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The basics of obtaining American citizenship

Are you a foreign citizen who is considering transferring citizenship to the United States? This process, called naturalization, can be somewhat confusing for those who are not familiar with American law. Obtaining citizenship can be a challenging endeavor, considering the amount of paperwork and legal effort that is involved in the process. A knowledgeable attorney is an essential ally for those who are pursuing American citizenship.

Individuals who do not obtain citizenship by either being born in the United States or being born to American parents anywhere in the world must pursue citizenship through the naturalization process. Naturalization requires the applicant to legally enter the country and obtain legal permanent resident status. The individual must then reside in the U.S. continuously for five years -- or three years for the spouses of American citizens. That means that the person must physically be in the country for 50 percent of that term. This period allows the individual to become accustomed to American systems before achieving full participation in the community.

Applicants for citizenship must generally have the ability to read, speak and write basic English. Knowledge of the U.S. system of government, along with the nation's history, is also required. Applicants prove their mettle by completing a naturalization exam.

Applicants must also demonstrate good moral character. That is, the person should avoid such prurient activities as adultery and polygamy. Excessive gambling and drunkenness may be considered evidence of poor moral character. A criminal history may also prevent applicants from earning citizenship.

After a thorough evaluation process, the applicants are ready to pledge their allegiance to the United States and the Constitution. The benefits of doing so include the right to vote, travel outside the U.S. with a national passport and run for public office. Citizenship can reunite families and allow parents to extend U.S. citizenship to their children. It pays to consider moving past legal permanent status to become a U.S. citizen.

Source: FindLaw, "U.S. Citizenship & Naturalization Overview" Aug. 19, 2014

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