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        Table of Contents - Introduction - Health Issues - Family Issues
       
Financial Security - Immigration - Violence Against Women
       
Discrimination & Employment Issues - Basic Needs - Appendix

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    There are many laws governing the admission and naturalization of non-citizens into the United States. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is the federal agency charged with administering and enforcing the immigration laws. The INS has a district office located in Newark at the Federal Rodino Building, 970 Broad Street. Office hours are from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The line in front of the INS forms early, so plan to arrive prior to the 8 a.m. opening. This office processes all applications including applications for naturalization as an American citizen, immigrant visa petitions and work authorization. Recent laws have restricted benefits that are available to legal aliens. These are discussed in the chapters on Health and Basic Needs.
     The following information outlines the basic requirements and procedures for obtaining U.S. citizenship and for assisting family members in obtaining a visa to enter the United States. However, this information is general in nature, and you will need to contact the INS office in Newark to obtain the proper form(s) to file and to learn the exact fees and rules that apply to your particular application.

     United States citizens have rights and privileges not available to non-citizens. These benefits include the right to vote, the right to hold public office, access to certain employment and medical services, the right to travel without potential reentry problems, and an absolute defense against deportation. In addition, the immigration laws give special benefits to certain relatives of U.S. citizens.

     There are three ways to acquire citizenship in the United States:

  • All persons born in the United States or its possessions are U.S. citizens.
  • A person may acquire citizenship when born outside the United States if one parent is a U.S. citizen and that parent resided in the United States prior to the person’s birth abroad.
  • A person may immigrate to the United States and (upon fulfillment of the eligibility requirements), become a citizen by naturalization.

Guidelines for Becoming a U.S. Citizen/Naturalization
     The process by which persons may obtain citizen status is called naturalization. Naturalization is available to you if you were admitted to the United States as an immigrant and have resided continuously in the United States for five years, or three years if married to a U.S. citizen. Absence from the United States for up to six months does not affect the continuity of your residence.
     As an applicant for naturalization you must demonstrate the following things:

  • That you were lawfully admitted into the United States for permanent residence. Your Alien Registration Receipt Card (green card) is proof of this.
  • That you have resided in the United States for five years. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you need only have resided in the United States for three years and have been physically present in the United States for at least one and a half years during the three year period.

In addition,

  • You must be at least 18 years of age.
  • You must pass an English literacy test, which demonstrates your ability to read, write and speak words of ordinary English usage.
  • You must pass a test on the basic history and principles of government of the United States. You can obtain materials from the INS office to study for the English and history/government tests.
  • You must demonstrate "good moral character" (not have been convicted of a serious crime during your residency period, such as drug trafficking or a crime of violence); and
  • You must tell the INS officer who interviews you that you believe in the principles of the United States Constitution and that you intend to obey the law.

What to Do
     The first step in seeking naturalization is to file an application for naturalization with the INS office in Newark. You must have resided in New Jersey for three months to qualify. The application (Form N-400) consists of several pages on which you must provide background information regarding family history, periods of residence in the United States and the names of witnesses who will support your petition for naturalization. You must also submit three sets of fingerprints and your alien registration number. The INS is required to act on your application within 120 days of the filing date.
     Next, you will be examined by an employee of the INS. The examination covers the requirements listed above. The employee who examines you will decide whether to grant or deny your application, and she/he must give you the reasons for the decision. The INS employee must give you a decision within 120 days after your examination.
     If your application for naturalization is approved, a date will be scheduled for you to return and take an oath of allegiance to the United States. At the oath ceremony you will have to relinquish your green card. In exchange, you will receive your certificate of naturalization, which is proof of your citizenship.
     Once you are a citizen, you can apply for citizenship for your children by filing an application on Form N-400 and paying the required fee. Upon approval of the application by the INS, your children automatically become citizens of the United States.
     If your application for naturalization is denied, you can request a second hearing. You must file your request with the INS within 30 days after receiving the denial. The INS is then required to schedule a review hearing within 180 days from the date on which your appeal is filed. The hearing is tape recorded or videotaped for purposes of judicial review.
     If your application is denied a second time or the INS employee failed to give you a decision within 120 days of your examination, you are entitled to file a petition for review in federal district court. It would be advisable to obtain a qualified attorney to assist you with your appeal.

 

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     You may enter the United States only after receiving permission from the U.S. government through the American Embassy or Consulate in your own country. The permission to enter the United States is called a visa, and is stamped in your passport by the American Consulate. There are two types of visas, an immigrant visa and a non-immigrant or temporary visa. The immigrant visa gives you the right to live and work permanently anywhere in the United States.
     Each year the INS issues a maximum of 700,000 immigration visas worldwide. Of this amount, 465,000 visas are made available to family members of permanent residents and citizens of the United States. Within this group there are certain preferences given to particular family members. These preferences are discussed below.
     The rules limiting the number of immigration visas do not apply to certain categories of immigrants such as special immigrants or immediate relatives of United States citizens. Special immigrants are aliens who were permanently residing in the United States and who are returning from a temporary visit abroad. Immediate relatives include the children, spouses, and parents of United States citizens. These groups are exempt from the quota system and can obtain a visa in just a few months.

 

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     Most visas are issued to family immigrants. There are four preferences within this group:

  • First: Unmarried adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
  • Second: Spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.
  • Third: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
  • Fourth: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.

     Heavy demand for immigration visas causes a waiting list for each preference category. An immigrant’s place on a waiting list is determined by his "priority date" (the date you filed a visa petition on his or her behalf).

Filing A Visa Petition

What to Do
     In order for your family member to obtain a visa based on immediate relative status or on one of the family sponsored categories, you must file a visa petition on his or her behalf. The petition is filed on Form I-130 with the INS and must be accompanied by the appropriate fee and proof that you are a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident. You are referred to as the "petitioner" and your relative as the "beneficiary." You will also have to show the INS documentation of your relationship with the beneficiary (family member), such as a marriage certificate in the case of a spouse.
     Certified copies of any documents you need to give the INS are acceptable. If a document is in a foreign language, it must be accompanied by an English translation.
      Upon approval of the visa petition, your relative’s visa application can then be considered by the INS. In addition, your relative’s spouse and children, if any, are automatically given the same status and priority date and are immediately eligible to apply for a visa.

Adjustment of Status
      Each year many aliens are admitted to the United States for purposes of education, work or travel. These aliens are referred to as non-immigrants because they are admitted to the United States temporarily and for a specific purpose (in contrast to immigrants who are permanent residents). Generally, all non-immigrant visa holders who are in the United States may apply to have their visa status adjusted to permanent residence status.

What to Do
     You must file an adjustment of status (FORM I-485) with the INS office. You must have been legally admitted into the United States and an immigrant visa must be immediately available at the time your application is filed. The procedure for a visa petition is the same as though you were living outside the United States. In other words, if you apply for permanent resident status as an immediate relative or family member, your relative in the United States must file a visa petition on your behalf and the same procedures apply.

Resource

  • For further information on any immigration matter or to request a form, call: INS office in Newark (973)645-4400
  • Once you've become a U.S citizen, be sure to register to vote. Download a voter registration application.

 

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The League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund gratefully acknowledges underwriting of this online Women's Guide by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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