Refugees who have been granted asylum in the United States often aspire to become U.S. citizens, as it offers numerous benefits and solidifies their status within the nation. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive analysis of the pathways available for refugees to obtain U.S. citizenship, which involves understanding the requirements and the entire process. Our goal is to ensure that refugees equipped with accurate information can confidently embark on their journey towards U.S. citizenship.
2. What is a Refugee?
Before diving into the details of applying for U.S. citizenship as a refugee, it’s essential to clarify the definition and the rights and obligations associated with refugee status.
Definition of a refugee under U.S. immigration law
According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a refugee is any person who has been “forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence”, and possesses a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The U.S. government determines who qualifies as a refugee and provides them with protection by allowing them to enter and reside in the nation.
Rights and obligations of a refugee in the United States
Refugees who are admitted to the United States have specific rights and obligations. Notably, they are authorized to work in the country immediately upon entry and are required to apply for a Social Security number. Moreover, they are eligible to receive assistance from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which may include cash, medical, and employment assistance. Within one year of arrival, refugees must apply for an adjustment of status to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). It’s crucial that refugees understand their rights and obligations in the United States to ensure a smooth transition towards potentially acquiring U.S. citizenship.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). (n.d.)
- USCIS. (2020). I am a refugee. How do I apply for a Social Security number?
- Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). (n.d.). Cash and medical assistance
- USCIS. (2020). I am a refugee. How do I become a U.S. permanent resident?
3. Pathway to Citizenship for Refugees
One of the essential steps for refugees to attain U.S. citizenship is to adjust their status from being a refugee to a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), also known as a green card holder. Here, we’ll discuss the key eligibility requirements for adjusting to LPR status.
Adjustment of status from refugee to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)
Refugees are required to apply for an adjustment of status to become LPRs within one year of their arrival in the United States. This is a critical step in the pathway to U.S. citizenship, as attaining LPR status is a precursor to applying for naturalization.
Eligibility requirements for LPR status: residence, physical presence, and admissibility
To be eligible for LPR status as a refugee, an individual must have been “physically present in the United States for at least one year after being admitted as a refugee”. Furthermore, the applicant must be admissible to the United States, meaning they meet specific immigration law requirements concerning health, criminal background, security, and other factors.
4. Applying for Lawful Permanent Residency
The application process for adjusting to LPR status involves several key components, such as submitting the appropriate form, providing necessary documentation, and completing fingerprinting and biometrics.
The role of Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
Refugees must file “Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status” to initiate the LPR application process . This form, available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, collects essential information about the applicant’s immigration history, criminal and security background, and other pertinent data.
Applicants must provide various documents to USCIS alongside Form I-485, such as a copy of their government-issued identity document with a photograph, a medical examination report (Form I-693), and other supporting documents requested by USCIS. In some cases, applicants may need to submit documents related to criminal history, if applicable.
Fingerprinting and biometrics
After filing Form I-485, most applicants will be scheduled for a biometrics appointment, which includes fingerprinting, to verify their identity and conduct a background check.
Fees and waivers
Although refugees are exempt from paying the Form I-485 filing fee and the biometric services fee , they should be prepared for additional costs related to acquiring necessary supporting documents, translations, and other expenses.
Potential hurdles and solutions in the adjustment of status process
Some applicants may face challenges due to language barriers, missing documentation, or previous criminal history. In these situations, seeking assistance from legal experts, non-profit organizations, or immigrant advocacy groups can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the process.
- USCIS. (2020). I am a refugee. How do I become a U.S. permanent resident?
- USCIS. (n.d.). Green card eligibility categories
- USCIS. (n.d.) Inadmissibility and waivers
- USCIS. (n.d.). Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
- USCIS. (2021). Documents to submit with Form I-485
- USCIS. (n.d.). Biometric services
- USCIS. (n.d.). Form I-485 filing fee
5. Naturalization: The Final Step Towards U.S. Citizenship
After obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, refugees can pursue U.S. citizenship through the process of naturalization. In this section, we will discuss the basic eligibility requirements and the essential elements of naturalization specifically related to refugees.
Definition and overview of naturalization
Naturalization is the process by which a foreign citizen or national becomes a U.S. citizen after fulfilling specific requirements set forth by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) . Once granted U.S. citizenship, individuals gain numerous rights, protections, and privileges under the Constitution of the United States.
Basic eligibility requirements
To be eligible for naturalization, applicants must meet the following criteria :
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Have been a Lawful Permanent Resident for the required period (typically five years, but three years for spouses of U.S. citizens).
- Have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the required residency period.
- Be of good moral character (meaning no serious criminal background or negative involvement with U.S. immigration services).
- Meet English language proficiency requirements (reading, writing, and speaking).
- Pass a test demonstrating knowledge of U.S. history and government.
- Take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
Exceptions and accommodations for refugees
Refugees can benefit from certain exceptions and accommodations during the naturalization process:
- Language: Certain applicants, such as those who are over a specific age or have lived in the United States for a long period, may be exempt from the English language requirement or allowed to take the civics test in their native language.
- Testing: In cases where a disability affects an applicant’s ability to meet the requirements for the English and U.S. history/civics test, they may qualify for a waiver or receive additional assistance.
6. The Naturalization Process
Below is an explanation of the essential steps in the naturalization process.
Filing Form N-400: Application for Naturalization
To apply for U.S. citizenship, applicants must file “Form N-400: Application for Naturalization” with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form collects information about the applicant’s personal, immigration, and criminal history.
The naturalization interview
After submitting Form N-400, applicants are scheduled for an interview with a USCIS officer. During this interview, the officer reviews the application, confirms the applicant’s personal information, and assesses their English language skills.
The English and U.S. history/civics test
A crucial part of the naturalization process is the English and U.S. history/civics test. Applicants must demonstrate their ability to read, write, and speak English, and answer questions related to U.S. history and government.
The Oath of Allegiance ceremony
Once the applicant has successfully completed all requirements, they attend a public ceremony where they take the Oath of Allegiance. After taking the Oath, the individual receives a Certificate of Naturalization, officially granting them U.S. citizenship.
- USCIS. (n.d.). Naturalization
- USCIS. (n.d.). General naturalization requirements
- USCIS. (n.d.). Exceptions & accommodations
- USCIS. (n.d.). Medical disability exceptions
- USCIS. (n.d.). Form N-400: Application for Naturalization
- USCIS. (n.d.). The naturalization interview and test
- USCIS. (n.d.). English test
7. Rights, Benefits, and Responsibilities of U.S. Citizenship
Upon successfully completing the naturalization process, refugees will enjoy numerous rights, benefits, and responsibilities that come with being a U.S. citizen. It’s essential to understand the differences between the status of a Lawful Permanent Resident and that of a U.S. citizen.
Comparing rights and obligations between LPRs and U.S. citizens
Although Lawful Permanent Residents have certain rights, such as the ability to live and work permanently in the United States, U.S. citizens possess additional rights and benefits that LPRs don’t have. For example, only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections and run for public office.
Benefits of U.S. citizenship
There are numerous benefits associated with U.S. citizenship beyond the right to vote in federal elections. Some of these benefits include:
Better access to government assistance: U.S. citizens may be eligible for additional federal benefits and assistance programs .
Travel: U.S. citizens can travel with a U.S. passport, which allows for easier entry into many countries and assistance from U.S. embassies and consulates .
Family reunification: Citizens have an easier and faster process when petitioning to bring immediate family members to the United States .
Protection from deportation: U.S. citizens cannot be deported, while LPRs can be deported under certain circumstances .
Responsibilities of U.S. citizens
Along with rights and benefits, U.S. citizenship comes with certain responsibilities. Citizens must obey federal, state, and local laws, and may be required to serve on a jury and defend the nation when called upon.
In this article, we have discussed the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship for refugees, which includes acquiring LPR status, meeting eligibility requirements, applying for naturalization, and understanding the rights, benefits, and responsibilities that come with U.S. citizenship.
Refugees should consider seeking legal advice and assistance from reputable resources to navigate the complex immigration process. Attaining U.S. citizenship can be a life-changing event that solidifies an individual’s commitment to their new home country and provides stability, additional rights, and increased opportunities.
- USCIS. (n.d.). The Rights and Responsibilities of a Permanent Resident
- USCIS. (n.d.). How to Obtain U.S. Citizenship
- U.S. Department of State. (n.d.). Apply for a Passport
- USCIS. (n.d.). Bringing Your Permanent Resident Spouse to Live in the United States
- USCIS. (n.d.). Deportation
- USCIS. (n.d.). The Rights and Responsibilities of a Citizen