Applying for US Citizenship and Naturalization
Naturalization is the process in which people who were born outside of the United States become U.S. citizens. Through the process of naturalization, you are granted lawful permanent residency from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To apply, you must meet the set requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Difference Between Naturalization and Acquisition of Citizenship
The biggest difference between naturalization and citizenship through acquisition is the process in how one becomes a citizen. Naturalization is the act of applying for citizenship for those over 18. Acquisition of citizenship is for someone who attains citizenship because they are:
- Born in the United States or a U.S. Territory
- Born to parents who are U.S. Citizens
For example, if an immigrant couple went through the naturalization process, they are now U.S. citizens because they completed the application process. Their child, however, does not have to go through the naturalization process (if they are under 18). The child's parents can fill out a form to grant citizenship to their child. Thus, the child acquires citizenship through their relationship with their parents.
Lawful U.S. citizenship can be granted through the naturalization process or acquisition of citizenship. The difference is that acquisition is given because of the person's relationship to U.S. citizens, whereas naturalization requires a set of requirements for adults.
If you are not a citizen by birth and haven't acquired U.S. citizenship by any other means, you will need to review the Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet to determine if you are eligible to apply.
The first three questions to determine eligibility for naturalization are:
- Am I at least 18 years old?
- Am I a Permanent Resident of the United States and hold a permanent residency card?
- Have I been a permanent resident for at least five years (or 3-5 years under certain circumstances?
There are 15 total questions in determining your naturalization application eligibility. Make sure you can answer yes to all questions. Speak with your immigration lawyer about qualifications and if you meet requirements to apply for US citizenship.
How to Apply for Naturalization
The U.S. citizenship application is a 10-step process. Before you apply to become a U.S. Citizen, it is important to consider your current status and potential eligibility. In the following section, we'll go over the 10 steps in how to file for citizenship.
- Determine If You Are Already A Citizen
You do not need to file for citizenship if you are already a U.S. citizen or if you acquired citizenship from your parents (see above).
- Determine If You Are Eligible for U.S. Citizenship
Complete the Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet to determine if you meet the requirements for filing US citizenship.
- Fill Out Your Form N-400
You must fill out Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. You can file online by creating a USCIS online account or file by mail. If you fill out the application on paper, make sure you file to the correct address that corresponds with the state you reside in.
You must also submit documents with your Form N-400. The USCIS has a document checklist for required paperwork. Necessary evidence includes:
- A copy of your permanent residency card
- Two passport style photographs if you live outside of the U.S.
- If you're married, a copy of your marriage certificate
- A copy of official military orders if your naturalization application is based on your service
Filling out form N-400 can be convoluted. Reach out to your naturalization attorney for assistance when filing for naturalization.
- Submit and Pay
One of the most important steps in how to file for naturalization is submitting your N-400 to the USCIS. The filing fee of Form N-400 is $640. With the biometrics fee of $85, the total cost of US naturalization application is $725. Ask your immigration lawyer about exceptions to this payment.
Once the USCIS receives your submission, they will give you a receipt notice. You can check your case status by typing your receipt number into the online status update page.
Citizenship application processing time can take between 5.5 to 8 months on average yet varies depending on your location. Processing time can take up to 18 months or more. You can check your estimated processing time by location and form on USCIS's processing time page.
- Biometrics Appointment
You will receive information from the USCIS regarding the date, time, and location of your biometrics appointment. Biometrics include a digital signing, photographs, and fingerprints.
- Interview and US Citizenship Test
The USCIS will schedule an interview where an English test and a civics test will be administered. The interview itself will determine your English-speaking ability. You must also:
- Read aloud at the interview. You must read one out of three sentences correctly to pass.
- Write one out of three sentences correctly. The writing topics are about U.S. history and civics.
You will also be asked a series of questions during the civics test portion of the U.S. citizenship test interview. Depending on when you filed your form, you will either take the 2008 or 2020 version of the civics test.
- 2008 Civics Test — A USCIS officer will ask you a series of 10 questions. You must correctly answer 6 of questions to pass.
- 2020 Civics Test — A USCIS officer will ask you a series of 20 questions. You must correctly answer 12 of the questions to pass.
- N-400 Final Decision
There are three options you can receive from USCIS about your N-400, Application for Naturalization:
- Granted — You are approved and eligible for U.S. Citizenship
- Continued — You are eligible for citizenship, but may need to send in additional documents or retake the English and civics tests
- Denied — You may be denied if you are found to ineligible for citizenship
- Oath of Allegiance Notice
After you are approved for citizenship, you are on your way to coming a naturalized citizen. You will receive a notice to take an Oath of Allegiance. The ceremony will either be a judicial ceremony through the court or an administrative survey through USCIS.
You will need to fill out the questions on Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony to give to a USCIS officer at the ceremony.
- Naturalization Ceremony
Once you are at the ceremony, you will return your permanent residency card; you will not need it after your ceremony.
You will become an official U.S. Citizen once you take the Oath of Allegiance. You will then accept your Certificate of Naturalization.
- United States Citizenship
Congratulations! Once you are a United States citizen, you will be able to exercise your rights as an American citizen including the ability to vote, serve on a jury, apply for federal jobs, become an elected official, obtain government benefits, and much more.
We recommend applying for your U.S. Passport, registering to vote, and updating your Social Security record soon after you receive your Certificate of Naturalization.
We know that U.S. laws on immigration can be confusing and intimidating, especially to people who are new to the country and the English language. In every matter, our lawyers take great care to communicate clearly in a comfortable setting that inspires confidence we are doing everything we can to help you.