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Citizenship / Naturalization

Unless you were born in the United States to U.S. citizen parents, it might take a few steps to determine if you currently are, or qualify to be, a United States citizen. The following is some general information about citizenship and the requirements and process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, but it does not include every requirement or every exception.

 

  • Generally, a person born “in the United States” is considered a citizen of the U.S. – at birth – even if neither of that person’s parents is a U.S. citizen. Geographically, “in the United States” means in any of the 50 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, the United States Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands (after 1986).
  • In most cases, a person born outside the United States to two U.S. citizen parents (at least one of whom lived in the U.S. at some point) is considered a U.S. citizen.
  • A person born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen parent who had lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years by the time the person was born (and that 5-year period did not start before the parent’s 11th birthday) is also generally considered a U.S. citizen.
  • Generally, people in the following circumstances are eligible for naturalization:
    • Permanent Residents who are at least 18 years old, have resided in the United States continuously for 5 years, have no special circumstances, and have not left the U.S. for periods of 6 months or longer
    • People over 18 years old who are and have been married to (and living in the U.S. with) the same U.S. citizen for the past 3 years (and the U.S. citizen has held that status for the past 3 years)
    • Certain members and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces who served (honorably) for at least 1 year as of the date they apply for naturalization
    • (and more)
  • The following are additional requirements for most applicants to naturalize:
    • Have lived in state of residence (or appropriate USCIS district) for at least 3 months prior to when the application is filed
    • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the 60 months (5 years) immediately preceding when the application is filed
    • Have continuously resided in the U.S. from when the application is filed up until the time of naturalization
    • Be able to read, write, and speak English
    • Have knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government
    • Be willing and able to abide by the laws of the U.S.
    • Have demonstrated good moral character during the five years of lawful permanent residence
  • What does “continuous residence” mean?
    • It generally means that a person has been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the required residency period.
  • What does it mean if someone is unable to “demonstrate good moral character”?
    • This means it will be more difficult to make a strong application and therefore obtain U.S. citizenship. Examples of bad moral character include:
      • Criminal convictions in the U.S. or in native country
      • Ever failed to financially support his or her family
      • Given false testimony to receive any sort of benefit
  • File N-400 Application for Naturalization, which will include the following items:
    • Copy of both sides of Applicant’s Permanent Resident card
    • 2 passport-style photographs, with Applicant’s name and A-Number (Alien Registration Number) written lightly on the back in pencil
    • Check or money order for application fee and biometrics fee
      • With Applicant’s A-Number written on the back of the check or money order
    • Evidence of qualifications and history, for example:
      • Marriage certificate to U.S. citizen & proof that spouse has been U.S. citizen for the past 3 years
      • Copies of tax returns, mortgages, children’s birth certificates
      • Certified copy of criminal convictions in the U.S. or in native country, if any
      • Proof of payment of child support, if any
      • (and more)
  • Study for English and civics tests
  • Go to biometrics appointment
    • USCIS will schedule it and notify Applicant of date, time, and place
    • To be fingerprinted so that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can run a background check
  • Go to interview
    • USCIS will schedule it and notify Applicant of date, time, and place
    • Applicant will be asked questions about his or her N-400 application
    • Applicant will take the English and civics tests, unless he or she is exempt from this requirement
  • Applicant will receive written notice of results immediately following interview and test unless USCIS needs more information, which it will explain right then
  • Possible outcomes:
    • Granted: means Applicant is eligible for naturalization and will receive a Form N-445 Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony stating the date, time, and place to take Oath of Allegiance. If Applicant has to reschedule, he or she can notify USCIS of this by mailing back the N-445 explaining the reason he or she must miss it and asking to be rescheduled
    • Application Continued
      • Usually because Applicant did not pass the English and/or civics tests; he or she may schedule a time to retake the failed part within 60-90 days. A second failure will result in the N-400 being denied.
      • Sometimes because USCIS needs more information from Applicant, which they will communicate by giving a Form N-14 Request for Additional Information, Documents or Forms
      • Sometimes because Applicant did not provide USCIS the correct documents
    • Denied: means Applicant is not eligible for naturalization.
      • Applicant may file Form N-336 Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings. It must be submitted with the correct fee no longer than 30 days after Applicant receives the denial
  • Applicant is not a U.S. citizen until he or she takes the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. The oath will be administered by USCIS at an administrative ceremony or by a judge in a judicial ceremony. Applicants must complete Form N-445 Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony, take the Oath, and turn in Permanent Residence Card.
  • Applicant will receive the Certificate of Naturalization, and he or she should review it before leaving the ceremony site and notify USCIS of any corrections that should be made.

 

To read the USCIS guide about naturalizing as a U.S. citizen, click here.

To read the USCIS Naturalization Document Checklist, Eligibility Worksheet, and more, click here.