If you are a noncitizen who wants to become a U.S. citizen, it is natural to wonder, Do I need a lawyer to apply for citizenship? In short, you do not need a lawyer for naturalization, but there are many reasons you may want one anyway. This is especially true if you have a complicated immigration history or do not have the time to work through complex laws.
The Winston-Salem and Charlotte immigration lawyers at EMP Law are passionate about helping individuals navigate complex systems, like noncitizens requesting immigration benefits. And, with our understanding of how criminal law intersects with immigration law, we are not afraid of taking on challenging cases.
How Do You Apply for Citizenship?
The process of becoming a U.S. citizen by application is known as naturalization.
To naturalize, you must:
- Be eligible,
- Apply with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS),
- Pass a citizenship test, and
- Take the oath of allegiance.
An immigration lawyer can help you determine whether you are eligible to apply, prepare your application, study for your test, and celebrate with you when you take your oath of allegiance.
Determine Your Eligibility
Typically, you must have been a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for several years before you are eligible to naturalize. However, you can sometimes naturalize based on honorable military service without first being an LPR.
You may be eligible to naturalize if you:
- Are 18 or older;
- Have good moral character;
- Agree to support the principles of the U.S. Constitution;
- Pass a civics test; and
- Can read, write, and speak basic English.
If you are applying based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen, you can naturalize after three years as an LPR. If you are not married to a U.S. citizen, you have to be an LPR for five years before naturalizing.
Hiring an immigration lawyer can help you determine whether you are eligible to naturalize and, if you are, what you need to do next.
Common Ineligibility Issues
Unfortunately, you may struggle to naturalize if you have committed certain criminal or immigration offenses. Often, this issue arises while proving good moral character. Committing certain serious crimes can make you permanently unable to naturalize. Other offenses can also prevent you from naturalizing until enough time has passed.
An immigration attorney can help you identify whether one of these “bars” to naturalization applies based on your history. If one does, your lawyer can advise you what your options are, including whether you should wait to apply or if you can request a waiver of certain offenses. They can also help you understand if you are unable to naturalize.
Do You Need a Lawyer to Apply for U.S. Citizenship?
To officially begin the naturalization process, you submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization to USCIS. Along with the form, you should submit evidence that you fit into one of the eligibility categories and the appropriate filing fee. For example, if you are applying as an LPR, include a photocopy of the front and back of your green card.
Form N-400 requires extensive background information about your life. Although USCIS provides N-400 instructions, filling in the form can still be stressful and challenging on your own.
If you have any complications in your immigration history, hiring an immigration attorney can help you get ahead of any potential issues. Your lawyer can not only help you identify potential problems, they can help you provide explanations for those problems.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Citizenship Interview?
As long as USCIS does not flag issues in your application, it will schedule you for a naturalization interview with the nearest office after you submit your N-400. At the interview, you complete your civics and English language tests. If you fail, you have two more tries to pass. USCIS provides study materials, including the questions that interviewers select from, online.
One of the biggest reasons to retain a lawyer for a citizenship interview is to help you prepare for the civics test. Practicing the interview process with your attorney can help you get comfortable with the process and gain confidence. Your lawyer can also help you understand what to avoid saying and how to respond to unexpected questions.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Apply for Citizenship?
So, do you need a lawyer to become a U.S. citizen? Ultimately, you do not need a lawyer to apply for U.S. citizenship. However, having a lawyer can help you stay on top of issues, reduce your stress, and complete the naturalization process faster. Reach out to EMP Law online or call (336) 724-2828 to learn