Comprehensive Immigration Solutions
US citizenship provides you with the highest level of rights and privileges in the United States. Its goal is to create a unique bond between those who achieve this status, uniting them through a common ground of newly adopted rights, freedoms, and civic ideals. All of which are guaranteed by the US Constitution.
Depending on your situation, there are a variety of ways you can obtain citizenship. This article will focus primarily on the topic of Naturalization, which is one of the ways people born outside of the US can become citizens.
To become a US citizen through naturalization you must meet several requirements. Here we will discuss eligibility requirements for naturalization, the time and cost associated with naturalization, and the steps you’ll have to go through to become a US citizen.
Related: Citizenship & Naturalization
What is Naturalization?
USCIS defines naturalization as “the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a lawful permanent resident after meeting the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act”. The eligibility requirements to become a US citizen will vary depending on the reason/category under which a person is requesting to naturalize. Below we discuss in detail the eligibility requirements.
Naturalization – General Eligibility Requirements
The following is a list of general eligibility requirements for naturalization. Some could vary depending on the category under which the person is requesting to naturalize, but in general, the applicant must:
- Be 18 years or older at the time of filing their naturalization application.
- Have been a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the US for the past 5 years (spouses of U.S. citizens can naturalize after 3 years)
- Have continuous residence in the United States as an LPR for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing of the application and up to the time of admission to citizenship (spouses of US citizens must demonstrate continuous residence for 3 years)
- Have been physically present in the US for at least one-half half the requisite period of residency
- Have lived in the state or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence for at least 3 months prior to the date of the filing of the application.
- Demonstrate “good moral character,” for the 5 years preceding the filing of the application and in the period leading to the oath of allegiance.
- To have good moral character is to have a character that measures up to the standard of the average citizens of the community. In general, criminal offenses and conduct will preclude a person from being able to demonstrate good moral character. Some could even make them removable from the United States, despite being a lawful permanent resident. Other situations, like not filing tax returns, could also lead to a determination of lacking good moral character.
- Pass the English language and civics test at the interview. The applicant must be able to read, write, speak, and understand basic English, and have a knowledge of US history and government.
- Support the principles and ideals of the US Constitution and be willing to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States.
- Be willing to perform civilian service or serve in the US military if called upon to do so.
- If a male, and have lived in the US between the ages of 18 and 25, register with the Selective Service.
Who is Eligible for Naturalization?
There are different categories of people who are eligible for filing an application for naturalization. Depending on the category under which a person is requesting to file for naturalization, the general eligibility requirements previously mentioned could vary.
The following are the most common groups of immigrants who are eligible for naturalization:
- Green card holders. Applicants who have been lawful permanent residents for the past 5 years immediately before the filing of the application, and who comply with the general basic requirements previously mentioned.
- Green card holders who are married to a US citizen. These are applicants who are requesting to naturalize based on the fact that they have been married for a minimum of 3 years to a US citizen, have been a lawful permanent resident for the 3 years immediately before filing the application, and have continuously resided with their US citizen spouse for the past 3 years immediately before the filing of the application. These applicants must continue residing with their spouse throughout the naturalization process. In these cases, the general basic requirements vary, and the applicants only have to demonstrate the following for 3 years, instead of 5, immediately preceding the filing of the application and up to the oath of allegiance:
- Continuous residence in the US
- Physical presence in the US (at least 18 months of physical presence out of the 3 years)
- Good Moral Character
- Lawful permanent residents who served honorably in the US armed forces for one year at any time. This is sometimes referred to as “peacetime naturalization”.
- Applicants must have served honorably at any time in the U.S. armed forces for a period or periods totaling at least 1 year.
- If separated, must have been honorably discharged.
- The applicant must be a lawful permanent resident at the time of examination on the naturalization application.
- If applying while he or she is still serving in the U.S. armed forces or within six months of an honorable discharge, the applicant is exempt from the residence and physical presence requirements for naturalization.
- The period that the applicant has resided outside of the United States on official military orders, does not break his or her continuous residence.
- Lawful permanent residents and/or non-citizens who served in the US military during hostilities. This refers to members of the U.S. armed forces who served honorably for any period of time during specifically designated periods of hostilities (wartime).
- Applicants may be of any age.
- Must be a lawful permanent resident or have been physically present at the time of enlistment, reenlistment, or extension of service or induction into the U.S. armed forces:
- In the United States, the Canal Zone, American Samoa, or Swains Island, or on board a public vessel owned or operated by the United States for noncommercial service.
- Must demonstrate good moral character for at least 1 year prior to filing the application and until the time of his or her naturalization.
- This category is exempt from the continuous residence and physical presence requirements.
- Posthumous citizenship. A person who served honorably in the US armed forces during designated periods of hostilities and dies as a result of an injury or disease incurred in or aggravated by that service may be eligible for posthumous citizenship. Upon approving the application, USCIS will issue a Certificate of Citizenship in the name of the deceased service member establishing posthumously that they were a U.S. citizen on the date they died.
- Spouses, children & parents of military members. The surviving spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen who dies during a period of honorable service in an active duty status in the U.S. armed forces, may be eligible for naturalization. Surviving family members seeking immigration benefits are given special consideration in the processing of their applications for permanent residence or for classification as immediate relatives. The surviving spouse, child, or parent must meet the general naturalization requirements, except for the residence or physical presence requirements in the United States.
Not sure if you qualify for naturalization and becoming a US citizen? Our immigration team at Agarwal Law Group can help determine your eligibility.
How Long Does The Naturalization Process Take?
From the time you file your naturalization application to when it’s time to attend the oath of allegiance ceremony, the process could take approximately 12 months. The amount of time the process could take will vary greatly from state to state. You can check the USCIS processing times here https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/.
The amount of time the naturalization process takes could vary depending on the following as well:
- Whether there are any previous immigration issues that would need to be addressed or evaluated by the examining officer,
- If the applicant passes the English and civics tests on the first try,
- If the interview or oath of allegiance needs to be rescheduled, or
- If there is any other situations that could require the officer to issue a request for evidence or notice of intent to deny, including previous criminal offenses or charges.
Having an immigration attorney assist you with your naturalization process can be a great asset. An attorney can help identify possible issues or situations that could arise during the naturalization process and help you address these, making the process less complicated, more efficient, less time-consuming, and less costly.
How Much Does The Naturalization Process Cost?
At the time of writing this guide, the filing fee for a naturalization application is $725 USD in total, ($640 of the N400 and $85 of the biometrics services).
Applicants 75 or older do not have to pay the biometrics fee, only the $640 filing fee, and military applicants filing under sections 328 or 329 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, do not have to pay the filing fee or the biometrics fee.
The Naturalization Process in Four Steps
Next, let’s look at an overview of the naturalization process from the initial application to the oath of allegiance:
Step 1: Determining if You Qualify to Apply for Naturalization
The first step in a naturalization process should always be an evaluation of your particular case to determine if you meet the eligibility requirements to be able to apply for US citizenship. It is important to determine under which category you will be submitting your naturalization application since every category has its particularities and specific requirements.
Having an experienced immigration attorney review your case is an excellent strategy. They can identify possible issues, the category under which you qualify, and if it makes sense for you to apply now. Applying for naturalization, without being sure that you qualify, could be a costly decision.
Step 2: Filing the Application for Naturalization
The second step to applying for naturalization is filing an Application for Naturalization form with USCIS — also called Form N-400 — and paying the filing fee, unless you are exempt from paying (see above for who is exempt). You should also include all relevant evidence.
This can be done in two ways: one, by creating a USCIS account and filing online, or two, by filing via regular mail. Which to use will depend on how tech-savvy you are. After filing the application, you will receive a receipt that will indicate the application has been received and the payment has been processed.
Step 3: Attending Your Biometrics Appointment
Once your application has been filed, the next step is to attend your biometrics appointment. This basically means having your picture and fingerprints taken at an application support center from USCIS. You will receive an appointment notice from USCIS indicating the date, time, and location where you have to present yourself to have your biometrics taken, along with other detailed instructions.
USCIS takes your fingerprints during your naturalization application to conduct a background check. You can expect to attend a biometrics appointment about a month after filing your US citizenship application.
Step 4: Prepare for Your Citizenship Interview and Exam
Your citizenship interview and exam will take place several months after you file your naturalization application. There is no way of predicting the exact amount of time it will take to process your application since it will greatly vary depending on the USCIS office having jurisdiction over your application.
During your citizenship interview, the USCIS officer will review and verify the information included in your naturalization application, as well as your immigration history. When a person applies to become a US citizen, USCIS will not only corroborate the information included in the application but will go over the person’s immigration history. This means that the officer will verify that the information provided was correct and truthful in any visa application, approval or denial, the process to become a lawful permanent resident, and any other immigration process undergone. Should there be any discrepancies, the interviewing officer could not only deny the naturalization application but could refer the case to the immigration court, depending on the circumstances.
The interview will typically take place at the USCIS office with jurisdiction. In many instances, that would be the applicant’s local office.
During the interview, the USCIS officer will examine you on two particular aspects: (1) your ability to read, write, and speak English, since working knowledge of the English language is necessary, and (2) your knowledge of US government and US history (also known as the civics part of the exam).
Study material is available from USCIS to help you prepare. For the English part of the test, you must read aloud one out of three sentences correctly to demonstrate an ability to read in English and you must write one out of three sentences correctly. For the civics part of the exam, you will be asked 10 questions out of a possible 100 that are available for study and must answer at least 6 correctly.
If you do not pass the exam, a second interview will be scheduled, in which you will be provided a second opportunity to take the portion of the exam you failed.
It is important to indicate that, under certain circumstances, you could be exempted from the English part of the exam and/or the civic portion. There are exceptions for people who have lived in the US for a particular amount of time and have reached a certain age, and for people who have medical disabilities or impairments that do not allow them to comply with the exam. Contact an experienced immigration attorney who can evaluate your case and determine if you qualify for any exceptions or accommodations.
After you take the exam and undergo the interview, one of three scenarios could take place: the application is approved, the application is denied, or more information is requested so the interviewing officer can make a decision.
If the application is approved, you will be scheduled to take the oath of allegiance. If it is denied, a letter indicating the decision and the reason for the denial will be sent to you. The letter will contain instructions as well if you decide to appeal the decision. You can apply again for naturalization. There is no limit to the amount of times you can apply.
Step 5: Take the Oath of Allegiance
You’re almost there! Upon approval of your naturalization application, you’ll attend the Oath of Allegiance ceremony — completing this step is essential: You aren’t a US citizen unless you have taken this oath.
After passing your interview and exam, you’ll receive a letter with the time, date, and location of the ceremony. At the ceremony, you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization and officially be a US citizen! Once you have obtained your certificate, you can apply for your US passport.
Related: More Immigration Resources
We Can Help You Navigate The Naturalization Process
Your naturalization journey will consist of several steps, and we can assist you in each of them as you navigate and move forward in the process of becoming a US citizen.
Our immigration attorneys at Agarwal Law Group can help you:
- Determine if you’re eligible for citizenship
- Guide you in gathering the documents and information you need to prove your eligibility
- Complete your application for naturalization
- Submit your application for naturalization
- Be prepared for your biometrics appointment
- Prepare for your interview and exam
- Assist with any decision issued by USCIS
- Prepare you for your oath of allegiance ceremony
- Understand your responsibilities and rights as a new US citizen
Ready to start the naturalization process and become a US citizen? Contact us at Agarwal Law Group and get started on your naturalization journey today.