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Common concerns about citizenship addressed

At a recent call-in session in New York, thousands of people all across the United States got their immigration questions answered by volunteers. Some questions came up repeatedly during the session and the answers may help non-citizens in Louisiana get through the citizenship process much more quickly. One of the most common questions had to do with how well one has to speak English in order to become a U.S. citizen. Some wondered that if being a permanent resident for a number of years would make up for their inability to speak English well.

According to the experts, there are some residents who are allowed to naturalize without having to read, write or speak any English. These residents are typically over the age of 55 with at least 15 years of permanent residency under their belts. Permanent residents over the age of 50 with 20 years of permanent residence are also exempt from having to communicate in English. Those with a disability that prevents them from communicating in English or learning the language are also exempt from the English requirement.

Another common concern is whether an arrest or conviction will have an effect on acquiring citizenship. Immigrants with traffic tickets or parking violations need not worry too much. However, an immigrant convicted of a more serious crime should see an immigration expert before applying for citizenship. Some convictions can bar an immigrant from citizenship permanently or temporarily. Dismissed charges are typically not an issue, but if there was an arrest of any kind, it is best to seek expert advice.

Many immigrants travel abroad to visit their family and fear that this will prevent them from becoming a citizen. However, this is not necessarily the case. If a permanent resident has spent at least half of the five years prior to applying for citizenship in the U.S., they should be able to naturalize. However, trips that are longer than 6 months, and especially those that are longer than a year, may cause problems. Some immigrants are also concerned with the $680 filing fee. The USCIS will waive the fee if a household income is below a certain standard or if the family is suffering from financial distress. Immigrants interested in citizenship have many options and should do their research before filing an application.

Source: New York Daily News, "Five common questions about becoming a U.S. citizen answered," Allan Wernick, May 3, 2014

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