Naturalization is the process of becoming a U.S. citizen for people who were born a citizen of another country. The process can be long and confusing, but the benefits of citizenship are well worth it. Becoming a citizen through naturalization takes six basic steps. We will explain each step in detail below.
Step 1: Meet the Citizenship Eligibility Requirements
Typically, you must be a U.S. permanent resident (green card holder) for three to five years before you’re eligible to apply for citizenship through naturalization. There are exceptions, but in most cases, you must have spent a considerable amount of time in the U.S. in order to be eligible for naturalization. Take the naturalization eligibility quiz before filing Form N-400.
Here are the basic eligibility requirements:
- Be a U.S. permanent resident (have a green card)
- Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing Form N-400
- Demonstrate continuous residence in the U.S. for at least five years (three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen) immediately preceding the date of filing Form-400
- Show that you have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of that five year period
- Show proof that you have lived in the state or district in which you are applying for at least three months
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English
- Meet the requirements for good moral character
- Have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government (civics)
- Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution
Step 2: Prepare Your Application, USCIS Processing of Form N-400
The citizenship application is Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. This is one of the longest and most complicated United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) applications. The instructions alone are 18 pages, and the application is 20.
Not only does the application require a lot of time to complete, but it also requires a lot of supporting documentation. In most cases, you’ll need to include the following documents along with your application:
- 2 passport-style photographs
- Photocopy of your permanent resident green card
- Photocopy of your Legal Marital Status Certificate. Provide a photocopy of your current marriage certificate, divorce, annulment decree, or death certificate of a former spouse.
- Documents for Military Personnel or Spouses of Military Personnel (varies by circumstance)
You have the option to file your application either online or on paper.
To file online, you must create a USCIS online account. Once you have created your account, you will need to electronically submit your application along with all supporting documents and fees. You will be able to sign in to your account to check on status updates as well as your complete case history.
Filing online also gives you the opportunity to communicate securely and directly with USCIS and respond to requests for additional documentation.
Filing by Paper
You can also fill out a physical application, sign it, and submit it to the USCIS along with your supporting documents and filing fee. Unfortunately, filing by paper can take longer than filing online, especially if additional documents are required.
Step 3: Biometrics Appointment
Once the USCIS accepts your application, you will receive a letter scheduling you for a biometrics appointment. The appointment will take place at your local USCIS Application Support Center. You will get your fingerprints, photograph, and signature taken. The USCIS uses this information to complete a criminal background check.
Once your criminal background check is completed, the USCIS might ask you for more information. If the USCIS does want additional information or documents, it will contact you by mail and tell you what information it needs and where to send it.
This letter will also contain a deadline for when you need to send the USCIS this information. Once the USCIS has all the information it needs, it will schedule an interview. You will receive a notice in the mail with the date, time, and location of this interview.
Step 4: The Citizenship Interview
At the interview, a USCIS officer will meet with you, review your application and ask you to clarify any questions they have about your application. The purpose of the interview is for the USCIS officer to decide whether you qualify to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
You might be asked questions about your eligibility for U.S. citizenship. For example, this could include questions about the relative or employer who qualified you to apply for your green card.
The interview could also include questions about any past criminal arrests or convictions, so you should be prepared to explain such events and provide documents. If the interview goes well, you will be asked to take English and U.S. history tests.
Step 5: The Citizenship Test
For the English test, you will be asked to read a sentence in English aloud and write a sentence in English. You can request an exemption from the English requirement if you are over a certain age or if you have been a green card holder for a certain amount of time.
For the history test, you must answer at least six of 10 questions correctly to pass. The USCIS publishes a study guide of 100 history questions that you can study before the test. The USCIS officer will pick the 10 of those questions for your test.
You might be exempt from the history test if you are over a certain age or have been a green card holder for a certain amount of time.
Step 6: The Naturalization Ceremony
Once you have passed the interview and the English and history tests, you will get a letter scheduling you for your naturalization ceremony. Again, the amount of time between your interview and your naturalization ceremony will depend on your jurisdiction.
At the naturalization ceremony, you will be asked to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. You will also exchange your green card for a Certificate of Naturalization, which is proof of your status as a U.S. citizen.
U.S. Citizenship Attained
At this point, you will be a naturalized U.S. citizen. The process can be long, generally taking 6 months from the time you submit your application until you receive a decision. However, most people find that the benefits are well worth it!
If you are looking to apply for U.S. Citizenship then check our Form N-400 preparation service which can help you prepare your immigration form.