How to Become a US Citizen Through Naturalization
Once you have gotten your permanent residence status, you may be ready to apply for US Citizenship through naturalization. The Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status gives you access to a green card, and you are free to live in the United States. But the disadvantages are that you will have to renew your green card and travel with a foreign passport.
US citizenship gives a person as many rights, privileges, and benefits as the United States has to offer. For instance, the right to vote in US state and federal elections, petition for family members to immigrate to the US, and to live abroad without losing the right to return. That’s why people will sacrifice so much to immigrate to America and seek citizenship.
However, US citizenship involves a process you must undertake to gain your certificate. That process is called naturalization. There are several steps involved and it is not easy to obtain citizenship. Therefore, this article provides an overview of the steps ahead, from establishing your eligibility through submitting the application through attending the interview and then oath ceremony.
United States Citizenship – Overview
Citizenship of the United States is a legal status that entails Americans with specific rights, duties, protections, and benefits in the United States. Most Americans are born on United States soil, but there are other ways to obtain US citizenship for foreign nationals.
There are two ways to become a United States citizen— at birth or after birth through naturalization. However, to become a US citizen at birth, you must:
- Be born in the U.S or in certain territories or outlying possessions of the United States, that are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States
- Have a parent or parents who were citizens at the time of your birth
- If you were born outside the U.S., you must meet these requirements outlined by the U.S. Department of State
While foreign nationals who wish to become citizens of the United States may do so through the naturalization process.
What is Naturalization?
Naturalization is the legal act or process by which a non-citizen of a country may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country. However, naturalization may either be done automatically by a statute. That is without any effort on the part of the individual, or it may involve an application or a motion and approval by legal authorities.
Moreover, the rules of naturalization vary from country to country. But generally, it includes a promise to obey and uphold that country’s laws, taking an oath of allegiance, etc.
If you wish to become a U.S. citizen, you must swear loyalty to the Constitution of the United States. Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or immigrant after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Besides, only certain immigrants are eligible to obtain US citizenship through naturalization. They include those who either have Legal Permanent Residence (LPR) status (green card holders) for 3-5 years or those who meet various military service requirements.
Furthermore, the sole authority to naturalize persons as citizens of the United States is conferred upon the Attorney General. However, the term “Attorney General” in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) includes any immigration judge or member of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
Eligibility Criteria for the US Citizenship Through Naturalization
However, just as we mentioned earlier, only certain immigrants are eligible to apply for naturalization. Eligibility for naturalization typically depends on a number of factors:
- How long you’ve had your green card
- How long you’ve physically lived in the United States
- Whether you’ve served in the U.S. military (and if so, whether your service was during peacetime or wartime.
Therefore, to apply for US citizenship through naturalization, you must:
- Have had a Permanent Resident (Green) Card for at least five years, or for at least three years if you’re filing as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. However, you must renew your green card before applying for citizenship if:
- Your card will expire within six months of applying; or
- Your card has already expired
- Moreover, you can apply for naturalization before you receive your new green card. But, you’ll need to submit a photocopy of the receipt for your Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card when you receive it.
- Meet certain eligibility requirements. Check the next section below for the requirements
Furthermore, in addition to waiting three or five years after obtaining your permanent residence status, you must also satisfy the following requirements:
- Be at least 18 years of age or older at the time of application
- You have been a green card holder (lawful permanent resident) for the previous three or five years depending on how you got your status.
- Have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States
- You must be able to read, write, and speak basic English
- Demonstrate good moral character
- You will have to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government
- Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
- Demonstrate loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution
- You must pass a two-part naturalization test: the first is an English language test (covering reading, writing, and speaking skills) and the second a civics test (covering knowledge of U.S. history and government).
How to Become a US Citizenship Through Naturalization
Moreover, here’s an overview of the application process for US citizenship through naturalization:
1. Application for Naturalization
However, the first step to obtaining US citizenship is to file an application for Naturalization (Form N-400) and pay the filing fee (unless you are exempt).
How to File
You may apply for naturalization online or by paper. To file online, you must create a USCIS online account to file online and:
- Submit evidence and pay fees electronically;
- Receive case status updates about your case and see complete case history;
- Communicate with us securely and directly; and
- Respond to requests for evidence.
However, you can sign in to your account to get started, if you already have a USCIS online account. On the other hand, to file on paper you must:
- Read the instructions for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization;
- Complete and sign your Form N-400;
- Pay the filing fee, if applicable; and
- Provide all required evidence and supporting documentation.
2. Biometrics Appointment
After filing your application for naturalization, the next step is to set up your biometrics appointment. Which basically involves getting your fingerprints taken at your local USCIS field offices. Besides, once USCIS receives your Form N-400, you will receive a:
- Receipt notice confirming they have received your application;
- Biometric services notice, if applicable;
- Notice to appear for an interview, if required; and
- Notice of their decision.
The purpose of the biometrics test is to conduct a background check. Moreover, the biometrics appointment usually takes place about a month after USCIS receives your US citizenship application.
3. Citizenship Interview and Exam
This is the next step after the biometric appointment and test. However, the citizenship interview is usually booked around 14 months after filing your application. Meanwhile, during the interview, the USCIS officer will verify that all of the information on your citizenship application is correct.
Moreover, the interview usually takes place at the nearest USCIS office. However, if you are applying from abroad, you will attend the interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. If you are on active military duty, your interview may be held at a military facility.
Furthermore, the citizenship interview is also called a citizenship exam. This is because the USCIS officer at the same time also gives you a two-part naturalization test (unless you qualify for an exemption). The first part consists of an English language test that will evaluate your written and spoken English skills. Then, the second, a civics test, will assess your knowledge of the United States’ history and basic information about how the US government works.
After, the interview you will receive a decision from USCIS on your Form N-400. USCIS will mail a notice of the decision to you. If you filed your N-400 online, you can also access the electronic notice in your account. However, the decision may be as follows:
- Granted – USCIS may approve your Form N-400 if the evidence in your record establishes that you are eligible for naturalization.
- Continued – USCIS may continue your application if you need to provide additional evidence/documentation, fail to provide USCIS the correct documents, or fail English and/or civics test the first time.
- Denied – USCIS will deny your Form N-400 if the evidence in your record establishes you are not eligible for naturalization.
4. Oath of Allegiance
Moreover, if your naturalization is approved, you may be able to participate in a naturalization ceremony on the same day as your interview. If a same-day naturalization ceremony is unavailable, USCIS will mail you a notification with the date, time, and location of your scheduled ceremony. If you filed your N-400 online, you can also access the electronic notice in your application.
You are not a U.S. citizen until you take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. The process of the ceremony is as follows:
- Complete the questionnaire on Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony.
- Report for your naturalization ceremony and check in with USCIS. A USCIS officer will review your responses to Form N-445.
- Turn in your Permanent Resident Card (Green Card).
- Take the Oath of Allegiance to become a U.S. citizen.
- Receive your Certificate of Naturalization, review it, and notify USCIS of any errors you see on your certificate before leaving the ceremony site.
Once the ceremony ends, you’ll receive a Certificate of Naturalization and begin your life as a U.S. citizen.
Benefits of Obtaining US Citizenship Through Naturalization
However, obtaining the permanent residence status gives the holder the authorization to live, work and study in the United States permanently with certain advantages. But it’s nothing compared to the new status as a US citizen. It gives you more rights and privileges that were not previously available to you as a green cardholder. They include:
- Firstly, as a green card holder, you may have been able to vote in certain local municipalities. But with the new status of US Citizenship, you can make an impact on the national stage by casting your vote in federal elections.
- Moreover, you will be eligible for candidacy (run for office) in the US elections.
- You will have access to new employment opportunities. While income levels vary, federal employees are generally paid more and have greater benefits than their private-sector counterparts. However, only US citizens may gain employment to work for the US government under US laws.
- Furthermore, there will no longer be a need for filing immigration forms, fees, no more green card renewals or replacements, and no more having to check in with the US government whenever you wish you want to move.
- As a US citizen, you will have limitless access to government assistance programs such as Social Security and Medicare, etc. Which you will have limited access to as a green cardholder. Moreover, in some cases, you can even apply for federal college assistance, which is reserved solely for US citizens.
- Ability to sponsor any family relative seeking Lawful Permanent Residence status in the United States.
- Your children automatically gain US citizenship, even if they were born outside the United States.
- Travel abroad with one of the most recognized and powerful passports in the world
- Moreover, you can no longer be deported to your country of former citizenship or nationality.
In conclusion, before you begin your journey toward US citizenship, it is important to understand that there are basic responsibilities of being an American citizen. Some of them include:
- You must obey the laws of the United States of America
- You will serve the country when it calls on you
- Pay your taxes promptly
- Give up all your loyalty to any other country or sovereignty etc.
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Moreover, the naturalization processing time is between 18 and 24 months. This is from the time you file your application to when you attend the Oath taking ceremony. However, the current government filing fee for naturalization applications is $725, including $640 for processing and $85 for biometrics services. 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.