What does it take to become a U.S. citizen? This article outlines the citizenship process in three simple steps.
Step 1: Check Your Eligibility
The first thing to do is see if you meet the basic qualifications for citizenship. There are two paths to citizenship: through your parents or through the naturalization process.
Citizenship through Parents
You can acquire citizenship through your parents as long as one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of your birth. To qualify for citizenship through this route, you must also be under age 18. Eligibility requirements can differ slightly depending on your situation. Check the USCIS website for more details.
Citizenship through Naturalization
If your parents were not citizens at the time of your birth, then you will need to apply for citizenship through naturalization. The entire naturalization process is expensive and takes several years to complete.
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To qualify for naturalization, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- 5 years of U.S. permanent residence (green card)
- 5 years continuous residence in the U.S. immediately before you apply (you cannot have spent more than 1 year out of the country)
- Continuously present in the U.S. for at least 2.5 years
- Lived in the district or state from where you are applying for at least three months
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have good moral character
- Speak, read and write basic English
- Be able to pass a U.S. civics test
- Willing to swear your allegiance to the United States (Oath of Allegiance)
Step 2: Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
The N-400 is the most complicated part of the process. The N-400 application is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) longest and most expensive application.
The form itself is 18 pages long, not including the extensive supporting documentation. The fee is $640 plus the $85 biometric fee required for most applications. Completing the form incorrectly or incompletely could lead to rejection or even denial.
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The form will ask you for basic biographic information including information about your family, address, employment and country of origin. It will ask for information about your immigration history and your criminal background. It’s important to be honest when completing a form. Lying on any immigration application could cause your form to be denied or worse.
Step 3: Pass the Citizenship Test and Interview
Unlike any other U.S. immigration application, citizenship requires you pass an English language and civics exam, as well as an interview. However, there are certain exceptions.
The English Test
The English test requires you to speak, read and write basic English. The speaking test will occur throughout the interview. The immigration officer will judge your speaking ability by how well you answer questions. The reading porting requires you to read aloud one of three sentences correctly. The writing portion requires you to write one out of three sentences correctly.
The Civics Test
There are 100 questions on the naturalization test. During your interview, you will be asked up to 10 questions and you must answer six correctly. The USCIS makes all questions and answers available for study on their website.
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