Naturalization is the process of becoming a U.S. citizen for people who were born a citizen of another country. Becoming a citizen through naturalization takes 6 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 at 3-5 years before you’re eligible to apply for citizenship. 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.
Here are the basic eligibility requirements:
- Be a U.S. permanent resident
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have been continuously present in the U.S. for at least five years (three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen)
- Meet the requirements for good moral character
Step 2: Prepare Your Application, USCIS Processing of Form N-400
The application for citizenship is Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. This is one of the longest and most complicated USCIS applications. The instructions alone are 18 pages and the application is 20!
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Not only does the application require a lot of time to complete, it requires a lot of supporting documentation. In most cases, you’ll need to include the following supporting documentation 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 former spouse.
- Documents for Military Personnel or Spouses of Military Personnel (varies by circumstance)
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 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. It 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 to 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 questions for your test from these 100 questions. 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 U.S. You will also exchange your green card for a Certificate of Naturalization, which is proof of your status as a U.S. citizen.
At this point, you will be a U.S. citizen! The process can be long, but most people find that the benefits are well worth it.
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