Review the USCIS Guide to Naturalization
The first step that I recommend to everyone is to go to the official USCIS website and review a publication called "Guide to Naturalization." This guide is full of helpful information about who qualifies to apply for Naturalization and about the steps involved in this process. Please carefully review the guide to make sure that you qualify for Naturalization before you actually prepare and file your application. Normally a person with a work-based Green Card must wait 5 years, while a person who is married to a US citize must wait 3 years. It is at this time that you should consider contacting a qualified immigration lawyer if there is anything in your background that may cause problems with Naturalization. This includes (but is not limited to) criminal history (charges, convictions or any other involvement in the criminal justice system) or any immigration/deportation issues, etc.. That lawyer can advise you of whether you should proceed with the Naturalization process
Preparation and filing of the Naturalization application
To start this step, please download and print Form N-400. This is the form that you will file with the USCIS in order to start the Naturalization process. The USCIS website provides instructions on how to complete and submit this form and the required attachments. It is important that you provide full and complete information in response to all of the questions on the form, since this is the information that the USCIS will use to determine whether you qualify. Failure to provide accurate information can lead to delays and other headaches. Once the application is complete/signed and you have attached the necessary fee and supporting documents, please send the package to the USCIS. I always recommend utilizing Federal Express or another overnight courier service so that you can track and verify the delivery of the application to the USCIS. Upon receipt of the application, the USCIS will create a case file and then issue a written filing receipt to you.
The next step in the process will be for the USCIS to schedule a Biometrics appointment for you. The USCIS will send you a written appointment notice via regular mail. The purpose of this appointment is so that the USCIS can collect an electronic photograph and fingerprints from you. The appointment only takes about 10 minutes, although it may take longer if many people are scheduled for the same time. There is no interview at this step. If you are unable to attend the scheduled Biometrics appointment, please follow the instructions on the appointment sheet regarding scheduling a new date.
Naturalization interview at the local USCIS office
Once initial processing has been completed, the USCIS will schedule a personal Naturalization interview for you at the local USCIS office in your area. The duration of this interview varies, depending on the officer and on the content of your application. During the interview, the officer will confirm the information that you provided in your application and may ask for some additional information or clarification. The officer will then administer a history/government test to you and will also test your ability to read and write simple English. There are some waivers of the English language requirement available. Assuming that you pass these tests, the officer will then approve the application and the USCIS will schedule you for a swearing-in ceremony.
Swearing In Ceremony
The conclusion of the Naturalization process is the official swearing-in ceremony. This is where you will take the oath of citizenship and receive your Naturalization Certificate. This is the day that you actually become a U.S. citizen. The ceremony is usually very moving, and various political figures (local and/or national) may attend and speak about citizenship. Upon becoming a US citizen, you may immediately apply for a US passport and to vote in upcoming elections.