How to apply for citizenship

Applying for U.S. citizenship can happen a few different ways. The key to applying for citizenship is ensuring that you are eligible before you begin Form N-400 Application for Naturalization.

The citizenship application is the longest the USCIS offers and rightfully so. U.S. citizenship is a privilege only awarded to those who are able to demonstrate they belong in the United States.

During 2017, the USCIS approved more than 770,000 U.S. citizenship applications.

Becoming a U.S. citizen can be difficult and time-consuming but well worth it.

You can apply for citizenship after birth if you meet a few requirements. One way is to apply for citizenship through parents.

Citizenship through parents

In order to apply for citizenship through your parents, one of both parents must be a U.S. citizen already. The requirements are different for citizenship applicants who have two U.S. citizen parents versus one U.S. citizen parent.

The requirements are also different if your mother is a U.S. citizen versus if your father is a U.S. citizen.

To acquire citizenship through your parents you will have to prove with concrete evidence they are indeed your biological parents.

Citizenship through naturalization

Applying for citizenship through naturalization is done after holding a green card for a number of years depending on your situation.

If you got a conditional green card valid for two years that you acquired through marriage you can apply for naturalization after three years.

If you received a green card valid for ten years, you can complete your citizenship application after five years of holding a green card.

Other requirements include:

  • Proving you have been physically present in the United States for at least half the time is required for you to apply for citizenship. That means conditional residents must prove they’ve been physically present for one and a half years while more traditional green card holders must prove physical presence for two and a half years.
  • You must also have lived within the state or USCIS district that will be handling your application for at least three months.
  • Being 18 years old or older.
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge of U.S. civics.
  • Be a person of good moral character.

Applying for naturalization

Once you have met the requirements for citizenship you can complete the U.S. citizenship application. The questions on the citizenship application range from biographical information to historical information about your family and information about trips you’ve taken outside the United States.

Depending on the answers you give you will have to provide evidence that your answers are truthful. The USCIS calls this proof “supporting evidence”. Here’s an example. If you want to prove you are a legal permanent resident you would submit a photocopy of your valid green card both front and back.

Once you’ve applied for U.S. citizenship you will mail the application to the USCIS and wait for a response to your case.

The processing time can be lengthy, sometimes up to a year.

If your application is accepted you will go through a background check that includes a biometrics appointment and you’ll also be required to do an interview with an immigration officer.

You will take the English test and U.S. civics test during the interview.

If your U.S. citizenship application is successful you will become a naturalized citizen after swearing the oath of allegiance.

What are the Requirements?

Legal Status: Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder)

Noncitizen recruits must be lawful permanent residents while they’re applying for naturalization. Any other immigration status is currently not allowed to enlist.

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Candidate’s Moral Character: Good Moral Standing

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) look at two main components to determine a candidate’s moral character.

First, his or her criminal record.

When filling out the application for naturalization: Form N-400, the candidate should report all crimes committed, including those that occurred before his or her 18th birthday and/or those that have been removed from record.

Second, they look at the candidate’s honesty during their interview with the officer who oversees the candidate’s naturalization process.

USCIS has the rights to conduct further background checks. If they find inconsistency between the candidate’s response during the interview and the background check, they have the right to reject the application.

Language: English Proficiency

All naturalization candidates should have the ability to communicate in English both in writing and speaking. The law requires them to demonstrate their language proficiency in simple phrases for ordinary usage.

American History, Law, & Government: Civics Test

Candidates should also acquire knowledge and understanding of basic American history, common principles of law, and forms of government.

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Qualifications

To determine whether you are qualified for U.S. citizenship, you must meet certain qualifications.  Those qualifications are:

  • You have been a permanent resident in the U.S. for the last 5 years, or
  • You are the spouse of a U.S. citizen and have been a permanent resident in the U.S. for the last 3 years, or
  • You have qualifying service in the U.S. military, or
  • You are a child of a U.S. citizen and were born outside of the U.S., and currently reside outside the U.S.

Requirements

Once you have determined that you are qualified to apply for U.S. citizenship, the next step is to ensure that you meet the necessary requirements to apply for U.S. citizenship.  Those requirements are:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age
  • You must be a lawful permanent resident
  • You must be a resident and have been physically present in the U.S. for 30 months of the last 5 years
  • You must have lived at your current address for the last 3 months
  • You must have good moral character
  • You must read, write and speak basic English
  • You support the principles and ideas of the U.S. Constitution
  • You must have a basic understanding of U.S. history and civics

Decision

The USCIS will send you a written notice of the decision.  There are 3 possible outcomes:

  • Granted: The USCIS may approve your application if you submitted sufficient evidence of your eligibility of U.S. citizenship
  • Continued:  The USCIS may continue your application process if you need to provide additional documentation; have failed to provide sufficient documents to prove your eligibility; or fail the English/civics test the first time
  • Denied:  The USCIS may deny your application if you have failed to prove your eligibility for U.S. citizenship
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