An Overview of the Citizenship Process
So, you want to trade in your green card and become a U.S. citizen — congratulations! But, you’re probably anxious about what the process entails. Don’t worry; Brudner Law is here to help. The process of applying for citizenship is similar for everyone, and it typically includes six steps:
- Applying for naturalization
- Going to a biometrics appointment
- Attending a citizenship interview and taking an exam
- Wait for a decision by USCIS
- Take the Oath of Allegiance
- Get your benefits as a U.S. citizen
Related: Guide to Dual Citizenship
How Long Does It Usually Take To Get Us Citizenship?
Typically, the total time it takes to become a U.S. citizen from the beginning is 12-18 months But, there are different things that affect that length of time, like:
- How many applications USCIS receives
- Which USCIS office you file with
- Whether your Form N-400 was filed correctly.
Your application could take more or less time; follow our guide and consult our expert immigration attorneys to ensure your chance of success as quickly as possible!
What Are the 5 Requirements To Become a U.S. Citizen?
If you want to become a citizen of the United States, you will need to meet five requirements. Citizenship is not automatic, meaning you must apply and be approved by the government. With the right documents, the process is straightforward.
Be At Least 18 Years Old
One of the first requirements is to be at least 18 years old. Why? Becoming a citizen means engaging in civil activities, such as voting. When a person is 18 years or older, they can participate in those civil duties as an American citizen.
Gained Authorization To Live and Work in the United States
Another requirement is that an individual must have the proper authorization to work and live in the United States. In many situations, a person will have been issued a green card, allowing them to reside permanently in the country.
Continued Residence in the United States
The third requirement for someone wanting to gain citizenship pertains to maintaining a residence in the country for at least five years. This residency requirement ensures that you have made an effort to start a life in the United States.
Be a Person of “Good Moral Character”
All hopeful recipients of U.S. citizenship must be persons of “good moral character.” What does that mean? You must not have been convicted of significant crimes, showing that you obey all of the laws in the United States.
Display Knowledge and Understanding of the Fundamentals of the History and Government of the United States
Finally, the last requirement is to ensure that the individual can participate in other civic duties, such as jury duty, military services, and voting. An individual needs to know the basic history and learn how the government works in the United States. This knowledge will be helpful when taking a citizenship test.
What Disqualifies You From Becoming a U.S. Citizen?
Several reasons can disqualify you from gaining U.S. citizenship. In some cases, the individual should not have been approved for a green card in the first place or never met the initial requirements for that status. Often, a person has committed an act that makes them removable from the country. Finally, these residents have not met the basic criteria for U.S. citizenship. Take a closer look at these situations.
When someone applies for U.S. citizenship, the government will make a full review of the file. In some cases, the USCIS can encounter an issue where the applicant is not qualified to receive a green card. For example, an immigrant may have been listed as an unmarried child of a U.S. citizen. However, that person was married. If the USCIS notice a discrepancy with the file, they may ask additional questions or place the person into a removal proceeding. After being stripped of a green card, the applicant will not be able to apply for citizenship.
Unfortunately, a green card holder engaged in certain activities may be excluded from citizenship. These violations can be as simple as not informing the USCIS of changing an address or engaging in subversive crimes. Those individuals traveling with a green card must be careful. If someone spends more than six months outside of the United States and returns, the USCIS can revoke an individual’s green card. Along with that, those who have received need-based government assistance or develop a mental or physical disorder can be subjected to removal proceedings.
Steps To Citizenship: What You Will Need
Step One: Application for Naturalization
The first step to U.S. citizenship is applying for naturalization with form N-400. It typically takes anywhere from 6-10 months for the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) to process and approve or deny this application.
The faster that you send your N-400 form and supporting documents, the sooner than USCIS will begin reviewing your application for naturalization.
It’s important to complete the application correctly and thoroughly to avoid delays in the process. Make sure that you:
- Answer each question entirely and accurately
- Send in supporting documents in the correct format (if they are in another language, you must get them translated to English by a certified person).
- Sign your application!
Step Two: Your Biometrics Appointment
After USCIS receives your Form N-400, you’ll receive a notice to attend a biometrics appointment in about 5-8 weeks. They will give you a time, date, and location for this appointment (usually at your local USCIS office).
During the biometrics appointment, you will get fingerprinted, have your photo taken, and give the USCIS officials your signature; this is so that they can verify your identity. Your fingerprints also get used to conduct a background check and ensure that you are a person of good moral character.
For your appointment, make sure to bring:
- Your appointment notice
- Your passport or photo ID issued by your home country
- Your driver’s license, if applicable
- Your military photo ID, if applicable
- Your state-issued ID, if applicable
- Any additional documentation noted in your appointment letter
Step Three: Your Citizenship Interview
After completing your biometrics appointment, the USCIS will send you a new notice for your next appointment: your interview and exam for naturalization. Like the prior letter, it will state the time, date, and location for your interview. You can expect this notice anywhere from 6-18 months after filing Form N-400.
Typically, your citizenship interview will take place about 14 months after filing Form N-400. You can reschedule your interview and exam date, but it can add months to the process.
The exam for citizenship consists of an English and Civics test. The first test examines your grasp of the language, and the second test is to show well you understand U.S. history and how the government works. This exam occurs during your interview.
What happens if you don’t pass? You’ll have to wait two to three months to retake it; it’s best to prepare for both parts of the test so that you pass the first time!
Related: Immigration Interview Questions
Step Four: Waiting for Approval
If you provide all of the necessary documents, pass your exam, and do well during your interview, it’s possible that your citizenship application could get approved on the same day. Otherwise, USCIS will let you know their decision on your application within four months.
Three things can happen when they notify you of your results:
- They approve your citizenship application; you can move on to the next step.
- They “continue” your application because:
- You didn’t pass the citizenship exam. You will get another chance to take it, but if you fail a second time, USCIS will deny your citizenship application.
- You’re missing documents. They will allow you 30 days to send in any necessary information.
- They deny your application. You’ll have 30 days to file an appeal. It’s essential to complete your application accurately the first time to avoid this.
Step Five: Taking the Oath of Allegiance
Congratulations for making it this far; you’re almost done! After taking the Oath of Allegiance, you’ll be a full U.S. citizen and can say goodbye to your green card! If your citizenship application gets approved on the day of your interview, you may be able to take the oath the same day. Otherwise, you’ll get scheduled for 2-6 weeks after passing the exam; after you take the oath, you’ll be allowed to register to vote that same day.
Note: if you don’t show up to this ceremony, USCIS will most likely deny your entire application.
Getting Your U.S. Citizen Benefits
There is an additional step in the process after being granted your U.S. citizenship. Here’s what you’ve been working so hard for; becoming a U.S. citizen! You can now enjoy all of the benefits that come with it. Here’s what you should do right after becoming a citizen:
- Update your Social Security; this takes about ten days and will allow you to be eligible for SS and Medicare benefits.
- Apply for your U.S. passport; this takes about two to six weeks, and it will let you easily travel to and from the U.S.
- Register to vote; it takes about two to four weeks. Now you will have a say in what happens in your new country!
What Is the Fastest Way To Be Granted U.S. Citizenship?
Many immigrants have dreamed of the day of becoming American citizens. However, the citizenship process can take several months to a few years. Having patience can help when applying for citizenship. Working with an immigration lawyer could help you proceed through the application period.
As you may know, there are a few ways to gain citizenship, especially if you are looking for a faster track. Generally, an individual can either:
- Be married to a U.S. citizen for three years
- Hold a green card for three years
Along with that, the individual must have lived within the same state for at least three months. Other special considerations can lead to citizenship: through birthright and military service.
Citizenship Through Birthright
You could obtain citizenship through birthright if your parents were married U.S. citizens living in America. You’ll also be able to get citizenship if one of your parents is a U.S. citizen. If this is your situation, then you’ll need to meet two requirements:
- First, parents should be residents in America for at least five years before you were born
- Second, the child’s birth date needs to be on or after November 14th, 1986
Even if the parents are unmarried, a person will still be able to get citizenship if:
- The mother was a U.S. citizen and was in the country at the time of the child’s birth
- The father is a U.S. citizen when the child is born and has been in the U.S. at least five years prior
- He will also need to provide a statement disclosing his intention to provide for the child financially
Citizenship Through the Military
If you’ve served in the armed forces, you’ll be able to apply for citizenship right away. There are two different categories for applying for citizenship using this method; you can apply during a period of hostility or in peacetime. Each has different eligibility rules.
Here are some requirements for applying for citizenship during a period of hostility:
- You’ll need to have completed your military service
- Shorter or waived minimum residency requirement
- Served for at least 180 days during a period of hostility
Applying for citizenship during peacetime comes with some different requirements such as:
- You need to have served at least one year in the military
- Have a green card
- Complete an application during your service or within six months of the end of service
Cost to Become a U.S. Citizen
Filing your application for naturalization will cost you about $725. Depending on your circumstances, it’s possible to have your fee reduced or even waived.
If you’re 75 years or older, the naturalization fee will cost you $640 since you won’t have to pay for biometrics. You can pay for your application through a check, money order, or credit card. But note that you can only use one payment method when submitting your application.
For those living abroad, make sure that you contact your U.S embassy for specific instructions to get your application and payment process.
How an Immigration Attorney Can Help
It can take anywhere from a year to a year and a half to finish the citizenship process, depending on various factors. If any of these steps seem confusing, or you’re worried about things like the citizenship interview and exam, talking with a reputable immigration attorney can help put your mind at ease and help you have a successful application.
Do you need help applying for citizenship? Get in touch with the expert immigration attorneys at Brudner Law!