process may be expedited.
Ø Avoid legal troubles - background checks are conducted for naturalization. A minor crime can prevent you from naturalizing.
Ø Civics Test - start practicing for the civics test as soon as you submit your N-400 form. Many community colleges offer classes that help you prepare for the test. You can search for these online!
Ø Payment - credit card payments are accepted for the N-400 form.
Ø Copies – make copies of all documents you send to USCIS.
Ø Know the information in your N-400 form - before your naturalization interview, read your N-400 form. You will be asked questions about it. Remember to take supporting documents that can help you answer any of the questions, in the N-400 form, to the interview.
Ø Don’t lie – never lie to an immigration officer or on an immigration application.
Bonus tip! Did you know USCIS has a separate help line for military families with immigration related questions? The Military Help Line is available to help you at 877-CIS-4MIL (877-247-4645) or firstname.lastname@example.org.