Citizenship through naturalization is the process by which a foreign national becomes a citizen of the United States. This process is available to individuals who meet the eligibility requirements and successfully complete the naturalization process, which includes filing an application, passing a civics and English language test, and taking the oath of allegiance to the United States.
Citizenship is an important milestone for immigrants in the United States, as it grants them the right to vote, petition for family members to immigrate to the U.S., obtain certain jobs and benefits, and protect themselves from deportation. Citizenship also provides a sense of belonging and attachment to the United States, allowing immigrants to fully participate in their communities and society at large.
The naturalization process is a complex and often lengthy process that involves multiple steps, including filing an application, undergoing a biometrics appointment, attending an interview and civics test, and taking the oath of allegiance. It is important for immigrants to have a thorough understanding of the naturalization process and the requirements they need to meet to successfully obtain citizenship.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover:
Eligibility for Naturalization
In order to apply for citizenship through naturalization, individuals must meet specific eligibility requirements outlined by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These requirements ensure that applicants have a strong understanding of U.S. history and government, demonstrate good moral character, and are committed to upholding the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
- Age Requirement: Applicants for naturalization must be at least 18 years old to be eligible for U.S. citizenship. Minors may derive citizenship from their naturalized parents under certain conditions, but they cannot directly apply for naturalization themselves.
- Lawful Permanent Resident Status (Green Card): To be eligible for naturalization, applicants must hold lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, commonly known as a Green Card. LPR status must be maintained for a minimum of five years before applying for naturalization (three years if married to a U.S. citizen).
- Continuous Residence and Physical Presence:
- As a green card holder without special circumstances, you can apply for U.S. citizenship after holding your green card for five years, provided you’ve physically resided in the country for at least 30 months (two-and-a-half years) within that period.
- If you’re married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years and have lived with them throughout, you can apply for citizenship after holding your green card for three years. You must also have physically resided in the U.S. for a minimum of 18 months (one-and-a-half years) during that time, and your spouse needs to have been a U.S. citizen for at least three years.
- As the spouse of a deceased U.S. citizen who died honorably serving in the military, widow or widower can apply for citizenship at any time if you were living with them at the time of their death, and you’re a green card holder during your citizenship interview. There are no specific green card holding or physical presence requirements.
- If you served in the U.S. military for at least one year during peacetime, you can apply for citizenship while on active duty or within six months of an honorable separation. There are no specific green card holding or physical presence requirements.
- For those who served in the U.S. military for less than one year during peacetime, you can apply for citizenship after holding your green card for five years, with honorable service counting towards this period. You must also have physically resided in the U.S. for at least 30 months (two-and-a-half years) within that timeframe.
- If you served in the U.S. military for at least one year during peacetime but apply after six months of an honorable separation, you can apply for citizenship after holding your green card for five years, with honorable service counting towards this period. You must also have physically resided in the U.S. for at least 30 months (two-and-a-half years) within that timeframe.
- For those who served in the U.S. military during wartime, you can apply for citizenship at any time without holding a green card. You (or your military spouse) only need to have been physically present in the U.S. or its territories, or aboard a U.S. vessel during enlistment, re-enlistment, service extension, or induction. There are no specific green card holding or physical presence requirements.
- Good Moral Character: Good moral character is a requirement for naturalization. Applicants must demonstrate that they have maintained good moral character during the required residency period. Certain criminal convictions, immigration violations, or other conduct may disqualify an applicant from naturalization.
- English Language Proficiency and Knowledge of U.S. History and Government: Applicants must demonstrate basic proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking English, as well as knowledge of U.S. history and government. These requirements are assessed during the naturalization interview through the administration of English and civics tests.
- Attachment to the U.S. Constitution: Naturalization applicants must show their attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and their willingness to support and defend those principles. This requirement is fulfilled by taking the Oath of Allegiance during the naturalization ceremony, where applicants swear their loyalty to the United States and its Constitution.
- Male applicants between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System. This is an independent government agency that maintains information on individuals who may be eligible for military conscription. Failure to register with the Selective Service can result in ineligibility for various federal benefits, including naturalization. However, some individuals may be eligible for exemptions or waivers from Selective Service registration due to certain medical conditions, religious beliefs, or other factors.
It is important to note that there are some exceptions and special circumstances for certain individuals. For example, individuals who have served in the U.S. armed forces may be eligible for expedited or waived residency requirements, or individuals who have certain medical conditions or disabilities may be eligible for accommodations to the English language or civics test requirements. It is recommended that individuals consult with an experienced citizenship attorney to determine their eligibility and any potential exemptions or accommodations.
Applicants must pay a fee to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. As of March 2023, the filing fee is $725 (subject to change). This amount includes a $640 application fee and an $85 biometrics fee.
- Fee Waiver or Reduction: Eligible applicants facing financial hardship may apply for a fee waiver or reduction by submitting Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, or Form I-942, Request for Reduced Fee, along with their Form N-400.
- Fee Exemptions: Eligible military applicants are exempt from both the application filing fee and the biometrics fee. Applicants aged 75 and older are exempt from the biometrics fee.
In addition to filing and biometric fees, other expenses could include:
- Document Translation: Applicants may need to translate foreign-language documents into English, which may require hiring a professional translator.
- Travel Costs: Applicants may incur travel expenses for attending biometrics appointments, naturalization interviews, and Oath of Allegiance ceremonies.
- Legal Fees: If an applicant chooses to hire an immigration attorney to assist with the naturalization process, they should consider the cost of legal fees.
The processing time for naturalization applications varies depending on the applicant’s location and USCIS workload. On average, the entire process, from submitting the application to attending the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, can take between 8 to 18 months. Applicants can check the USCIS website for current processing times for their local field office.
Factors that may affect the timeline:
- Incomplete or Inaccurate Application: Delays may occur if the application is missing information or contains inaccuracies, as USCIS may request additional documentation or clarification.
- Background Checks: The time required to complete background checks, including the FBI criminal history check, can affect the overall processing time.
- High Application Volumes: The number of applications being processed by USCIS at a given time may impact the wait time for naturalization.
- Requests for Additional Evidence: If USCIS requests additional evidence from the applicant, the processing time may be extended.
- Rescheduled Interviews or Ceremonies: In some cases, the applicant may need to reschedule their naturalization interview or Oath of Allegiance ceremony, which can prolong the process.
It is essential for applicants to remain proactive in monitoring their application status, responding promptly to any requests for additional information, and preparing for each step of the process to help minimize wait times and ensure a smoother naturalization experience.
The Naturalization Application Process
Applying for U.S. citizenship through naturalization involves several crucial steps that must be completed accurately and in a timely manner. Understanding the application process is essential to ensure a successful outcome and avoid unnecessary delays or complications. Here is a detailed overview of the naturalization application process.
Step 1: Preparing the Application
- Form N-400, Application for Naturalization: Applicants must complete and submit Form N-400, which serves as the primary application for naturalization. This form requires detailed information about the applicant’s background, residence, employment, and other relevant factors.
- 90-day early filing rule: you can file your N-400 with USCIS as early as 90 days before you reach the required three- or five-year period as a green card holder, as long as all other eligibility requirements are fulfilled. However, you must still complete the full three or five years to obtain U.S. citizenship. The early filing rule simply allows you to get a head start in the application process.
- Required supporting documents: Along with Form N-400, applicants must provide supporting documents to demonstrate their eligibility for naturalization. These may include proof of lawful permanent resident status, evidence of continuous residence, marriage certificates (if applicable), and other necessary documentation.
- Application fees: Applicants must pay the required fees for filing Form N-400 and the biometrics appointment. Fee waivers and reductions may be available for eligible applicants facing financial hardship.
Step 2: Submitting the Application
- Where to file: Applicants must submit their completed Form N-400 and supporting documents to the appropriate U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office. The filing location may vary depending on the applicant’s residence.
- Processing times: The processing time for naturalization applications can vary depending on the applicant’s location and USCIS workload. Applicants can check the USCIS website for current processing times for their local field office.
- Tracking the application status: Applicants can track the status of their naturalization application online through the USCIS website using their receipt number.
Step 3: Biometrics Appointment
- Fingerprinting: After submitting the application, applicants will be scheduled for a biometrics appointment at a local Application Support Center. At this appointment, they will have their fingerprints taken for a criminal background check.
- Photographs: During the biometrics appointment, applicants will also have their photograph taken, which will be used for their Certificate of Naturalization.
- Background checks: The collected biometric information is used to conduct background checks, including FBI criminal history checks, to ensure the applicant meets the good moral character requirement for naturalization.
The Naturalization Interview
Once the background checks are complete, and the application has been preliminarily reviewed, USCIS will schedule the naturalization interview. Applicants will receive a notice with the date, time, and location of their interview.
What to Expect During the Interview
During the naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will review the applicant’s Form N-400, verify the information provided, and assess the applicant’s English language proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history and government. The officer may also ask questions about the applicant’s background, eligibility for naturalization, and commitment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
Preparing for the English and Civics Tests
Applicants must demonstrate basic English language skills, including reading, writing, and speaking, and pass a civics test to show their knowledge of U.S. history and government. USCIS provides study materials and resources to help applicants prepare for these tests.
Possible Outcomes of the Interview:
- Approval: If the USCIS officer determines that the applicant meets all requirements for naturalization, the application will be approved. The applicant will then receive a notice to attend the Oath of Allegiance ceremony.
- Continuance: If the USCIS officer needs additional information or documentation, or if the applicant fails the English or civics tests, the interview may be continued. In this case, the applicant will have an opportunity to provide the requested information or retake the tests at a later date.
- Denial: If the USCIS officer determines that the applicant does not meet the requirements for naturalization, the application will be denied. The applicant will receive a written explanation for the denial and may have the option to appeal the decision.
The Naturalization Ceremony
After the naturalization application is approved, applicants will receive a Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony (Form N-445) from USCIS. This notice will provide the date, time, and location of the scheduled naturalization ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance, where applicants will officially become U.S. citizens.
What to Bring to the Ceremony
Applicants must bring their Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony (Form N-445) and their Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) to the ceremony. In some cases, additional documentation may be requested; this information will be specified on the notice.
The Oath of Allegiance
During the ceremony, applicants will take the Oath of Allegiance, pledging their loyalty to the United States and its Constitution. This oath signifies the applicant’s commitment to upholding the principles and values of the U.S. and marks the final step in the naturalization process.
Receiving the Certificate of Naturalization
After taking the Oath of Allegiance, new citizens will receive their Certificate of Naturalization. This document serves as official proof of U.S. citizenship and should be carefully preserved. It is essential for obtaining a U.S. passport, registering to vote, and other activities requiring proof of citizenship.
As U.S. citizens, naturalized individuals have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as those born in the country. This includes voting in federal, state, and local elections, serving on a jury, and potentially running for public office. New citizens should also update their Social Security records, apply for a U.S. passport, and register to vote as soon as possible after the naturalization ceremony.
Common Issues and Challenges in Naturalization Process
The journey towards becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen can sometimes be complex and present various obstacles that applicants must overcome. It’s essential to be aware of these common issues and challenges in order to better prepare and navigate the naturalization process. In this section, we will discuss some of the most frequently encountered difficulties and offer guidance on how to address them effectively, ensuring a smoother path towards U.S. citizenship.
Delays in the Application Process
The naturalization process can sometimes be delayed due to factors such as high application volumes, background check complications, or insufficient documentation. Applicants should remain proactive in monitoring their application status and addressing any requests for additional information to help minimize delays.
Application Denials and Appeals
If an application for naturalization is denied, the applicant will receive a written explanation detailing the reasons for the denial. In many cases, applicants have the right to appeal the decision by filing a Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings. Working with an experienced immigration attorney can be helpful in navigating the appeals process and addressing the issues that led to the initial denial.
Legal Issues that may Affect Naturalization Eligibility
Certain legal issues, such as criminal convictions, immigration violations, or unresolved tax issues, can impact an applicant’s eligibility for naturalization. It is crucial to address and resolve these issues before applying for citizenship, as they may lead to denial or even deportation. An immigration attorney can help identify potential legal problems and provide guidance on how to address them.
Dual Citizenship Considerations
Some applicants may be concerned about the implications of obtaining U.S. citizenship on their existing citizenship in another country. While the United States allows dual citizenship, the laws and policies of the applicant’s home country may differ. It is essential to research and understand the dual citizenship policies of both countries and consult with an immigration attorney to determine the best course of action.
Benefits of Naturalization
Becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen offers numerous advantages that can significantly enhance your quality of life and provide greater opportunities for you and your family. Naturalization is not only a legal status change; it signifies your commitment to embracing the rights, responsibilities, and values associated with being an American citizen. In this section, we will outline the key benefits that come with naturalization, highlighting how obtaining U.S. citizenship can positively impact various aspects of your life.
Right to Vote
As a naturalized U.S. citizen, you gain the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections, allowing you to actively participate in the democratic process and have a say in the country’s future.
Eligibility for Federal Jobs and Benefits
Naturalized citizens become eligible for various federal jobs that require U.S. citizenship. Additionally, some government benefits and social programs, like certain federal grants and scholarships, are only available to U.S. citizens.
Ability to Sponsor Family Members
U.S. citizens can sponsor a broader range of family members for green cards, including spouses, children, parents, and siblings. As a citizen, your immediate relatives (spouse, unmarried children under 21, and parents) are not subject to annual visa quotas, allowing for faster processing times.
Protection from Deportation
Naturalized U.S. citizens cannot be deported, ensuring stability and security for you and your family. Permanent residents, on the other hand, can face deportation under certain circumstances, such as committing certain crimes or violating immigration laws.
No Need to Renew a Green Card
Once you become a naturalized citizen, you no longer need to worry about renewing your green card or maintaining your permanent resident status.
Easier International Travel
U.S. citizens can travel internationally with greater ease, as many countries offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to U.S. passport holders. Additionally, U.S. citizens can seek assistance from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad in case of emergencies or other travel-related issues.
Ability to Hold Public Office
Naturalized U.S. citizens are eligible to hold most elected public offices, excluding the presidency and vice presidency. This allows you to play an active role in your community and contribute to shaping public policies.
The U.S. allows dual citizenship, enabling you to maintain your original citizenship along with U.S. citizenship. This can provide additional benefits such as ease of travel, property ownership, and access to services in both countries, depending on your home country’s laws.
Enhanced Civic Participation
Naturalized citizens can engage more fully in civic life, participating in jury duty and becoming more involved in community organizations and local governance.
Sense of Belonging and Patriotism
Becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen signifies your commitment to the country, its values, and its people. It fosters a sense of belonging and patriotism, as you officially become a member of the American community.
How an Immigration Lawyer Can Help
Navigating the naturalization process can be daunting, especially when faced with potential challenges or complex situations. Engaging the services of an experienced immigration attorney can make a significant difference in the success of your application. In this section, we will outline the various ways an immigration lawyer can provide invaluable assistance throughout your citizenship journey, from assessing your eligibility to addressing any obstacles and ensuring your application is complete and accurate.
Evaluating Eligibility for Naturalization
An immigration lawyer can help assess an applicant’s eligibility for naturalization by reviewing their background, immigration history, and other factors. This evaluation helps identify any potential issues or obstacles that may affect the naturalization process and ensures that applicants understand the requirements they must meet to become U.S. citizens.
Assistance with Application Preparation and Submission
Immigration lawyers can provide valuable guidance in completing and submitting the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, along with any required supporting documentation. They can help ensure that the application is accurate, complete, and clearly demonstrates the applicant’s eligibility for citizenship.
Guidance through the Interview Process
An immigration lawyer can help applicants prepare for the naturalization interview by providing insights into the interview process, reviewing potential questions, and offering advice on how to approach the English and civics tests and accompany you to the naturalization interview. With their experience and knowledge, attorneys can help applicants feel more confident and prepared for the interview.
Addressing Potential Legal Issues and Complications
If any legal issues arise during the naturalization process, such as complications related to criminal history, immigration violations, or other factors, an immigration lawyer can provide guidance on how to address and resolve these problems. They can also represent applicants in legal proceedings, such as appeals or waivers, to help overcome obstacles to naturalization.
Representation in Appeals and Other Legal Proceedings
In the event of a naturalization application denial or other adverse decision, an immigration lawyer can represent the applicant in the appeals process or other legal proceedings. They can help gather additional evidence, prepare legal arguments, and advocate on the applicant’s behalf to improve the chances of a successful outcome.
By working with an experienced immigration lawyer, applicants for naturalization can better navigate the complex citizenship process and increase their chances of achieving a successful outcome.
Don’t wait to start your journey toward U.S. citizenship. Contact Glenn Immigration, Atlanta’s trusted immigration law firm, and let our experienced citizenship lawyer, Pepper Glenn, guide you through the naturalization process. Reach out to us today and take the first step towards securing your future in the United States.
FAQs about Naturalization
When pursuing U.S. citizenship through naturalization, numerous questions and concerns may arise as you navigate the process. To help clarify some of the most common inquiries, we have compiled a comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that address a wide range of topics related to naturalization.
What is naturalization?
Naturalization is the process through which eligible foreign nationals become U.S. citizens after meeting specific requirements set by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
How do I know if I’m eligible for naturalization?
Generally, eligibility requirements for naturalization include being at least 18 years old, having lawful permanent resident (green card) status, possessing good moral character, demonstrating knowledge of U.S. history and government, and meeting residency and physical presence requirements.
How do I apply for naturalization?
To apply for naturalization, you must submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, along with the required supporting documents and fees to USCIS.
What is the citizenship application process?
The citizenship application process typically involves submitting Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, to USCIS, attending a biometrics appointment, passing a naturalization interview, and participating in an Oath of Allegiance ceremony.
How long does the naturalization process take?
The naturalization process can take anywhere from 8 to 18 months, depending on your location and the current workload of USCIS. Processing times vary, so it’s essential to check the USCIS website for the most up-to-date information.
How much does it cost to apply for naturalization?
The current government filing fee for naturalization applications is $725, which includes $640 for processing and $85 for biometrics services. Fee waivers or reductions may be available for eligible applicants.
What happens if my naturalization application is denied?
If your naturalization application is denied, you may request a hearing with a USCIS officer by filing Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings, within 30 days of receiving the denial. You may also reapply for naturalization if you believe you can overcome the grounds for denial.
Can my naturalization application be expedited?
USCIS only expedites naturalization applications under specific circumstances, such as severe financial loss, humanitarian reasons, or certain military-related situations. To request expedited processing, you must provide documentation supporting your request.
Can I travel abroad while my naturalization application is pending?
Yes, you can travel abroad while your naturalization application is pending, but you must maintain your permanent resident status and ensure your trip does not affect your continuous residence or physical presence requirements. Keep your travel documentation and maintain a record of your trips outside the U.S.
How long do I need to have a green card before applying for citizenship?
Most green card holders must wait five years before applying for citizenship. However, if you are married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply after three years of holding your green card and living with your spouse.
Do I have to give up my green card when I become a U.S. citizen?
Yes, once you become a U.S. citizen, you will no longer need your green card, and you will be required to surrender it at the Oath of Allegiance ceremony.
How do I prepare for the naturalization test?
To prepare for the naturalization test, you can study the 100 civics questions provided by USCIS, practice your English reading and writing skills, and take advantage of educational resources and practice tests available on the USCIS website.
What if I fail the naturalization test?
If you fail any part of the naturalization test during your initial interview, you will be given a second opportunity to take the failed portion (either the English or civics test) within 60 to 90 days from your first interview date.
Can I apply for citizenship if I have a criminal record?
Depending on the nature of your criminal record, it may impact your eligibility for citizenship. Serious offenses, particularly those involving moral turpitude, may disqualify you. It’s essential to consult an immigration attorney to discuss your specific circumstances.
Can I hold dual citizenship if I become a U.S. citizen through naturalization?
Yes, the U.S. allows dual citizenship, which means you can maintain your original citizenship along with U.S. citizenship. However, some countries may not permit dual citizenship, so it’s essential to check your home country’s laws.
Can my children become U.S. citizens if I become naturalized?
If your children are under 18 years old and have lawful permanent resident status, they may automatically acquire U.S. citizenship when you become a naturalized citizen, provided they are living in the United States in your legal and physical custody.
How do I prove my continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S.?
You can prove continuous residence and physical presence by providing documents such as tax returns, employment records, school records, utility bills, and travel records, among others.
Can I apply for naturalization if my green card is lost, stolen, or expired?
Yes, you can still apply for naturalization even if your green card is lost, stolen, or expired, but you may need to provide additional documentation to prove your continuous residence and lawful permanent resident status.
What if I can’t attend my naturalization interview or Oath of Allegiance ceremony?
If you cannot attend your naturalization interview, you should promptly notify USCIS and request rescheduling. If you miss the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, you must also notify USCIS and request a new date. Failing to attend either without notifying USCIS may result in the denial of your application.
Can my U.S. citizenship be revoked after naturalization?
U.S. citizenship obtained through naturalization can be revoked if it is discovered that you deliberately lied or concealed relevant information during the application process, or if you are convicted of certain crimes such as treason, sedition, or participating in genocide.
Can I change my name during the naturalization process?
Yes, you can request a name change during the naturalization process. If approved, your new name will appear on your naturalization certificate. The name change request is typically processed during the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, which may be held in a court that has the authority to grant a legal name change.
What happens if I move to another state while my naturalization application is pending?
If you move to another state during the naturalization process, you must notify USCIS of your new address by submitting Form AR-11, Alien’s Change of Address Card, within 10 days of your move. This may result in transferring your case to a different USCIS field office, which could affect your processing times.
How do I obtain a copy of my naturalization certificate if it is lost, damaged, or contains errors?
If you need to replace your naturalization certificate due to loss, damage, or errors, you must file Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document, with USCIS. There is a filing fee associated with this form, and the processing time can vary.
Can I vote in U.S. elections before I become a naturalized citizen?
No, only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in federal and most state and local elections. Attempting to vote before obtaining U.S. citizenship can result in severe penalties and negatively impact your future naturalization application.
Can I sponsor family members for a green card after I become a naturalized U.S. citizen?
Yes, as a naturalized U.S. citizen, you can sponsor certain family members for a green card, including your spouse, children, parents, and siblings. The process involves filing a family-based immigrant visa petition (Form I-130) with USCIS and providing necessary supporting documentation. The processing times and visa availability will depend on the family relationship and the country of origin.
Do I need to hire an immigration attorney for my naturalization application?
While hiring an immigration attorney is not required, it may be beneficial if you have a complex case, a criminal record, or issues with your immigration history. An experienced attorney can help guide you through the process and address any potential problems that may arise during the application process.