How to get U.S. Citizenship
If you wish to become a U.S. citizen, you must swear loyalty to the Constitution of the United States. This status comes with a variety of benefits and rights, including the freedom to work and live in the country with your beloved ones.
However, it also set a series of obligations, such as participation in the democratic processes and paying taxes.
Since this is one of the most significant steps in your immigration path, it is not something to be taken lightly. Depending on the way that led you to get your Green Card, your citizenship process may differ. Get in touch with our professional immigration attorneys to learn more about your options to become a U.S. citizen.
How to get U.S. citizenship?
You can become a U.S. citizen either at birth or later in your life.
To get your citizen status at the time of your birth, you must meet one of the following conditions:
- You were born in the U.S. or territories subject to the jurisdiction of the United States;
- If you were born abroad, at least one parent must have already been a citizen at the time of your birth.
If you do not meet any of these requirements for U.S. citizenship, you can seek this status later. Based on your immigration history, you can either apply for U.S. citizenship through parents or marriage, or for naturalization.
What are the U.S. citizenship requirements?
To submit your application for U.S. citizenship, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:
- Be at least 18 years old;
- Have lived in the U.S. as a Green Card holder for a certain number of years;
- Have established your residency in the same state or district where you intend to apply;
- Be able to prove your “good moral character”;
- Demonstrate adequate knowledge of U.S. history and customs and English language;
- Register your willingness to perform civil services if required (only for male applicants);
- Swear obedience to the Constitution of the United States.
What are the rights and benefits of being a U.S. citizen?
If you wish to apply for U.S. citizenship, you must prove your commitment to the country and its laws. On the other hand, you will be rewarded with several rights and benefits that you will equally share with all the other citizens.
By getting your U.S. citizenship certificate, you can enjoy:
- Freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
- Freedom to reside and work;
- Freedom to express yourself and your faith;
- Right to vote in elections for public officials;
- Right to a fair trial by jury;
- Right to vote for federal office;
What are the US Citizenship responsibilities and mandatory duties?
By swearing your obedience to the U.S. Constitution, you are accepting a series of responsibilities linked to your citizen status.
To “ensure that America remains a free and prosperous nation”, you must:
- Support and defend the Constitution;
- Respect others’ beliefs, rights, and opinions;
- Respect and obey federal, state and laws, and pay the penalties that can be incurred when a law is broken;
- Participate in the democratic processes of your local community;
- Pay your taxes honestly and on time;
- Serve on jury when called upon;
- Defend your country by military participation if the need should arise.
How to apply for U.S. citizenship?
The U.S. Citizenship application process consists of several steps. To avoid further delays or mistakes, it is advisable to follow the guidance of an immigration expert through every stage of it.
- Step 1: Application for Naturalization (Form N-400)
Your U.S. citizenship application process starts when you submit your form and supporting documents to the USCIS.
- Step 2: Your biometrics appointment
Your fingerprints, photos, and signatures need to be collected as part of your application. You will receive an appointment letter from the USCIS, usually one month after the submission of your application.
Do not forget to bring with you your Green Card, at least two forms of ID with your photo and your appointment letter. During this stage, the USCIS may also ask for additional information or supporting materials.
Your fingerprints will be forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct a background check. If your details are rejected, you must produce a police clearance certificate.
- Step 3: Attending your citizenship interview and exam
One year after your U.S. citizenship application, you will be summoned for an interview. You will receive a letter from the USCIS with the date and location of your hearing. If this date does not suit you, you can reschedule your appointment. However, this could be several months in the future.
Typically, your citizenship exam is scheduled on the same day of your interview. If you do not pass your language or civics test, you can retake only the portion of the exam that you fail. On the other hand, resitting this test can delay your application process of up to two more months.
- Step 4: Decision Letter
After your exam and interview, the USCIS has four months to communicate its decision.
Within this time, you will receive a Form N-652, also known as “Notice of Examination Results”.
Your application can be approved or denied. In this second case, you will receive another letter explaining what to do next. If you wish to challenge the authority’s decision, you can file an appeal.
If your application is marked as continued, it means you did not pass your test or that the USCIS needs further documentation to evaluate your case.
- Step 5: Taking the Oath of Allegiance and receiving your Certificate of Naturalization
Your Oath of Allegiance ceremony will take place about two to six weeks later the approval of your U.S. citizenship application.
The date and the location are reported on the Form N-445 (“Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony”) that you will receive from the USCIS.
If you fail to appear for your naturalization ceremony, your application will be considered invalid. However, you can write a letter requesting a new date explaining your circumstances.
Remember that you will officially be a U.S. citizen only after you have taken your Oath of Allegiance. Only after this step, you can apply for a U.S. passport.
What happens at the U.S. Naturalization interview?
Your U.S. naturalization interview is the stage when the USCIS officer will ask questions about your application and your intent to settle in the U.S.
To prepare adequately for this examination, you should study for your citizenship trial since both tests will take place on the same day.
At the time of your naturalization interview, you must bring the following documents:
- Your Green Card;
- Your ID;
- Your travel records, including your passports (as well as your expired ones);
- Original copies of documents assessing your current and previous marital status;
- IDs of your dependents (if applicable);
- Your federal income tax returns for the past five years;
- Proof of your permanent residence in the U.S.;
- Proof of your registration to the Military and Civil Service;
- Court, police or prison records (if applicable);
- Documents that can prove your “good moral character”.
What are the documents required for U.S. citizenship?
As a part of your U.S. naturalization and citizenship process, you are required to produce supporting evidence. The documents you should provide depends on your immigration status.
When submitting your Form N-400, you can follow this U.S. citizenship documents checklist:
- A copy of your Green Card (or Permanent Residence Card);
- Proof of your application fee payment;
- Proof of current marital status (even if you are not applying for U.S. citizenship through marriage);
- Two passport-style photos (if you submit your petition from abroad);
- Proof of medical disability (if you wish to request an exemption from the citizenship test based on your health condition);
- Fee reduction or fee waiver application (if needed);
- A signed request for representation at your interview (if you wish to be accompanied by your attorney).
Your supporting documents must be in the format required by the U.S. government. If any of your evidence is written in a foreign language, you must obtain a certified English translation.
How can I prove my “continuous residence” in the U.S.?
One of the requirements for U.S. citizenship is to prove your “continuous presence”, meaning at least five years of residence as a Green Card holder.
Under the U.S. immigration law, you cannot stay abroad for more than six months during your eligible period. In other words, if you spend a long time outside the country, the USCIS will automatically presume that you are renouncing your status.
If you stayed abroad for one year or longer, you would not be able to submit further documentation to support your petition. Once you are back in the U.S., you will have to wait before you can reapply for citizenship. You may also be eligible for a Returning Resident Visa if you have spent more than two years outside the U.S. for reasons that are beyond your control.
How long does it take to get U.S. citizenship?
The average U.S citizenship process is very complicated and may last over one year. In fact, it involves several steps and can require a longer timeline.
Although the processing time varies on a case-by-case basis, this is an estimated overview of the entire process.
- Form N-400 processing time (Application for Naturalization): ten months;
- Biometrics appointment: variable, depending on your local district;
- Citizenship interview and exam: at least four months;
- Receiving a decision letter for your application: up to four months;
- Taking the Oath of Allegiance and officially receive your Certificate of U.S. Citizenship: up to 2 months.
In other words, it may take up to 2 years to naturalize as a U.S. citizen. It is crucial to complete your application right the first time. For this reason, it is always advisable to seek legal advice.
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The USCIS defines as “good moral character,” a series of positive attributes that determines an ideal citizen. This means that you should have:
- Not committed any severe crime in the period before your application. This includes murder, illegal gambling, and immigration frauds;
- Not lied during your naturalization review, or anytime under your U.S. immigration status.
In certain circumstances, the USCIS may also consider your conduct in the past, to check whether your character has improved or not.
As a part of your naturalization application, you must pass a two-part test that includes:
- An English language test aimed to evaluate your reading, speaking and writing skills;
- A civics exam to test your knowledge of U.S. history and government.
At the time of your oral exam, you will be asked additional details about the information that you put on your U.S. citizenship application.
IAS can help you prepare for this crucial moment of your application. Get in touch today to speak with our advisers and to check if you need to attend this exam.
As a general rule, you must have lived in the country for at least five years as a Green Card holder before you can apply for U.S. citizenship. Your eligible period starts from the issue date printed on your Green Card.
If you got your Green Card through marriage, your two years as a conditional resident might still count as part of your qualifying period. However, you need to send your citizenship application as soon as you complete these two years in the U.S.
Before you apply for U.S. citizenship, you must have spent a certain amount of time in the country. However, specific allowances may make your application time shorter.
- Exception for partners of U.S. citizens
If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply to adjust your status after only three years of permanent or conditional residence.
To be eligible, you must stay married to your partner at least until your oath ceremony. The USCIS may reject your petition even if you stop living together with your spouse before you officially swear in as a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, the same applies if your spouse dies before your ceremony.
It is worth noting that you can follow this immigration path even if you did not get your Green Card through marriage. For example, you may have obtained your status through your employer before you got married. In this case, you are still eligible for a shorter citizenship application process.
If your spouse has a job overseas and you need to spend some time abroad, you can file your application any time after you become a permanent resident. You must prove that you are stationed overseas only due to your spouse’s employment, but you intend to settle in the U.S. at the end of this condition.
- Partial Exception to Five-Year Rule for refugee and asylees
If you got your Green Card based on your status as a refugee, you could use the date you entered the U.S. as the beginning of your permanent residence. This exception is valid also if you were granted your refugee status while in another country.
If you have received asylum in the United States, only one year of your time as an asylee will count for your permanent residence period.
The total cost to become a U.S. citizen is $725. This total includes $640 for your application processing fees and further $85 for biometrics services.
Your U.S. citizenship fees are not refundable, regardless of the outcome of your application. For this reason, you must complete your forms to the highest standard.
Before you pay your fees, you should check if you are eligible for an income-based fee waiver or reduction.
U.S. naturalization and citizenship are major processes that require a step-by-step approach. One single mistake could result in delays or even a rejection from the USCIS. Therefore, it is always recommended to seek the advice of a qualified attorney.
At IAS, we are a team of immigration experts ready to provide our best professional service. Your case will be followed by one of our best advisers, who will work to understand your needs.
As a result, your U.S. citizenship application process will be smooth and straightforward. As a part of our service, we offer:
- A first consultation with one of our immigration experts;
- Complete support through every step of your application process;
- Help with gathering your supporting documents;
- Help with the preparation of your citizenship exam;
- Production of a certified translation of your documents that are not written in English;
- Our availability to liaise with the USCIS in case of any delays in your process.
Call us today to arrange a meeting with one of our attorneys and start your journey to U.S. citizenship.