Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam, & Interview by Ilona Bray (NOLO) and Project Citizenship (Boston)

Finally, I've been a permanent resident for five years and can apply for naturalization.  Friends and family members that have undergone the naturalization process have told me that this last leg is easier than the process of getting permanent residency.  While I used an immigration lawyer for the conversion of my working visa to that of a dependent spouse with a working visa and my husband and I hired an immigration lawyer to help us obtain our permanent residency, we have decided to apply for naturalization directly.  

I checked the USCIS website, reviewed the instructions for the N-400 form, and checked my local library for the NOLO book that might help guide us through the process.  Fortunately, the 2014 version of Ilona Bray's Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview was readily available.  Going through the book gave me more certainty and confidence as I prepared our application.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview by Ilona Bray
ISBN-13: 978-1413320633 - Paperback $29.99

  • Publisher: NOLO; Seventh edition (September 30, 2014), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The blurb:
For a green card holder, taking the next step to U.S. citizenship offers a host of benefits.  But the application process itself can be long and confusing.  With Becoming a U.S. Citizen, you can save months or even years.  Best of all, you'll know that you are taking each needed step in the most efficient way.

Learn how to:
Make sure that you're eligible for citizenship
Understand the risks and rewards of applying
Fill out application forms
Study for the citizenship exam
Interview successfully
Deal with any setbacks

Becoming a U.S. Citizen also shows you how to take advantage of special benefits and procedures if you have a disability, are in the military or are the spouse of a U.S. citizen.

We're preparing to apply for citizenship and I'd read this book after having filled out the forms.  I fully expected to have to prepare a draft version of our application, review and revise it as needed.  I worried that I would spend too much time reviewing and revising -- weeks or months -- out of fear of making a mistake.

I found Ilona Bray's straightforward description of the process and pitfalls helpful particularly because she offers a practitioner's practical advice.  I've read other reviewers mention that you can get the same advice elsewhere, but since my own sources were limited to the instructions on how to fill out the N-400 form and Ilona Bray's book, I was relieved to find the information organized and readily available in an easy to find format.

As we opted not to hire an attorney to review our application, I wanted more than the government website and instructions to help guide me through the application and waiting process.

If you have possible issues with your application, you'll need to discuss the specifics with an attorney. But if you meet all the requirements and just want to make sure that your application is filed completely and that the process goes smoothly, Becoming a U.S. Citizen is worth reading, keeping on hand, and referring to throughout the process. I found several tips and suggestions that have helped me in preparing my  N-400 application. The tips are the sort that an immigration law practitioner might give you but fortunately without spending several thousands of dollars on an immigration lawyer.  

I was fortunate enough to attend a Project Citizenship workshop at Goodwin Proctor LLP while in Boston last week.  They were able to answer questions that I came across after reading Becoming a U.S. Citizen and trying to fill out the application.  These small questions had me stymied and I wasn't confident that I was finding the right answers on the internet.  I won't go into all of them, particularly since my application is still pending.  But here are a few of the items that they helped me with:
  • I couldn't figure out why the application's barcode populating when I filled out the N-400 form using Adobe on my MacBook.  I tried different browsers, but none of them worked.  But if you use PC, you'll avoid this problem.
  • My first name is so long that I can't type it all in the box provided.  The Project Citizenship volunteers/experts had me just write in that portion.  Simple straightforward fix, but I had been worried about this.
  • I was worried about the periods that I hadn't worked.  I had been busy volunteering and working for our family but hadn't been paid.  Becoming a U.S. Citizen advises answering "unemployed but performed paid work" but I wasn't certain how to describe the work.  The Project Citizenship volunteers/experts first reassured me that the periods of unemployment do not count against one's application -- this was a huge relief and helped me move forward preparing my application.  They also helped me describe the unpaid work briefly. 
It made a huge difference to have two lawyers review the draft N-400 application and prepare my application.  Another attorney and a Project Citizenship expert further reviewed the application for quality control before they considered it ready to submit to USCIS.  The Project Citizenship workshop took around 3 hours and I left with a certainty that my application was ready for submission and examination.  

About the Author:
Ilona Bray began practicing immigration law because of her concern with international human rights issues.  She is the author of Fiance & Marriage Visas and U.S. Immigration Made Easy, both published by NOLO.


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