Citizenship Through Naturalization
Most people from all over the world want to start a new life in the United States and live the "American dream”. They commonly begin their lives in the U.S. by obtaining a Green Card in order to become a permanent legal resident. However, becoming a U.S. Citizen will grant you with many more privileges than a Green Card holder and it comes with many benefits.
Naturalization is the process to become a U.S. citizen if you were born outside of the United States after meeting the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
What is citizenship?
Citizenship is a unique bond that unites people around civic ideals and a belief in the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is a status granted to someone born to U.S. citizens, or at the end of a successful naturalization process. Deciding to become a U.S. citizen is one of the most important decisions an immigrant can make as it comes with many advantages but it also means taking on new responsibilities.
Citizenship by Naturalization
Naturalization is a legal process by which a foreign-born national can formally obtain citizenship in the United States. For foreign nationals, citizenship through naturalization is the most common route. To be eligible for U.S. citizenship and apply for naturalization, you must:
Be at least 18 years of age at the time you file the application;
Have been a lawful permanent resident for the past three or five years (depending on which naturalization category you are applying under);
Have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;
Be able to read, write, and speak basic English;
Demonstrate good moral character;
Demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government;
Demonstrate a loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution; and
Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
Who can apply for U.S. citizenship?
If you’re a green card holder with no special circumstances, you can apply for United States citizenship at least five years after obtaining your green card. You also must have physically lived in the U.S. for at least 30 months (two-and-a-half years) out of those five years.
If you’ve been married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years and lived with your spouse that entire time, you can apply to become a United States citizen at least three years after obtaining your green card. You also must have physically lived in the United States for at least 18 months (one-and-a-half years) out of those three years, and your spouse must have been a U.S. citizen for at least three years.
If you’re the widow or widower of a U.S. citizen who died while honorably serving in the U.S. military (and you were living with them at the time of their death), you can apply for U.S. citizenship at any time — as long as you’re a green card holder at the time of your citizenship interview. You need not have held a green card for a certain number of years or have physically lived in the United States for any number of months prior to applying.
If you’ve served in the U.S. military for at least one year during peacetime, you can apply while in active duty or within six months of separating honorably from the military. You need not have held a green card for a certain number of years or have physically lived in the United States for any number of months prior to applying to become a naturalized citizen.
If you’ve served in the U.S. military for less than one year during peacetime, you can apply for U.S. citizenship five years after obtaining your green card (honorable service within this five-year period can count toward that required time, as well). You also must have physically lived in the United States for at least 30 months (or two-and-a-half years) out of those five years.
If you’ve served in the U.S. military for at least one year during peacetime and are filing after six months of separating honorably from the military, you can apply to become a United States citizen five years after obtaining your green card (honorable service within this five-year period can count toward that required time, as well). You also must have physically lived in the United States for at least 30 months (two-and-a-half years) out of those five years.
If you’ve served in the U.S. military for any period during wartime, you can apply anytime and need not be a green card holder. You (or your military spouse) must only have been physically present in the United States (including U.S. territories) or aboard a U.S. vessel when you enlisted, re-enlisted, extended your service, or were inducted into the military. You need not have held a green card for a certain number of years (if you have one) or have physically lived in the United States for any number of months prior to applying for citizenship.
1. Determine if you’re already a Citizen
You do not need to file for citizenship if you are already a U.S. citizen or if you acquired citizenship from your parents.
2. Determine If You Are Eligible for U.S. Citizenship
Complete the Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet to determine if you meet the requirements for filing US citizenship.
3. Fill Out Your Form N-400
You must fill out Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. You can file online by creating a USCIS online account or file by mail. If you fill out the application on paper, make sure you file to the correct address that corresponds with the state you reside in.
4. You must submit documents with your Form N-400. Necessary evidence includes:
A copy of your permanent residency card
Two passport style photographs if you live outside of the U.S.
If you’re married, a copy of your marriage certificate
A copy of official military orders if your naturalization application is based on your service
Filling out form N-400 can be convoluted. Reach out to your naturalization attorney for assistance when filing for naturalization.
5. Submit and Pay
One of the most important steps in how to file for naturalization is submitting your N-400 to the USCIS and pay the filing form. Once the USCIS receives your submission, they will give you a receipt notice.
6. Biometrics Appointment
You will receive information from the USCIS regarding the date, time, and location of your biometrics appointment. Biometrics include a digital signing, photographs, and fingerprints.
7. Interview and US Citizenship Test
The USCIS will schedule an interview where an English test and a civics test will be administered. The interview itself will determine your English-speaking ability.
8. N-400 Final Decision
There are three options you can receive from USCIS about your N-400, Application for Naturalization:
Granted- You are approved and eligible for U.S. Citizenship
Continued - You are eligible for citizenship, but may need to send in additional documents or retake the English and civics tests
Denied-You may be denied if you are found to ineligible for citizenship
9. Oath of Allegiance Notice
After you are approved for citizenship, you are on your way to coming a naturalized citizen. You will receive a notice to take an Oath of Allegiance. The ceremony will either be a judicial ceremony through the court or an administrative survey through USCIS. You will need to fill out the questions on Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony to give to a USCIS officer at the ceremony.
10. Naturalization Ceremony
Once you are at the ceremony, you will return your permanent residency card; you will not need it after your ceremony. You will become an official U.S. Citizen once you take the Oath of Allegiance. You will then accept your Certificate of Naturalization.
Although there are many ways to become a U.S citizen, the process is always complex. This is why it is highly recommended that you seek the assistance of a professional immigration attorney. We provide individuals, families, and employers the legal representation they need to navigate the process of naturalization. For more information on how we can assist you, please visit our website at www.elizeelawfirm.com or email us at email@example.com.
Patricia Elizee is the managing partner of the Elizee Law Firm, an immigration law firm located at 1110 Brickell Avenue, Suite 315, Miami, Florida 33131. Phone 305-371-8846