United States citizenship through naturalization

Become a U.S. citizen through naturalization

Naturalization is the process by which immigrants legally become United States citizens. If an immigrant has a green card, which means permanent resident status, he or she may be able to apply for naturalization after living in the U.S. for several years.

The basic requirements are that the applicant must be at least 18 years old, have had a green card for 3-5 years, have lived in America for a certain period, be able to speak and understand basic English, and pass a test on the U.S. government and history.

Paperwork like the N-400 form must be filed, fingerprints taken, an interview attended, and a ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance. After that, the immigrant officially becomes an American citizen with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship status.

Residency and Physical Presence Requirements

To qualify for naturalization, an immigrant must have lived permanently in the United States as a green card holder for a specific period. In most cases, this is five years as a permanent resident immediately before applying.

However, the residency requirement is only three years if the applicant has been married to and lived with a U.S. citizen spouse for that entire three years.

During the 5-year or 3-year residency period, the immigrant must have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months (2.5 years) out of those five years or 18 months (1.5 years) out of the three years if married to a U.S. citizen.

Trips outside the U.S. lasting six months or longer can often restart the continuous residency clock.

There are exceptions to the residency and physical presence rules for certain applicants, such as those who obtained permanent residency through employment with the U.S. government or specific international organizations.

Age Requirements

Most naturalization applicants must be at least 18 years old when filing. However, if they meet additional criteria, immigrants who obtained permanent residency as children may be able to apply for naturalization before age 18. There is no maximum age cutoff for naturalization.

However, applicants who are 50 or older and have 20+ years as green card holders can receive exceptions to the English language requirements for naturalization.

At age 55 or older with 15+ years as a permanent resident, exceptions to the full civics test may apply as well. Over age 65 with 20+ years of permanent residency, applicants only need to study 20 of the typical 100 civics test questions and answer 6 of 10 correctly.

So the naturalization process has accommodations for elderly applicants related to the English and civics testing requirements.

Good Moral Character

To become a citizen, one must show good moral character. That means they have not committed any serious crimes and have behaved ethically. The immigration officer will examine criminal records and conduct from the past five years.

Things like drunk driving convictions, drug charges, gambling issues, or not paying taxes can cause problems. However, some minor offenses may be forgiven if they were long ago and the person has changed their ways since. The goal is to ensure those becoming citizens will be law-abiding community members.

English Language Requirements

Citizenship requires the ability to read, write, and speak basic English, which allows the person to function well in daily life in America. There is no set level that must be passed, but the application shows that they can handle simple conversations and read short statements.

There are exceptions to this rule for those over 50 who have had a green card for 20+ years. Older applicants may take a modified test or have an interview in their native language, depending on their situation and background. The important thing is that they try their best to learn English and can communicate effectively about civics topics.

Civics Test Requirements

To get citizenship, one needs to learn about the government and history of the United States. There is a civics test with questions like the branches of government, famous national symbols, and electoral processes.

The test has ten questions pulled from a list of 100 possible queries.

To pass, six out of the ten questions must be answered correctly.

Questions cover topics such as the three branches of government, which U.S. citizens can vote for, and historical figures and sites.

Exceptions apply for those over 65 with 20+ years as a green card holder - they only need to answer six of ten from a study list of 20 questions.

Studying materials like flashcards, books, videos, or free phone apps can help prepare for common civics exam material. Knowing how the U.S. system works is essential to becoming an American citizen.

Military Service Exceptions

Those in the U.S. armed forces can qualify for special help with naturalization rules. Active duty members must not live in America for five years before applying. They only need three years of military service plus 90 days. Those who serve are also not required to pay application fees. Military service alone shows excellent commitment to the United States.

There are also exceptions for veterans. Former soldiers who served honorably can also avoid meeting the physical presence rules in America. If veterans apply within six months of leaving service, they can use their time serving overseas as credit toward naturalization residency requirements. This recognizes the commitment and sacrifice of those defending the country, even if away from home.

Application Process

The process involves filling out forms, gathering documents, fingerprinting, an interview, and an oath ceremony to be naturalized.

Fill out Form N-400

This is the naturalization application. It collects biographical information such as addresses, employment, and travel over the past five years.

Submit fingerprints

Fingerprints are taken and submitted at an application support center or during the interview to facilitate a background check.

Gather required documents

Documents like a green card copy, identification, and address proofs from the past five years must be organized to submit.

Pay application fee

The fee is currently $725 to cover processing costs, though some may qualify for a reduced fee or waiver.

Study for civics/English tests

It's recommended to review materials like flashcards or apps to prepare before the interview.

Interview scheduled

After filing, an in-person interview date at a USCIS field office will be scheduled months later.


The application will be reviewed at the interview, and an immigration officer will orally test the applicant's English/civics skills.

Oath ceremony

A notice with a date and location for the public oath ceremony is received if approved.

Take Oath of Allegiance

At the ceremony, applicants pledge loyalty and officially become U.S. citizens.

Receive naturalization certificate

In the mail comes a certificate as proof of new citizenship status and an I.D. document.

Required Documents

When filling out the N-400 form, specific documentation must also be submitted.

The main things needed include a photo, proof of permanent resident status, such as a copy of a green card, and identification, such as a driver's license or passport.

To verify residency, documents showing address history, such as lease agreements or utility bills from the last five years, must also be provided.

Additionally, fingerprints are required, as are a certified criminal records check and selective service sign-up for males aged 18-25. Having all the necessary papers helps the application move smoothly through the process.

Proof must also be shown of good moral character. This often consists of two letters from U.S. citizens who can confirm the applicant's upstanding behavior. Tax returns or W-2 forms demonstrate meeting legal residency requirements.

If married to a citizen, the marriage certificate proves an expedited 3-year path to naturalization may be taken. Other things include military discharge papers if a veteran allows alternative rules.

With all requirements met, one can confidently attend the interview and become a new citizen.

Fees and Costs

The naturalization process requires some money to apply. A fee must be paid when submitting the application form. Currently, the fee is $725 to ask for citizenship. This money pays for the government to review the forms and do the background check. It also covers the costs of the interview and citizenship ceremony.

Some people may qualify to pay less. Military members only need to pay $640 instead of $725. Their service means they get a small discount on the application. Also, anyone who cannot afford the full fee can request a waiver or lower cost. A request needs to be made explaining the situation, and proof of tax returns can be provided. As long as a good reason is given, getting permission to pay less or nothing at all is possible.

Other costs may occur in addition to the application fee. Collecting all the required documents, like identification papers and address records, costs some money. Translations of foreign records usually need to be paid for, too. Preparing for the English and civics tests by buying study books or using phone apps also takes some money.

The total naturalization costs are usually around $750-$1000 when accounting for these other expenses needed to complete the process successfully.

Fingerprints and Biometrics

When applying for citizenship, fingerprints are needed. The government collects fingerprints to do a background check on everyone who wants to become a citizen. They take your fingerprints when you go to have your interview. That helps ensure you have not committed serious crimes that would prevent citizenship approval. The fingerprints are sent to the FBI to search national criminal records. This fingerprint check is required by law to ensure citizenship is only given to eligible people with a clean background.

Collecting biometrics like fingerprints is a normal part of immigration applications. It allows the government to identify people accurately through a secure identification system. They match the prints to the application, so there is clarity between people with similar names.

The fingerprint check is quick but important to guarantee that someone applying for citizenship is who they say they are. Without biometrics, it would be harder to vet each applicant properly.

Though the fingerprint process feels a bit strange, it is a necessary step to maintain the security and integrity of citizenship. Every person's fingerprints are unique, so scanning them provides definitive proof of identity and allows cross-checking for past legal issues.

If someone has followed the law, the biometrics collection is usually simple and quick to complete during the interview. This helps ensure that citizenship is granted only to eligible individuals.

The Citizenship Interview

After submitting the application and going through fingerprinting, it is time for the interview.

At the interview, a person from immigration will ask questions and review everything. They will want to know details about your application and ensure it is correct. They will also ask you some citizenship test questions to check your knowledge. It's nothing to worry about as long as you study.

They want to see that you understand how the U.S. government works and are ready to be citizens.

If all goes well at the interview, they will approve your application. Then you get a letter with a date for the ceremony. The interview is the last major step and feels really good to complete. Just be prepared to answer questions clearly and honestly.

If you complete the forms correctly and learn the materials, the interview is mostly a formality before officially becoming a new American at the ceremony.

The Oath of Allegiance Ceremony

The last step to becoming a U.S. citizen is attending the citizenship ceremony. That is where you officially complete the naturalization process.

At the ceremony, all the applicants will gather in one place. A judge will speak about the importance of citizenship. Then, each person stands up when their name is called. You say the Oath of Allegiance out loud, promising to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States. After taking the oath, you are instantly a citizen!

Family and friends are welcome to watch the ceremony. It is a really special moment to share. The judge will present each new citizen with a certificate of naturalization. This document proves that they are now citizens with all the same rights and responsibilities as anyone born in the country. Photos are usually allowed to capture this milestone in their lives. Then, everyone celebrates together afterward.

Becoming a U.S. citizen at the ceremony feels incredible. All the effort and preparation leads to this final act of joining the American people. Though the journey took years, it is worth it to experience the pride of becoming a citizen in front of others. The oath reconnects that new citizens' futures are now in this country as equal members of society. It is a ceremony that no one who attends will ever forget.

Benefits of the U.S. Citizenship

Obtaining United States citizenship opens many doors of opportunity. As a citizen, one gains the all-important right to vote, which allows one to participate in the democratic process and choose the leaders who will make important decisions impacting society.

Right to Vote

Citizenship grants the fundamental right to vote in all federal, state, and local elections. Only citizens can vote to elect representatives and decide important issues and policies impacting their communities.

Freedom of International Travel

American citizens can freely enter and depart the U.S. without worrying about visas or entry restrictions. They also aren't bound by the same travel limitations that still apply to permanent residents. That opens up more global opportunities for work, study abroad, and leisure travel.

Job Opportunities

Specific careers such as the federal civil service, military, law enforcement, and national security roles require U.S. citizenship due to security clearance needs. Some private employers also prefer to hire citizens over non-citizens. Citizenship expands the range of career options available.

Family Reunification

Citizens can petition to bring spouses, children, parents, and other close family members to the U.S. through various family visa programs. That allows loved ones to build long-term lives together in America instead of facing separation across borders.

Social Programs Eligibility

Citizens qualify for federal benefits like Social Security, disability, and retirement assistance programs that permanent residents do not. Citizenship ensures access to essential social safety nets.

Protection from Deportation

Only citizens are legally protected from removal from the U.S. if accused or convicted of certain crimes. Permanent residents can still be deported after committing even minor offenses.

WARNING: The foregoing is an article discussing legal issues. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. We recommend that you get competent legal advice specific to your case.

Resources / Helpful Links:

  • Citizenship and Naturalization (USCIS)
  • Become a U.S. citizen through naturalization (USA.gov)
  • N-400, Application for Naturalization (USCIS)
  • 10 Steps to Naturalization (USCIS)
  • Naturalization Eligibility Tool (USCIS)
  • Ciudadanía estadounidense por naturalización (K & G Law, LLP)
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