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The ABCs of Immigration - Naturalization - Good Moral Character, English and Civics
by Greg Siskind and Amy Ballentine

Previously we discussed the residency and physical presence requirements that naturalization applicants must meet. This week we discuss the remaining requirements.

Naturalization applicants must be able to read, write and speak ordinary English. There is no specific test for this, and the applicant’s ability with regard to English is determined in the course of the naturalization interview. A few limited groups of applicants are exempt from this requirement. Those exempt are people who, because of a physical disability are unable to learn English, those with a mental handicap that makes it impossible to learn English, people over age fifty who have lived in the US as permanent residents for at least twenty years, and people over age fifty-five who have been permanent residents for at least fifteen years.

In the past few years, the INS has adopted definitions of physical and mental disabilities that are similar to the definitions used by federal agencies that run disability programs. The impairment must be “medically determinable,” which means that it must be based on an anatomical, physiological or psychological condition that can be shown by accepted medical techniques to render the person unable to learn English. If reasonable steps could be taken to learn English, for example, a blind person using Braille, or a deaf person using sign language, the disability waiver is not available. Even if the disability waiver is granted, most applicants must still demonstrate that they understand and agree with the oath of allegiance. Under a law passed late last year, however, a waiver of the oath is provided for people who cannot understand it because of a disability.

Naturalization applicants must also demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the history and government of the US. This is done by asking the applicant a number of questions from a standard list of 100 questions. Generally, people who are exempt from the English language requirement are not exempt from this requirement. They can use an interpreter during the examination. Those exempt from the civics requirement include those who are physically or mentally unable to comply. Also, applicants who are over age sixty-five and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years are given an easier test, having to answer only six questions correctly from a list of 25.

Naturalization applicants must also demonstrate good moral character. The five years immediately preceding the application are closely examined, and certain criminal offenses during this period will automatically preclude a finding of good moral character. The applicant’s entire life can also be examined.


About The Authors

Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM PublishGregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.

Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at GSiskind@visalaw.com

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defender’s office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at aballentine@visalaw.com


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