Process for U.S. Citizenship through Naturalization
The first step to becoming a naturalized citizen is to prepare and submit the form N-400 Application for Naturalization along with your application fee. You will also need to be photographed and fingerprinted. The next step is to take the citizenship test and attend an interview with USCIS. The test and interview are meant to assess your English language ability and knowledge of U.S. history and government, and to make sure you meet all of the requirements for citizenship. After passing the test and interview, you become a citizen by swearing an Oath of Allegiance to the United States at a formal ceremony in court or at the USCIS office.
There are many requirements to be eligible for citizenship through naturalization, including:
- Be 18 years old or older
- Have been a permanent resident for the required time (usually three or five years, depending upon your circumstances)
- Have maintained physical presence and continuous residence in the U.S. for the required time (also three or five years where required)
- Demonstrate that you are of good moral character
- Demonstrate a basic understanding of U.S. history and government
- Demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak English
You must also meet the residency requirements of the state your are living in. Also, it is important to show a favorable disposition toward the United States and an attachment to the principles of the Constitution.
Some of these requirements can be modified or waived, and there may be other ways to qualify as well, such as serving in the U.S. Armed Forces for the required time or being honorably discharged from the military.
Can I apply for citizenship if I have a criminal record?
A criminal record can impact the requirement of having good moral character. Conviction of certain crimes will bar you from obtaining citizenship, but for some crimes, the bar is only temporary, and you will be able to apply for citizenship after a certain period of time has passed. There are many other things that could demonstrate a lack of good moral character besides just criminal convictions. Discuss these things fully with your immigration lawyer so that you will be well-prepared for your interview.
What if my application for citizenship is denied?
If your application is denied, you may appeal the decision by requesting a hearing with an immigration officer. To do this, complete and file Form N-336 Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings under Section 336 of the INA within 30 days of the date you receive your denial letter. If the appeal is unsuccessful, you can file a petition to have your application reviewed in U.S. District Court. You may also be able to reapply for citizenship by starting the process again.
What if I fail the citizenship test?
The citizenship test can be difficult for many people. It tests your knowledge of English and Civics and requires you to be able to read and write English. Some people fail the test because they have not learned enough English or civics, or because they are too nervous when taking the test. If you fail the citizenship test, reapply as soon as you think you are ready. It is possible to qualify for an exemption from all or parts of the test, or to obtain testing modifications to help you succeed.
What if I miss my interview?
If you miss your scheduled interview, USCIS “administratively closes” your case. If you do not contact USCIS to schedule a new interview within one year, then your application for citizenship will be denied. Scheduling or rescheduling a new interview can add months to the naturalization process, so try to make your original interview date if at all possible.