How to Obtain a US Citizenship Through Naturalization
Once you have your permanent residence status, you may be ready to apply for US Citizenship through naturalization. You can apply for a green card and live in the US if you have legal permanent resident (LPR) status. The drawbacks, though, including having to renew your green card and using a foreign passport when you travel.
A citizen of the U.S. is entitled to all the rights, benefits, and privileges that the U.S. has to offer. For instance, the ability to vote in federal and state elections in the U.S., request the immigration of family members, and live abroad without forfeiting the right to return. Consequently, people will go to great lengths to immigrate to the United States and apply for citizenship.
However, to obtain your certificate, you must go through a process to become a U.S. citizen. This procedure is known as naturalization. Obtaining citizenship involves several stages and is not simple. As a result, this article summarizes what to expect, including how to determine your eligibility, how to apply, how to attend the interview, and how to participate in the swearing-in ceremony.
Understanding the United States Citizenship
Citizenship in the United States is a legal status that entails Americans with specific rights, duties, protections, and benefits in the United States. Most Americans are born on United States soil, but there are other ways to obtain U.S. citizenship for foreign nationals.
There are two ways to become a United States citizen— at birth or after birth through naturalization. However, to become a U.S. citizen at birth, you must:
- Be born in the U.S. or in certain territories or outlying possessions of the United States that are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States
- Have a parent or parents who were citizens at the time of your birth
- If you were born outside the U.S., you must meet these requirements outlined by the U.S. Department of State
However, foreign nationals who wish to become citizens of the United States may do so through the naturalization process.
What is Naturalization?
Naturalization is the legal act or process by which a non-citizen of a country may acquire citizenship or nationality. However, a law may either automatically complete the naturalization process or not. That happens automatically, or it can require an application or motion and approval by the appropriate authorities.
Additionally, the requirements for naturalization differ from nation to nation. But typically, it entails swearing loyalty, making a vow to follow and honor the laws of that nation, etc. It would be best if you swore allegiance to the U.S. Constitution to become a citizen. After meeting the criteria outlined by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act, a foreign national or immigrant is granted U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process (INA).
Furthermore, only a select group of immigrants can naturalize and become citizens of the U.S. They consist of people who have been granted Legal Permanent Residence (LPR) status (green card holders) for three to five years or who satisfy different military service requirements. Therefore, the Attorney General is also given exclusive power to naturalize people as citizens of the United States. However, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines the title "Attorney General" to refer to any immigration judge or member of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
Eligibility Criteria for the U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization
However, as we mentioned earlier, only certain immigrants are eligible to apply for naturalization. Eligibility for naturalization typically depends on several factors:
- How long you've had your green card
- How long you've physically lived in the United States
- Whether you've served in the U.S. military (and if so, whether your service was during peacetime or wartime.
Therefore, to apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization, you must:
- Have had a Permanent Resident (Green) Card for at least five years or at least three years if you're filing as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. However, you must renew your green card before applying for citizenship if:
- Your card will expire within six months of applying; or
- Your card has already expired
- Moreover, you can apply for naturalization before you receive your new green card. But, you'll need to submit a photocopy of the receipt for your Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card when you receive it.
- Meet specific eligibility requirements. Check the next section below for the conditions.
Furthermore, in addition to waiting three or five years after obtaining your permanent residence status, you must also satisfy the following requirements:
- Be at least 18 years of age or older at the time of application
- Depending on your status, you have been a green card holder (lawful permanent resident) for the previous three or five years.
- Have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States
- You must be able to read, write, and speak basic English
- Demonstrate good moral character
- You will have to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government.
- Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
- Demonstrate loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution
- You must pass a two-part naturalization test: the first is an English language test (covering reading, writing, and speaking skills), and the second is a civics test (covering knowledge of U.S. history and government).
How to Become a U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization
Moreover, here's an overview of the application process for U.S. citizenship through naturalization:
1. Application for Naturalization
However, the first step to obtaining U.S. citizenship is to file an application for Naturalization (Form N-400) and pay the filing fee (unless you are exempt).
How to File
You may apply for naturalization online or by paper. To file online, you must create a USCIS online account to file online and:
- Submit evidence and pay fees electronically;
- Receive case status updates about your case and see your complete case history;
- Please communicate with us securely and directly; and
- Respond to requests for evidence.
However, you can sign in to your account if you already have a USCIS online account. On the other hand, to file on paper, you must:
- Read the instructions for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization;
- Complete and sign your Form N-400;
- Pay the filing fee, if applicable; and
- Provide all necessary evidence and supporting documentation.
2. Biometrics Appointment
After filing your application for naturalization, the next step is to set up your biometrics appointment. Which involves getting your fingerprints taken at your local USCIS field offices. Besides, once USCIS receives your Form N-400, you will receive a:
- Receipt notice confirming they have received your application;
- Biometric services notice, if applicable;
- Notice to appear for an interview, if required; and
- Notice of their decision.
The purpose of the biometrics test is to conduct a background check. Moreover, the biometrics appointment usually takes place about a month after USCIS receives your U.S. citizenship application.
3. Citizenship Interview and Exam
After the biometric appointment and test, this is the following stage. The citizenship interview is typically scheduled 14 months after your application is submitted. The USCIS official will check that all the information on your citizenship application is accurate during the interview. Additionally, the interview typically happens at the nearby USCIS office. You will, however, go to the interview in a U.S. embassy or consulate if you apply from abroad. Your interview might take place in a military facility if you are actively serving in the military.
Additionally, the citizenship exam is another name for the interview. This is because you are also given a two-part citizenship test by the USCIS officer concurrently (unless you qualify for an exemption). The first is an assessment of your spoken and written English language abilities. The second civics test will evaluate your understanding of U.S. history and the fundamentals of U.S. government operations.
After the interview, you will receive a decision from USCIS on your Form N-400. USCIS will mail a notice of the decision to you. If you filed your N-400 online, you could also access the electronic notice in your account. However, the decision may be as follows:
- Granted - USCIS may approve your Form N-400 if the evidence in your record establishes that you are eligible for naturalization.
- Continued - USCIS may continue your application if you need to provide additional evidence/documentation, fail to provide USCIS the correct documents, or fail English and civics tests the first time.
- Denied - USCIS will deny your Form N-400 if the evidence in your record establishes you are not eligible for naturalization.
4. Oath of Allegiance
In addition, if your application for naturalization is accepted, you might be permitted to attend a ceremony on the same day as your interview. The USCIS will mail you a notification containing the date, time, and venue of your scheduled ceremony if a same-day naturalization ceremony is unavailable. You might access the electronic notice in your application if you filed your N-400 online.
You are not a U.S. citizen until you take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. The process of the ceremony is as follows:
- Complete the questionnaire on Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony.
- Report for your naturalization ceremony and check in with USCIS. A USCIS officer will review your responses to Form N-445.
- Turn in your Permanent Resident Card (Green Card).
- Take the Oath of Allegiance to become a U.S. citizen.
- Receive your Certificate of Naturalization, review it, and notify USCIS of any errors you see on your certificate before leaving the ceremony site.
Once the ceremony ends, you'll receive a Certificate of Naturalization and begin your life as a U.S. citizen.
Benefits of Obtaining U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization
However, attaining permanent residency grants the possessor the right to permanently dwell, work, and study in the U.S. with specific benefits. However, it pales compared to my new status as a U.S. citizen. You now have access to additional rights and benefits that you did not have as a holder of a green card before. They include:
- Firstly, as a green card holder, you may have been able to vote in certain local municipalities. But with the new U.S. citizenship status, you can impact the national stage by casting your vote in federal elections.
- Moreover, you will be eligible for candidacy (run for office) in the U.S. elections.
- You will have access to new employment opportunities. While income levels vary, federal employees are generally paid more and have greater benefits than their private-sector counterparts. However, only U.S. citizens may gain employment to work for the U.S. government under U.S. laws.
- Furthermore, there will no longer be a need to file immigration forms and fees, no more green card renewals or replacements, and no more having to check in with the U.S. government whenever you wish to move.
- As a U.S. citizen, you will have limitless access to government assistance programs such as Social Security and Medicare, etc., which you will have limited access to as a green cardholder. Moreover, in some cases, you can even apply for federal college assistance, which is reserved solely for U.S. citizens.
- Ability to sponsor any family relative seeking Lawful Permanent Residence status in the United States.
- Your children automatically gain U.S. citizenship, even if born outside the United States.
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Moreover, you can no longer be deported to your country of former citizenship or nationality.
In conclusion, before you begin your journey toward U.S. citizenship, you must understand the primary responsibilities of being an American citizen. Some of them include:
- It would be best if you obeyed the laws of the United States of America
- You will serve the country when it calls on you
- Pay your taxes promptly
- Give up all your loyalty to any other country or sovereignty etc.
Additionally, the processing time for naturalization ranges from 18 to 24 months. This spans the time between submitting your application and the Oath-taking ceremony you attend. For naturalization applications, the government currently charges a filing fee of $725, which includes $640 for processing and $85 for biometrics services. Both the application filing cost and the biometrics fee are waived for applicants who are in the military. Additionally, the biometrics fee is waived for applicants who are 75 years of age or older.