If you’re an immigrant who’s lived in the U.S. for a while, you might wonder if you can become a citizen. Citizenship has many benefits that make the lengthy naturalization process worth the effort. Here at De Castroverde, our immigration lawyers have helped many clients navigate the confusing process and obtain citizenship. Read on to learn more about the process, and contact us with questions specific to your case.
What Is the Naturalization Process?
Naturalization is the legal process that permits an immigrant to the United States to become a U.S. citizen. It allows you to obtain the same rights as someone born in the U.S. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reviews applications and confirms permanent residents as citizens.
What Are the Steps for Naturalization?
Here’s an overview of the steps for naturalization:
- Determine if you’re already a U.S. citizen. You may already be a U.S. citizen by birth or acquired from your parents automatically after birth. If you determine you’re not already a citizen, proceed with the following steps.
- Determine eligibility. An applicant must be at least 18 years old and a permanent U.S. resident with a permanent resident card. This document outlines additional requirements based on whether you’ve lived in the U.S. for three to five years or longer than five years.
- Create an account. Go to this website to create an account through the USCIS.
- Submit Form N-400. Access Form N-400 through your online account and complete the application. Upon submitting the form, you must also submit the documents on this checklist.
- Go to your biometrics appointment. The biometrics appointment allows USCIS to confirm your identity and ensure you don’t have a serious criminal background.
- Go to your interview. Report to your local USCIS office at the date and time on your appointment notice. The interviewer will ask questions about your Form N-400 and administer English and Civics tests.
- Receive your decision. The USCIS will notify you that you’ve been granted or denied naturalization. Sometimes, the decision may be “continued,” meaning you’ll have to provide additional documents or retake the English or Civics tests.
- Receive a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance. If you cannot participate in a naturalization ceremony on the day of your interview, you’ll receive a notice with your ceremony’s date, time, and location. Complete Form N-445 attached to the notice and make plans to turn in your permanent resident card.
- Take the Oath of Allegiance. Take the Oath of Allegiance at your scheduled ceremony, accept your certificate, and notify USCIS of any errors on the certificate before you leave the ceremony site.
What Are the Eligibility Requirements for Naturalization?
A candidate for naturalization must be at least 18 years old and have a permanent resident card. Additionally, candidates must:
- Have been a permanent U.S. resident for more than five years.
- Not have been out of the U.S. for 30 months or more during the past five years.
- Have not traveled outside the U.S. for more than a year during the past five years.
- Have resided in the district or state where you’re applying for citizenship for the last three months.
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English.
- Know the fundamentals of U.S. history and government.
- Be a person of good moral character.
- Be a female or male in good standing with the Selective Service based on their situation.
- Never have deserted the U.S. Armed Forces.
- Never received an exemption or discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces for being an alien.
- Be willing to perform military or civilian service for the U.S.
- Support the U.S. Constitution.
- Be willing to take an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S.
What Are Exceptions to Naturalization Eligibility Requirements?
If you’ve been a permanent resident for three to five years, you can remain eligible for naturalization if your spouse is a U.S. citizen. The spouse must have been a citizen for at least three years and shared a residence with you. Additionally, this exception is only valid if you have not been out of the country for 18 months or more during the past three years.
Other examples of exemptions include:
- Being out of the country for 30 months or more because you were an employee under contract to the U.S. government.
- Being over 50 years old and a permanent U.S. resident for at least 20 years which waives you from having to read, write, and speak basic English.
- Having a disability that prevents you from fulfilling the civics requirements.
What Documents Do You Need to Become a Naturalized Citizen?
Ensure you submit a photocopy of your permanent resident card and a check for the application fees with your Form N-400. If you reside outside the U.S., you’ll also have to submit two identical color photographs with your name and alien registration number. The USCIS requires several other documents depending on your situation. Some examples include:
- A marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court document that verifies a legal name change.
- Your Form N-426 if you seek citizenship based on your U.S. military service.
- Official statements of any arrests that did or didn’t result in convictions.
- All correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service detailing your failure to file an income tax return.
How Long Does Naturalization Take?
Naturalization can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months. You can prevent delays by ensuring you complete your forms as accurately as possible and submitting the appropriate documents. You can also study for the English and civics tests to ensure you pass the first time.
Benefits of Becoming a U.S. Citizen
Many immigrants want to go through the naturalization process because of the political and civil rights that come with citizenship. You’ll be able to fully participate in the democratic process and enjoy benefits such as:
- Participating in local, state, and national elections.
- Sitting on a jury.
- Traveling with a U.S. passport.
- Living in the country without fear of deportation.
- Meeting minimum eligibility requirements for some public offices.
- Qualifying for more job opportunities.
Even though naturalization is a lengthy process, the benefits are well worth the commitment. Consult this guide to help you on your way to becoming a citizen and enjoying benefits like voting and increased job opportunities. If you need help with the process, contact De Castroverde today. Our expert immigration and citizenship lawyers will help you navigate the complex process to avoid delays.