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Citizenship Questions and Answers

April 29, 1993

Many questions arise about the process of applying for U.S. citizenship. Here are some of the most often asked questions and answers: Q: Who is eligible to apply for citizenship through naturalization?

A: Generally, any person over 18 who has been a legal resident of the United States continuously for at least five years immediately before filing the application. The five-year period begins on the date of permanent residence entered on the green card. That person must be of good moral character and loyal to the United States, as defined by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in its booklet, "Naturalization Requirements and General Information." The booklet also describes exceptions.

Q: What steps are necessary to attain citizenship?

A: An application must be submitted to the INS. Once eligibility is determined, the applicant is required to pass a simple exam on the history and form of the U.S. government. Candidates can elect to fill out the application and take the test through an approved organization. Test questions can be reviewed through books on citizenship at libraries or bookstores. The applicant also must demonstrate ability to speak and understand simple English as well as to read and write a simple sentence in English. The applicant must go through a personal interview with INS and pay a $90 processing fee. Finally, the applicant must appear before a judge to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, giving up any foreign allegiance.

Q: Are there any exceptions to the above requirements?

A: Only to the English literacy requirement. People over 50 who have lived in the United States for at least 20 years as lawful, permanent residents can become citizens even if they cannot speak, read or write English. The same applies to those who are at least 55 and have lived in the United States for at least 15 years as lawful, permanent residents. Also, people will be exempt from the English language requirements if physically unable to comply. A simple history and government test will be given in an applicant's own language. Test questions are available to study before taking the test.

Q: How long does the naturalization process take?

A: This varies, depending on several factors including individual circumstances and INS caseload. However, the entire process can be completed within one year.

Q: Must the applicant deal directly with the INS?

A: Not for every phase of the process. For example, the application can be obtained from and completed with the help of qualified community organizations. The test can be taken either at approved community locations or with an INS examiner.

Q: What are the main benefits of acquiring citizenship?

A: Citizenship qualifies an adult to register to vote in all levels of elections--local, state and federal. Citizenship also qualifies the individual for many jobs, particularly in the federal government and in areas where high security is required. It also qualifies the individual for maximum Social Security benefits upon retirement and moving outside the United States.

Q: What organizations can help qualified individuals in the naturalization process?

A: The National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials holds workshops at least monthly at various Southern California locations. These workshops, for which there is a $25 fee to cover costs, provide help with all facets of filing the naturalization application, including photography, fingerprinting and counseling. Hermandad Mexicana operates approved sites in major Los Angeles population centers for taking the written exam. This represents an alternative to taking the exam with an INS examiner. The tests are given monthly on a Saturday by Hermandad. A fee of $16, set by the INS, is charged for those who preregister and $20 for walk-ins when space is available. Other qualified organizations are also available to help.

Q: What does the test consist of?

A: The test given by an approved organization covers history and government and consists of 20 questions, each with four answers, only one of which is correct. A passing score on the exam is 60% or higher. In other words, at least 12 of the 20 answers must be correct. If the test is taken before an INS examiner, it is an oral exam instead of the 20-question written test. Regardless of where the test is taken, one of two sentences, dictated in English, must be successfully copied by the applicant.

Q: How can I contact the INS or one of approved organizations?

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