The Naturalization Process

What Is Naturalization? | Who Is Eligible? | How Does the Process Work?

NaturalizationMany immigrants in the United States succeed in obtaining permanent residency status with a green card. That status provides many of the benefits of American citizenship; however, to obtain full status as an American citizen, an immigrant must go through the naturalization process.

What Is Naturalization?

Naturalization is a federal process whereby a lawful permanent resident is granted full U.S. citizenship. Persons born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens and do not need to go through the naturalization process. A person may also automatically have U.S. citizenship status if they were a lawful permanent resident under the age of 18 when one of their parents became a naturalized citizen.

Who Is Eligible for Naturalization?

An immigrant must meet the following criteria to begin the naturalization process:

  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • You must have been a lawful permanent resident (with a green card) for at least five years (three years if you are the spouse of an American citizen).
  • You must have had a residence in the United States for five continuous years (three if married to an American citizen), and you must have been physically present in the country for at least two-and-a-half years.
  • You must be able to read, write, and speak basic English. (There are limited exceptions.)
  • You must have knowledge and comprehension of basic aspects of American history and government.
  • You must be considered a person of “good moral character.”
  • You must take a loyalty oath to the United States.
  • You must swear to support the U.S. Constitution and the American system of government.

How Does the Naturalization Process Work?

If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can initiate the naturalization process by filing Form N-400, and the required supporting documents, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After your application is filed, you will receive a letter scheduling you to be fingerprinted and photographed, so that background checks and cross-checks can be done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice.

Once your background checks are successfully completed, an interview will be scheduled with USCIS, where officials typically ask questions about your application, your background, your moral character, and your willingness to support the Constitution and take an oath of allegiance. You also will be tested on your English language skills and your knowledge of American history and government. The civics test generally includes 10 questions. You must get at least six correct to pass. The language skills test assesses reading, writing, and oral communication.

Typically, you will get the results of those exams on the same day you take the tests, but there may be reasons why the USCIS officer will continue your case.If you fail the English or civics test, you can schedule another interview within 60-90 days. However, if you fail the English or civics test again, your application for citizenship will be denied.

If you successfully complete the interview (your case is not continued), you will then receive a written notice of the USCIS decision. If your application is denied, you may have the right to appeal the decision. If your application is approved, you will receive a notice to attend a ceremony where you will take the oath of allegiance to the United States. In some instances, you can do this the same day of your interview. Once you take the oath of allegiance, you will be issued your certificate of naturalization.

How Long Does Naturalization Normally Take?

According to government statistics, the average time from the filing of an application to receipt of a certificate of naturalization is between 18 and 24 months. As a general rule, it takes at least a year (usually a little longer) just to process your Form N-400. Once that is complete, the rest of the process typically takes anywhere from 4 to 12 months.

How Much Does Naturalization Cost?

The current application fee that must be submitted with your Form N-400 is $725. That includes $640 for processing your application and $85 for the interview and administration of the required tests. There are limited circumstances under which these fees may be reduced or waived.

It is in your best interests to have an attorney represent you through the naturalization process. Many immigration attorneys charge a flat fee to complete and submit Form N-400. You may incur additional fees if there are complications with your application.

What Are the Benefits of Naturalization to Immigrants?

Naturalized citizens have a number of rights that are not available to lawful permanent residents:

  • You cannot be subject to deportation or removal, even if you are charged with a crime, unless the government can show that the criminal acts predated your naturalization.
  • You will have the right to hold an American passport and can freely leave and re-enter the United States.
  • You will have the right to participate in federal benefits programs, such as educational assistance.
  • You can sponsor family members for lawful permanent residency.
  • Your children will automatically obtain American citizenship, regardless of where they are born.
  • You won’t have to file any immigration documents ever again!
  • You will have the right to vote in local, state, and federal elections.
  • You will be eligible to run for elected office.

What Responsibilities Come with Naturalization?

As an American citizen, you will also take on some responsibilities:

  • You may be required to serve jury duty.
  • You may be drafted into the military (though there currently is no draft).
  • You will be required to file U.S. income tax returns, even if you subsequently move to a foreign country.

To obtain American citizenship, you may be required to renounce your citizenship in another country. Some countries, such as the United States and Canada, allow for dual citizenship, but some do not.

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