Barriers to Citizenship Expected to Increase, Even After Surge of Approvals

Nearly 100,000 people were approved for citizenship in Texas in fiscal year 2019, an increase of 50 percent in one year according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some of the approved applicants waited longer than a year to become a citizen. 

This may become a longstanding record unfortunately as the Department of Homeland Security is proposing increasing the application fee for U.S. citizenship from $725 to $1,170, a 61 percent increase according to Houston Public Media. This proposed fee increase adds unnecessary pressure to an already difficult and lengthy process. USCIS said the proposed increase in fees “accounts for increased costs to adjudicate immigration benefit requests, detect and deter immigration fraud, and thoroughly vet applicants, petitioners, and beneficiaries.” 

Immigration and citizenship advocates fear increasing the fees may prevent people from obtaining citizenship. 

Elizabeth Billie, the Texas state director of the NALEO Educational Fund, told the outlet that there was backlog ranging 18 to 24 months at the start of the year. The previous administration processed some application as quick as 6 months. Seven out of 10 new citizens in Texas were processed by immigration offices in Houston or Dallas. 

Even if the proposed fee is passed and an applicant can pay for it, he or she faces other challenges on their path to citizenship. Depending on where your parents were born, you may have to apply for either citizenship or naturalization. Here are the two processes of becoming a U.S. citizen:

Filling out a Form N-600

For non-U.S. citizens who are 18 years or younger and have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, he or she can pursue a certificate of citizenship by submitting a completed Form N-600. Personal information such as ethnicity, race, eye color, hair color, height and weight are asked on the application. Documents that must be submitted with the application include two passport-style photographs of the child, evidence of the parent’s U.S. citizenship and the U.S. citizen parent’s birth certificate. 

A Form N-600 is generally used to adopt children who are not U.S. citizens or to grant citizenship to children born overseas to an American parent. 

Approved applicants over the age of 14 may take the Oath of Allegiance right after their interview or be scheduled to take the oath at a later date. Those under 14 years of age don’t have to take the oath. For applications that are denied, he or she may file an appeal through the Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion, 30 days after the USCIS decision. 

Filling out a Form N-400

Non-U.S. citizens whose parents are not U.S. citizens too can obtain citizenship through naturalization. This process includes submitting a completed Form N-400 which asks numerous personal questions including residence, race and marital status. Some requirements to qualify for naturalization include: 

  • At least 18 years of age 
  • Have been a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. for at least 5 years or 
  • Have been a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. for 3 years, if you have been married to and living with the same U.S. citizen spouse for the last 3 years at the time of the application 

You can also apply on the basis of qualifying military service.

Some applicants are required to appear for in-person interviews, depending on the information submitted in his or her application. Applicants are required to bring all original documents that were submitted in support of the application, and any additional documents that will establish eligibility. 

In addition to getting the application approved, the applicant must past an English test comprised of three separate components including a reading test, writing test and civics test. The questions are typically well-known aspects of U.S. government and history. Those who are 50 years of age or older at the time of the filing and have been documented in the U.S. for 20 years can skip the test. Those who are 55 years or older and have been documented in the U.S. for 15 years can also skip the tests. 

No matter which form your filling out, having an experienced immigration attorney can be the difference between being on a successful path to citizenship or being stuck in limbo for years. The Gonzalez Law Group, PLLC has guided dozens of clients through the U.S. citizenship process. Some applicants may not be aware that states create their own supplementary immigration laws and policies. Discrepancies in filing can lead to expensive costs, delays and in some extreme cases, deportation.  

Though the process can be arduous and lengthy, U.S. citizenship is worth obtaining. Citizenship grants rights like voting, running for public office and being eligible for federal jobs. Citizens can also bring family members to the U.S. by helping them obtain green cards or obtaining citizenship for children born abroad. 

If you or a loved one is attempting to becoming a U.S. citizen in Houston or the surrounding area, call the Gonzalez Law Group at (832)530-4070. A knowledgeable attorney can ensure you meet every requirement for either form, and that you can provide proof that you have resided in America for required amount of time.