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Although it is not the universal goal of all immigrants, United States citizenship is the ultimate goal for most seekers of legal permanent residency. The benefits of citizenship are many, but so are the number of obstacles to attaining this coveted status. The process for obtaining U.S. citizenship for those not born in the U.S. is called naturalization. This process can be challenging for anyone, but especially for people who are older or who have physical or mental issues that prevent them from demonstrating mastery of the requirements for citizenship. Fortunately, the naturalization system has a number of options available for helping people deal with their shortcomings to be able to become U.S. citizens.
The most common assistance for those with difficulties passing the examination are built-in exemptions (or “waivers”) for those with specific problems that prevent them from meeting the strict examination requirements. These exemptions or accommodations fall into two main categories: age-based or disability-based needs.
Applicants are exempt from the English language requirements of the process and can elect to take the exam in their native language and appear for their interview with an interpreter. These individuals are still required to take the civics test, but can do so in their language. This exemption applies to applicants age 50 or older and who have lived as a permanent resident (Green Card holder) in the United States for at least 20 years. This is commonly referred to as the “50/20” exception. Applicants age 55 or older who have lived as a permanent resident for 15 years (the “55/15” exception”) are also permitted to use this exemption.
If an applicant is age 65 or older and they have been a permanent resident for at least 20 years at the time of filing for naturalization, are eligible for even more assistance since they can obtain exemptions for both the language testing as well as the civics portion of the exam. Immigration law permits these individuals to take a simplified version of the civics test which only tests twenty possible questions instead of one hundred.
There are also exemptions based on medical disability for those going through the naturalization process that applies to both the English and the civics portion of the test. Though available, it is a bit trickier to get this exemption than the age-based exemptions as the applicant must enlist the assistance of their medical provider to complete a form and provide proof of their disabilities. It should be known that this option is available to anyone, but it is difficult to convince the government of the need, and requests are often denied without providing thorough and detailed medical information.
Since immigration law requires legal permanent residents and naturalization applicants to prove that they have maintained legal residence in the U.S. for a specific period of time, it is often necessary for applicants to seek waivers for their time abroad. Citizenship seekers must show that they have lived continuously in the U.S. for 5 years before being eligible to apply for naturalization. The term “continuous residence” means that the applicant has maintained residence within the United States for the applicable period of time. If they cannot show their time was continuous for the immediate 5 years, the government will “restart” the clock and they will need to wait 5 more years to become eligible again. So, any extended absences outside the U.S. must be carefully evaluated to see if it will disrupt an applicant’s eligibility for citizenship. Exemptions are available for immigrants who are engaged in certain kinds of
overseas employment that may otherwise make them ineligible due to their extended absences outside the U.S.
Although not an exemption or a waiver, U.S. immigration law also provides accommodations and modifications to the testing site for applicants with physical or mental impairments that make it difficult for them to complete the naturalization process. In order to provide sufficient time for the government to accommodate them, however, applicants are encouraged to list their special needs at the time of application. It is also important to keep in mind that it is usually necessary for the requestor to be able to provide proof of their needs for accommodation upon request by the government.
The importance of properly planning and preparing for the naturalization process cannot be overstated. For many, naturalization represents the culmination of years of work, thousands of dollars, and a significant portion of their personal lives. Making a misstep could delay this process for years or could even prevent citizenship in the U.S forever. It is not common, but loss of legal permanent residency and deportation are always possible outcomes for hastily or improper requests.
If you need assistance with your naturalization process or have questions about whether you qualify for an exemption, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. You can do this by calling our office at 616-805-3435 or by using the following link to schedule an appointment online: https://marvinlawoffice.com/schedule-a-consultation/