Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In most cases, an immigrant is eligible to naturalize after five years of lawful permanent residence. In some cases, an immigrant may be eligible after just three years of lawful permanent residence.
Benefits of Naturalization
Many immigrants do not bother to apply for naturalization because they do not see the benefits. However, becoming a citizen is the only sure way to avoid ever being deported or removed from the country. Even people who have been lawful permanent residents for decades may still be subject to removal or deportation if they are deemed to have committed a deportable offense.
In addition, citizenship gives you the right to vote, to receive a United States passport, and it gives you priority in petitioning to bring relatives into the country.
You May Qualify for Naturalization if:
1) You have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years and meet all other eligibility requirements; or
2) You have been a permanent resident for 3 years or more and meet all eligibility requirements to file as a spouse of a U.S. citizen; or
3) You have qualifying service in the U.S. armed forces and meet all other eligibility requirements; or
4) You are a member of one of several other groups eligible to apply for naturalization and meet all other eligibility requirements.
Although there are exceptions, most applicants for naturalization must fulfill age, residence, physical presence, and good moral character requirements. Specifically, most naturalization applicants must have been a permanent resident and have maintained a residence in the United States continuously for five years since obtaining permanent resident status. Persons with permanent resident status who obtained their status through marriage to a U.S. citizen spouse may be eligible for citizenship after three years.
Absences from the United States of over six months, but less than one year break the continuity of residence, unless the applicant can prove that residence was not abandoned. Absences of over one year break the period of required residence where unless the applicant does not obtain USCIS’ approval of an application to preserve residence.
Most applicants must reside for three months in the state of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district of filing. Additionally, most applicants must have been physically present in the United States at least half of the required time period for residency prior to filing.
With some exceptions, applicants for naturalization are required to have a basic knowledge of English and of U.S. history and government.
Applications for citizenship may be filed no more than 90 days before the applicant has met the residency requirements.
The Naturalization Process
Naturalization is initiated by the filing of Form N-400 with the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Along with the form, an application fee, passport-style photos, and other documents must be submitted.
USCIS will issue a receipt for the filing of the form and at a later date will mail an appointment letter setting a time for the immigrant to appear at a fingerprinting location to have their fingerprints taken.
The final step of the naturalization process will commence with another appointment letter setting a date for the naturalization interview. At the interview the immigrant will be asked questions about their application and will be administered two tests: an English test, and a Civic test.
If the application is approved and the tests are successfully completed, USCIS will set a date for an oath ceremony. At the ceremony an official may ask the immigrant questions about their activities since the interview date. Then the immigrant will take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States and will be issued a Certificate of Naturalization, officially becoming a United States Citizen.
For more on Naturalize read our blog post entitled "The Top 7 Reasons to Naturalize Now"