Steps to Become an American Citizen

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Steps to Become an American Citizen

How to get U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process, step by step.

By Ilona Bray , J.D.


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Gaining U.S. citizenship can provide
many opportunities for a resident of the United States. Among these are access
to a U.S. passport, the right to vote in public elections, and protection from
deportation. However, becoming an American Citizen requires a few steps, from
establishing your eligibility to filing, fingerprinting, attending an
interview, passing tests of your knowledge of English and of U.S. civics, and
attending an oath ceremony.

Step
One: Find Out Whether You Are Eligible

The first question is whether you
have a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence). With very few exceptions,
you must obtain a green card before you become eligible to apply for citizenship.
So if you haven’t yet reached this point, learn about your eligibility by
reading ” Eligibility for a U.S. Green Card .”

As a lawful permanent resident, you
must meet additional requirements in order to be eligible for U.S. citizenship.
These concern the length of time you’ve spent in the U.S. as a green card
holder, your good moral character, your ability to pass a test in English, and
on U.S. history and government, and more. To check on whether you are eligible,
see ” Who is Eligible to Become a Naturalized U.S. Citizen? “

Step
Two: Overcome Barriers to Your Ineligibility

You may discover that you are not
eligible to become a citizen just now. Perhaps you can’t show good moral
character because you committed a minor crime (though not a major enough one to
make you deportable). Or perhaps you broke the continuity of your residence by
spending too long outside the United States. It may be that simply waiting
longer will make you eligible for citizenship, or you may need to take other
steps to make you eligible. Consult an immigration attorney for a full analysis.

See our article, ” On What Grounds Can I Be Denied U.S. Citizenship? “,
for common reasons your citizenship would be denied.

Step
Three: File USCIS Form N-400

Once you have established your
eligibility, you need to file some paperwork with U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services (USCIS). The N-400 is the form to get the process started.
As of 2017, it costs $640 to file the application for naturalization, plus an
$85 biometrics fee. You will need to attach a copy of your green card.

Once your application has been
accepted, you will be mailed a date for your fingerprinting and biometrics.

See our tips for filing the N-400 to find out what to
expect.

Step
Four: Get Fingerprinted

In order to process your
application, a background check will have to be performed. You will be given a
date and address to a local office where you will be fingerprinted. Your
fingerprints will be run through the FBI for a background check.

Step
Five: Attend a Citizenship Interview

After your fingerprinting, you
should receive an appointment date and address for an interview with a UCSIC
officer. During this interview, the officer will go through your N-400 and
confirm your answers to all the questions. The officer will also test your
knowledge of English and of U.S. civics. To help prepare, read ” Preparing for the Naturalization Interview .”

Step
Six: Attend the Oath Ceremony

If you are approved at (or soon
after) your interview, congratulations, but you are not a citizen quite yet.
You will be called in for a large public ceremony, at which you and others will
be given the oath, in which you swear loyalty to the United States. Then you
will be given a certificate of naturalization, showing that you are a U.S.
citizen.

Do
You Qualify?

You probably won’t need to hire a
lawyer to apply for U.S. citizenship, unless you have some troublesome items in
your background. If you’re ready to take on the task yourself, see Becoming a U.S. Citizen, A Guide to the Law, Exam &
Interview
, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).


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US Naturalization: Steps & Timeline

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Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

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In this lesson, we will examine the steps in the process of becoming a US citizen. You will learn a few details about each step and a rough timeline for the entire process of naturalization.

Step 1: Determining Eligibility

Becoming a US citizen could be one of the most important things you do in your entire life, so you’ll want to make sure that you do it right. In this lesson, we’re going to break down the naturalization process into five steps and explain in some detail what you need to do to increase your chances of success in your quest for citizenship.

Let’s begin. The first thing you need to do is determine whether you are eligible for citizenship. Take a few moments to answer the following questions:

1. Are you 18 years old or over?

2. Have you been a permanent resident of the US for at least 5 years?

3. Have you been physically present in the US for at least 30 months within those 5 years?

4. Have you lived in your current state or district for at least 3 months?

5. Are you willing to continue to live in the US during your whole naturalization process?

6. Can you speak, read, and write English?

7. Do you have a good moral character, and are you willing to support the US Constitution?

If you answered yes to all these questions, then you could certainly be eligible for naturalization and are ready to proceed to step 2

Step 2: Filling Out the N-400 Form

To start your official journey toward citizenship, you must fill out the N-400 form, which is the official naturalization application. You can find the form online or at your local USCIS office. This is a long form that asks you about yourself, your background, your family, your education, your employment, your residence in the US, your associations, your ethical beliefs and behavior, your desire to be a citizen, and your acceptance of the US Oath of Allegiance.

Be sure to read and follow the form’s instruction sheet, fill out the required sections, answer all the questions in as much detail as possible, double-check your work, and be totally honest. Then send the form to the USCIS with your application fee, two passport-type photographs, and a copy of your Permanent Resident Card.

Step 3: The Biometrics Appointment

In 2-3 weeks, the USCIS will send you a receipt, saying that it has received your N-400 form and giving you a case number that you can use to check the status of your case. A week or two later, you will receive an appointment notice for your biometrics appointment, which you must attend about 5-8 weeks after you file your N-400 form.

During your biometrics appointment, you will be fingerprinted and photographed. You will also have to sign a form to confirm your identity and authorize a background check. The appointment will only take between 15 and 30 minutes, but it is required for naturalization, so don’t miss it.

Step 4: The Naturalization Interview

About 3-5 months after you file your N-400 form, you will receive an appointment notice for your naturalization eligibility interview. The interview itself will take place about one month later. If the date you are assigned doesn’t work for you, be sure to write to the USCIS immediately to reschedule. If you fail to show up for your interview, the USCIS will administratively close your case, and the whole process will take longer to complete.

At your interview, a USCIS officer will review your N-400 form and ask you plenty of questions about it, so be sure to know your information well. The interview will also test your ability to speak and understand English, so you should practice those skills ahead of time.

Also at the interview, you will take tests in US civics, English reading, and English writing. In the civics test, you must answer correctly at least 6 questions about US history and government. For the reading test, you must read at least one English sentence, and for the writing test, you must write at least one English sentence. Study materials are available on the USCIS website, so be sure to prepare.

The USCIS officer will tell you at the end of your interview whether the USCIS will grant your application, continue it (to give you another try at the tests or time to gather more necessary documents), or deny it.

Step 5: The Oath of Allegiance

If your application for naturalization is granted, the USCIS will send you a notice in 1-4 weeks that will provide the date of your Naturalization Oath Ceremony. You will need to answer a few more questions about any changes that might have taken place since your interview and send the form back.

Your Oath Ceremony will occur about 5-8 months after you file your N-400 form. At this time, you will swear the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, renouncing past loyalties, promising to support and defend the Constitution, committing to serve your new country, and declaring that you do all this freely and without reservation.

After you take the Oath, you are officially a US citizen. The USCIS will take your Permanent Resident Card and replace it with a Certificate of Naturalization.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. The naturalization process to become a US citizen contains five major steps:

1. Determine your eligibility by answering seven important questions.

2. Fill out the N-400 form, which is the official naturalization application.

3. Attend a biometrics appointment, where you will be fingerprinted and photographed and sign a form to confirm your identity and authorize a background check.

4. Attend a naturalization eligibility interview and pass your civics, reading, and writing tests.

5. Take the Oath of Allegiance.

The entire process usually takes 5-8 months or more, but upon completion, if you are successful, you will be among the newest citizens of the United States of America.


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US Citizenship Study Guide

15 chapters |
140 lessons

Ch 1. The Naturalization Process

  • How to Become a US Citizen

  • US Citizenship: Process & Responsibilities

    4:19

  • How to Fill Out Form N-400

  • How to Communicate with USCIS

  • US Citizenship & Naturalization for Children

  • US Naturalization: Steps & Timeline

  • Next Lesson

    What to Expect During the US Naturalization Ceremony

  • Handling a US Citizenship Application Rejection

  • Finding Resources to Help with US Naturalization

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    The Naturalization Process

Ch 2. Naturalization…

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    Naturalization Requirements

Ch 3. Naturalization Tests &…

  • Go to

    Naturalization Tests & Interview

Ch 4. American Government…

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    American Government Principles

Ch 5. American Government…

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    American Government Systems

Ch 6. American Government Rights &…

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    American Government Rights & Duties

Ch 7. America’s Discovery, Colonization &…

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    America’s Discovery, Colonization & Revolution

Ch 8. American History in the…

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    American History in the 1800s

Ch 9. Forging the United…

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    Forging the United States

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    American History from 1900 to Present

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    Geography of the United States

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    American Symbols & Holidays

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    Reading in English

Ch 14. English Grammar &…

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    English Grammar & Writing

Ch 15. US Citizenship Test Information &…

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    US Citizenship Test Information & Prep

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