- What is naturalization?
Naturalization is the process by which a person who was not born in the U.S. can become a U.S. citizen. A refugee or immigrant does not have an automatic right to U.S. citizenship. Citizenship is a privilege that is granted to persons who are able to demonstrate their eligibility to the USCIS.
- What are the requirements for naturalization in the U.S.?
Age: The applicant must be at least 18 years old. Most minor children who are permanent residents (have a green card) become U.S. citizens automatically if they are under 18 when at least one of their parents naturalizes.
Permanent Residence: The applicant must be a permanent resident, i.e. have a green card.
Length of Permanent Residence: For most applicants, five years. Spouses of U.S. citizens are eligible to apply three years after becoming permanent residents if: (1) the couple has been married for at least three years, and during this entire period the applicant’s spouse was a U.S. citizen; and (2) the couple are still married, reside together, and are not legally separated.
Physical Presence: The applicant must have been physically present in the U.S. for half of the required period of five (or three) years in permanent resident status.
Continuity of Residence: If you were outside the U.S. for a continuous period of over six months but less than one year, you will need to prove that you remained a permanent resident during this time—that is, that you did not intend to abandon your residence in the U.S.. If you were outside the U.S. for more than one year continuously, the continuity of residence has been disrupted, and you’ll need to reestablish it by living in the country continuously for four years and one day after your return. If you think that either of these situations applies to you, we recommend that you consult a qualified attorney or accredited representative before submitting your application.
Ability to speak, read, and write basic English.
Knowledge of the fundamentals of U.S. history and the structure and principles of the U.S. government.
Attachment to Constitutional Principles: Naturalization applicants must be willing to take a full Oath of Allegiance to the U.S..
Good moral character. Generally, this means that you must behave according to the social norms of American society. The absence of criminal and other misconduct is usually accepted as sufficient proof of good moral character. An applicant for naturalization with any criminal conviction may be placed in removal proceedings by USCIS.
- Are there any exceptions to the knowledge requirements?
There are some exceptions in residency and knowledge requirements:
Knowledge of English: Basic knowledge of the English language is waived for certain applicants—persons 50 years of age or older who have been permanent residents for at least 20 years, and persons 55 years of age or older who have been permanent residents for at least 15 years.
“Special Consideration” is given to applicants who are 65 or older and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years. Such applicants will need to answer specially designated simple questions about U.S. history and government through a translator.
Disability-Based Waivers: Applicants who are unable to demonstrate knowledge of the English language and/or U.S. history and government due to a permanent, medically determinable, physical or mental impairment may request a waiver of these educational requirements. USCIS form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, must be completed by a licensed physician or a clinical psychologist, experienced in diagnosing those with physical and mental impairments, and submitted with the N-400, Application for Naturalization.
- I would like to apply for citizenship, but I was convicted of a minor crime many years ago. Can I apply?
If you have an arrest or conviction on your record, you must consult an immigration attorney or an accredited representative from a non-profit agency recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals before applying for naturalization.
- What is the procedure for applying for naturalization?
You need to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization with the appropriate USCIS Service Center. With the form, a copy of the front and back of your green card, two photos taken to USCIS specifications, and the required fee must be included. Applicants over the age of 75 need to pay only the processing fee, and not the biometrics fee, which covers fingerprinting done at a USCIS Application Support Center. Applicants over 75 are not fingerprinted.
After all security checks are completed, the applicant will be interviewed by a USCIS officer, who will also test of the applicant’s knowledge of U.S. history and government and English.
If the applicant passes the interview, s/he will be instructed when and where he will take the Oath of Allegiance. Only after taking the Oath, will s/he become a U.S. citizen.
- I am unable to pay the required naturalization fees. What should I do?
If you are unable to pay the fee, you may apply for a fee waiver. You may use Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, especially designed to facilitate the process of determining the applicant’s eligibility for a fee waiver. You’ll need to document your income and expenses and prove your inability to pay.
- My father is suffering from the advanced Alzheimer’s disease, and won’t be able to take the Oath of Allegiance. Does this mean that he won’t be able to become a U.S. citizen?
In order to get a waiver of the oath, you will need to provide medical documentation that his condition is so severe that he is unable to do so AND a qualified person will act as his “surrogate” (representative). A court-appointed guardian or a close relative (a spouse, a parent, an adult child, an adult sibling) who is a U.S. citizen can act as a “surrogate.”
- What are the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen?
U.S. citizens can:
1. Vote in all elections to choose who will represent them at the federal, state, and local government levels;
2. Expand their employment opportunities since some government jobs are available only to U.S. citizens;
3. Bring close relatives to the U.S. as immigrants, and avoid long delays when bringing the closest of them (See Immigration Based on Family Relationship);
4. Have the protection and freedom of traveling abroad on a U.S. Passport.