Check your eligibility for naturalization
Do not start the naturalization application process until you’re sure that you’re eligible to become naturalized.
U.S. law requires that you are at least 18 years old and have continuously lived in the United States as a green card holder for at least five years. Or, you may be eligible after three years of having a green card if for the three years prior to applying you have been married to a US citizen spouse and residing with that US citizen spouse.
You must also have physically lived in the U.S. for at least half of those 3 or 5 years. During this time, you must not have spent more than six months of the 3 or 5-year period residing outside of the U.S. However, if you have a good reason for living outside the country for over six months, speak to an immigration lawyer. You might be able to receive an exemption.
To become a naturalized citizen, the law also requires that you have resided in the state or USCIS district where you plan to apply for at least three months immediately prior to applying, have good moral character, and be proficient in spoken and written English.
If you have any uncertainties, use this checklist to determine whether you are eligible.
An important note: if either of your biological or legal adoptive parents is a U.S. citizen by birth, or was naturalized before you reached your 18th birthday, you may already be a U.S. citizen. Consult with me or another immigration attorney about this issue as the analysis for eligibility is sometimes complicated. If you are already a US citizen through your parents, then you would not need to file Form N-400, and instead may need to file Form N-600 or an application for a US passport to prove your US citizenship.
Prepare and submit your N-400 form
Complete Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization. Make sure you answer all questions completely and accurately. If a question doesn’t apply to you, be sure to write or print “N/A.” If the answer to a question is zero, write “zero” or “none”–don’t just leave the question blank. Before filing, double-check that you have included all the relevant supporting materials and that the application is properly signed and dated in all appropriate places.
Attend your biometrics appointment
After you file your application, the USCIS will likely schedule you for a biometric services appointment. There, the USCIS will take your fingerprints, photograph and have you sign your name for electronic capture. As of September 2020, USCIS is NOT scheduling biometrics for many applicants. Instead, USCIS sends you a letter to inform you that it is keeping your biometrics fee but using the biometrics data that it already has on file.
Complete the naturalization interview
The USCIS will schedule an appointment for your naturalization interview about 7 to 11 months after filing your N-400 application. The talk will take place in a local USCIS office. The officer conducting the interview will evaluate your spoken English, and review your N-400 form with you, asking clarification or follow-up questions.
You will also have to take your U.S. Citizenship Test, which consists of reading and writing a few sentences in basic English, and taking a civics test comprised of ten questions. It’s important to prepare for this test well in advance. If you do not pass, your application will not be granted. However, if you fail once, you will be given a second interview to take the test again. Take a look at our tips on preparing for the citizenship test.
Receive a decision from the USCIS
USCIS may or may not give you a written decision on the day of your interview. When I am with my clients, I always ask for a written decision AND I always ask for a written notice for the oath ceremony. However, USCIS will often tell me that it won’t give either the written decision or written oath notice on the day of the interview. If not, USCIS will mail the decision. The USCIS will either grant, continue, or deny your naturalization application.
Denied means the USCIS determined you weren’t eligible.
- Continued means you failed part of the U.S. citizenship test or part of your application was not complete. In this case, USCIS will generally request information or documentation from you, or schedule you for a second interview
- Granted means that you are eligible to become a citizen. The USCIS will send you a notice to participate in an Oath of Allegiance Ceremony within the next few months. After this ceremony, you will be a naturalized U.S. citizen. Do not claim yourself to be a US citizen until AFTER the Oath Ceremony.
I have helped hundreds of immigrants with various issues during my 15-year career as an immigration attorney. Please contact my office so that I can start helping you too!