Congress governs the ability to naturalize as a United States citizen under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The legislation was passed in 1965 and has allowed many foreign-born nationals a path to American citizenship. This article looks more closely at the requirements and processes for naturalization in the U.S.
Can I qualify for naturalization in the U.S.?
Filing for U.S. Citizenship is a complicated, multi-step process. But the rewards include:
- Voting in elections.
- Traveling with a U.S. Passport.
- Eligibility for law enforcement or federal jobs.
- Federal and state benefits.
- Citizenship for minor children born outside the U.S.
- Expedition of ability to bring foreign-born family members to the U.S.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), four key initial qualifications may allow you to apply for U.S. naturalization:
- You must be a permanent (green card) resident of the U.S. for a minimum of five years.
- You are the spouse of a U.S. citizen and have lived here three years or more.
- You have served or are currently serving in the U.S. military.
- If you are a S. citizen and your child was born outside the U.S. but is now living here, the child may qualify.
Each section requires the following general qualifications:
- You must be 18 years old to file.
- You have held a green card for five years before filing the Form N-400 Application for Naturalization.
- You have lived within the USCIS district where you are filing for at least three months.
- You have physically lived in the U.S. for a minimum of 30 months out of the five years preceding your filing.
- You must reside in the U.S. from your date of filing for naturalization to the date it is granted.
- You must be able to read, write, and speak English and understand U.S. history and our governmental infrastructure.
- You must be of good moral character and supportive of the United States Constitution.
Within each of these qualifications lies an individual set of requirements. The four key initial requirements are complicated, and many exemptions exist that you might be able to leverage. For example, if you're married to a U.S. citizen, there are still many hoops you must jump through in order to meet the minimum requirements to apply for naturalization in the U.S. These requirements are covered in Part G of the USCIS Policy Manual Citizenship and Naturalization Guidance. These requirements cover legal marriage versus common law marriage, general eligibility requirements, and special circumstances that may affect both how you apply and your chances of being granted citizenship.
To make things more confusing, there are a plethora of exceptions to these requirements. Here are some examples:
- If you are a spouse of a U.S. citizen who is employed by the government, which could include the military, government branch, or another qualified employer, special rules apply.
- If you are age 50 or older and have lived as a green card holder in the United States for 20 years or longer, you will be exempt from the English language requirement.
- If you are the surviving spouse of active duty military personnel, you may seek U.S. naturalization without having lived in the U.S. before applying.
These are just three exceptions to the general rules under one category. More exceptions exist under each of the four key initial qualifications. When you've figured out which rules cover your situation, the next step is to apply for naturalization in the U.S.
Steps to apply for naturalization in the U.S.
When you’re ready, here are the steps for applying for naturalization in the U.S.:
- If you’ve determined you’re eligible for naturalization in the U.S., you must download Form N-400 Application for Naturalization.
- Gather all the documentation needed, including two passport photos, and complete the form. Click here for a handy document checklist.
- Submit the completed form and all the paperwork. USCIS will send you a notice that they are reviewing your application. You can check on the status by calling 1-800-375-5283.
- If required, attend your biometrics appointment, where you will be fingerprinted, have your picture taken, and sign your name. This requirement allows the USCIS to establish your physical identity.
- You will be required to have an interview and testing with USCIS. Here is a good video that will help you understand what will be required as part of this meeting. You will need to go to the USCIS office and bring the appointment notice with you.
- During this interview, you will take an English and civics test. USCIS has issued study guides for both these tests. Click here to get started.
- After the interview, you will eventually hear by mail if your application is denied or granted. If your application is "continued," the USCIS needs more information.
- The final parts of this process, if you are granted naturalization in the U.S., is to take the Oath of Allegiance
How long does this process take?
The process used to take around 45 days. However, the latest news from the USCIS website is that they cannot predict how long this process will take. USCIS attributes this to an unprecedented number of applications being filed. In our experience, we've found it typically takes two to three weeks even to receive the notification that USCIS received your application. If your paperwork isn't rejected, it could be another three to five weeks before you hear about the biometric exam. After the biometric appointment, it could be another four months or longer before you receive the date for your naturalization interview. This entire process could take, at a minimum, six months or longer.
In order to avoid any unnecessary delays, it's crucial to complete every step in the process correctly. Thousands of applications are denied before the interview even occurs because of paperwork or documentation errors. Katz Law Office, Ltd. offers a free consultation to discuss naturalization in the U.S. or any other immigration issues you may be having. Please contact us today for help.