Immigration and Naturalization

Frequently Asked Questions

What is naturalization?

Naturalization is the process of becoming a United States Citizen. A permanent resident can become a naturalized citizen if they meet the following requirements:

  1. Has had the green card for at least five (5) years,
  2. Has maintained continuous residence in the United States within five (5) years of applying for naturalization,
  3. Has been physically present in the United States at least 30 months within this five-year period,
  4. Be a person of good moral character,
  5. Is able to speak, understand, write and read in English at a basic level, and
  6. Pass a citizenship test by demonstrating knowledge of the U.S. history, government and geography.

Spouses of U.S. Citizens only need to have their green cards for three (3) years to be eligible for naturalization.

Individuals who meet the “70 test” (are over 50 years old and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years or are over 55 years old and have had their green cards for at least 15 years) do not have to demonstrate their ability to speak, understand, write and read in English. They can have their naturalization interview conducted in their native language through an interpreter.

How do I apply for U.S. Citizenship?

Please see the requirements for naturalization above. After determining your eligibility, you may apply to USCIS by submitting the form N-400, necessary documents, and fees.

What is a green card?

This is more accurately referred to as a Permanent Resident Card. It is a document that shows an individual is permitted to live and work in the United States permanently. It is called a green card because historically it had a green color.

What is USCIS?

USCIS stands for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is a federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security. Among its many tasks this agency approves immigration benefits, such as citizenship, immigration of close relatives, and working in the U.S.

What qualifies you as a lawful permanent resident?

Green Card holders are lawful permanent residents. There are four major routes to obtaining the lawful permanent resident status: 1) through a family member, such as a spouse, parent, US Citizen child or sibling, 2) via employment and investment, 3) being classified as a refugee or asylum, or 4) through a lottery - diversity visa program.

What are the benefits of becoming a U.S. Citizen?

When you are a US Citizen, you can vote in elections, run for elected office, serve on a jury, travel internationally with a US Passport, and petition for a green card for relatives, just to name a few benefits. Additionally, while a permanent resident can still be deported, for example due to certain criminal convictions, a US Citizen cannot be deported.

What do I need to do to be able to work in the U.S. if I am not a citizen?

You will need one of the following:

  • a Permanent Resident Card (aka Green Card)
  • a non-immigrant visa that authorizes you to work (e.g. H-1B, L, O, or P visa) or
  • an Employment Authorization Document (EAD

How long does a green card remain valid?

Generally, Green Cards must be renewed every 10 years. However, an expired card does not mean that the permanent resident status has ended. If you were granted a conditional permanent resident card you will need to apply for the conditions to be removed at the 2-year expiry date.

What is a Notice of Intent to Deny? What can I do if I receive one?

This is a letter sent from USCIS regarding a petition or application for an immigration benefit. USCIS issues this if the petition or application points to ineligibility or there is some derogatory information. You may respond within 30 days with a request to inspect the record of proceedings or you may rebut with production of evidence and persuasion.

What can I do if I have received a deportation order?

You can appeal within 30 days of receiving the order.

Why should I hire an immigration lawyer?

An immigration lawyer has experience and is thus likely to guide your unique situation through the complex system. You will have peace of mind because of having representation by a legal professional.

Do I need to be in the United States for you to represent me?

No, we routinely represent clients all over the world. We can represent you regardless of where you live. We can communicate with you via video conference and email, and also have technology tools to ensure that our representation for your case is as effective and effortless as if you lived next door.

When does USCIS issue a 2-year green card versus a 10-year green card?

A two-year green card is issued when you are granted a conditional permanent resident (CPR) status. The CPR status is granted for a recipient of a green card based on a marriage that is less than two years old at the time the green card is approved.
Conditions are also placed on a green card in the case of entrepreneurs who become permanent residents through EB-5 based on their investments in a business enterprise in the United States.
Conditional residents have to petition to remove the conditions on their residence within 90 days of their two-year green cards expiration dates. Once the petition is approved, the 10-year green card will be issued.

I have a conditional (2-year) green card. What will happen if I separate from or divorce my spouse who petitioned for my green card?

Generally, a conditional permanent resident has to file a petition to remove the conditions on their residence within 90 days before their 2-year green card expires. The conditional resident needs to file the petition jointly with the spouse through whom they obtained the green card. However, the joint filing requirement may be waived, and the conditional resident can file alone, under certain cirmcumstances. One of those is when the marriage has ended in a divorce.

My spouse passed away. Can I still apply for a permanent resident status?

You may still be eligible to self-petition for a green card as a widow/widower of a US Citizen. If you were married and not separated or divorced from your spouse, have not remarried and have proof of a bona fide marriage, you can file the I-360 petition within two years of your spouse's passing.

What happens to a family-based green card petition when the petitioner dies?

Generally, when the petitioner of an I-130 immigrant petition for a family member dies, USCIS will deny the petition. However, in a few circumstances, it can survive the petitioner's death. One instance is when a petition is filed by a US Citizen for his or her spouse. In such a case, the I-130 petition gets converted to an I-360 petition for a widow/widower. The second instance is when the petitioner dies after the I-130 is already approved, but before the family member gets the green card. In those situations, it might sometimes be possible to request a humanitarian reinstatement.

What options are there to receive a green card through employment?

There are several different categories of employment-based green cards, depending on the type of work offered and the educational attainment and work experience of the person applying for the permanent resident status. The categories include executives and managers of multinational companies coming to the US to work as an executive or manager, individuals with extraordinary abilities in science, art, business, sports or other fields, professionals with advanced degrees or have exceptional abilities, physicians, and investors, to name a few.

What are the differences between the various employment-based green card categories (EB-1 vs. EB-2 vs. EB-3)?

There are several differences between the various preference categories, such as what types of individuals qualify, the number of visas that can be issued each year, whether or not the employer needs to obtain a labor certification, and whether an employer is needed at all.
The EB-1 category includes outstanding professors and researchers, multinational executives or managers, and individuals with an extraordinary ability. The EB-1 category does not require a labor certification and individuals with an extraordinary ability can self-petition, without needing an employer.
The EB-2 category includes those holding an advanced degree, and those with exceptional ability. Individuals under the EB-2 category can self-petition and do not need labor certification if they qualify for the National Interest Waiver.
The EB-3 category includes skilled workers (more than two years of work experience), unskilled workers (zero to two years of work experience), and professionals (at least a bachelor degree or equivalent). This category always requires a labor certification and an employer to start the petition process.

My income is not high enough to sponsor my family member, what can I do?

If you are a US Citizen sponsoring your spouse or child, you can make up the deficiency in your income by providing evidence of ownership of significant assets (houses, cars, stocks, bonds, cash, etc.) that is at least three times greater than your income deficiency. In all other cases, the value of your assets must be at least five times greater.
Alternatively, a joint sponsor can sign an Affidavit of Support to assume the financial responsibility for the family member you are sponsoring. This joint sponsor must be a US Citizen or permanent resident and they must show their household income is equal to or greater than 125% of the US poverty level.