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Understanding the US citizenship application process

Posted by attorney Ritu Goswamy

If you are a legal permanent resident of the United States (have a green card), you may apply to become a US citizen. This application process is called naturalization and has several steps. As long as you qualify and make sure to follow the steps, you can be on your way to US citizenship!

Advantages of becoming a US citizen

Even if you are a legal resident of the US, you will not have all of the same rights as a US citizen until you become naturalized. Some advantages of becoming a US citizen include the following:

  • The right to vote in US elections
  • The right to travel with a US passport
  • The right to help relatives immigrate to the US more quickly
  • The right to certain government jobs and benefits
  • The right not to be excluded or removed (deported) from the US.
  • The right to live in another country without losing the right to legally return to the US.

Basic requirements for naturalization:

In order to apply for naturalization, you must:

  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Be a legal permanent resident (green card holder) of the US.
  • Have the required residence and physical presence in the US.
  • Since you became a legal permanent resident, you must have resided in the US continuously for at least 5 years (3 years if you married a US citizen) immediately before the date of your US citizenship application, and you must have been physically present in the US for at least half of that time.
  • You must reside in the state or immigration district in which you apply for at least 3 months before your application date.
  • You must also reside in the US continuously from the date of your application until the time of admission to citizenship.

Continuous residence means that you may not have been out of the US for a single absence of more than 1 year during that time. If you were absent for more than 6 consecutive months, you must show that you did not abandon your residency during that period.

  • Be able to pass tests on the English language and US history and government. You may request an exemption of these requirements because of your age or if you have a qualifying physical or mental disability.
  • Take an oath to swear loyalty to the United States of America
  • Show you are a person of good moral character. You may not be eligible for naturalization if you have committed certain acts in the 5 years before your application. These acts include crimes involving moral turpitude (actions deemed contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals), drug offenses, gambling, prostitution, helping immigrants to enter the US illegally, polygamy, failure to pay child support, or giving false testimony in order to receive benefits under the immigration laws.

This is not a complete list. If you have committed or were convicted of any crimes, you may be at risk for deportation. Consult with an immigration attorney before applying for naturalization.

Applying for naturalization:

You may apply for naturalization by completing the Application for Naturalization (N-400) form and submitting it to the United States Citizenship and Naturalization Service (USCIS). Once you have completed your US citizenship application, you will need to do the following:

  1. Send the application, passport photographs, and other required documents, along with the fee, to the appropriate immigration office.
  2. Receive an appointment letter to get your fingerprints taken.
  3. Go to the fingerprinting location.
  4. Respond to any requests for more documentation from USCIS.
  5. Receive an appointment for an interview and bring any requested documents to the interview.
  6. At the interview, answer questions about your background and take English and civic tests.
  7. Receive a decision approving or denying your US citizenship application.

If your application for naturalization is approved, you will:

  1. Receive a ceremony date.
  2. At the ceremony, answer any further questions, turn in your permanent resident card, and take your oath.
  3. Receive your certificate of naturalization.

Additional resources:

United States Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS)


Guide to Naturalization

Civics and Citizenship Study Materials

Related Legal Guides:

Immigration Visa

Renewing Your Green Card

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