What is Naturalization?
Naturalization is the process through which an immigrant to the United States of America can become a U.S. citizen. Only certain immigrants are eligible: those who either have been green card holders (permanent residents) for 3–5 years or meet various military service requirements.
What is citizenship?
Citizenship is the status granted to someone born to U.S. citizens, or at the end of a successful naturalization process.
In this guide you will learn about:
- Naturalization Timeline
- Naturalization Cost
- Eligibility for Naturalization
- Naturalization Requirements
- The Naturalization Process
What is the current naturalization wait time?
The naturalization processing time, from the time you file your citizenship application to when you attend the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, is currently approximately 10 months, varies by different local USCIS offices.
How much does it cost to apply for naturalization?
The current government filing fee for naturalization applications is $725, including $640 for processing and $85 for biometrics services.
Eligibility for Naturalization
Who is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization?
Eligibility for naturalization generally depends on a number of factors:
- How long you’ve had your green card
- How long you’ve physically lived in the United States
- Whether you’ve served in the U.S. military (and if so, whether your service was during “peacetime” or “wartime”
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.
In addition to waiting three or five years after getting your green card (unless you’re applying based on qualifying military service), you must also satisfy the following requirements to proceed with the naturalization process to become a United States citizen:
- You must be at least 18 years old.
- You must not have taken any trips of six months or longer outside of the United States during the three- or five-year wait period.
- You must have been a resident of the state where you plan to apply for citizenship for at least three months.
- You must have “good moral character,” broadly defined as character that measures up to the standards of average citizens in your community. More specifically, however, it means you did not have certain types of crimes — such as murder, illegal gambling, or intentionally lying to the U.S. government in order to gain immigration benefits — on your record at any time before filing, and you did not lie during your naturalization interview. Whether an applicant meets this requirement is decided by the government on a case-by-case basis.
- You must pass a two-part naturalization test: the first is an English language test (covering reading, writing, and speaking skills) and the second a civics test (covering knowledge of U.S. history and government).
- You must be willing to serve in the U.S. military or perform civilian service for the United States if called upon to do so.
- You must register with the Selective Service System if you are male and have lived in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25.
Exceptions based on age and disability
*Applicants aged 65 and older are required to study only 20 of the 100 usual questions that most applicants must prepare for. The test administrator will ask 10 of the 20 questions, but the applicant will need to answer only six correctly to pass.
Exceptions Based on Disability
Applicants with a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment may be exempt from the English and civics test requirement above. They may apply for the exemption by filing Form N-648 (officially called the “Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions”), which is completed by a medical doctor.
The Naturalization Process
1: Application for Naturalization
The Law Office of Zhang will prepare, finalize and submit your application on your behalf.
2: Biometrics Appointment
Approximately 4 weeks after the case submission, you will receive the Biometrics Appointment Letter from your local USCIS field office. As with the family-based green card process, USCIS will take your fingerprints during naturalization in order to conduct a background check.
3: Citizenship Interview and Exam
The citizenship interview is usually scheduled around 14 months after filing your application. Exactly how long it will take to process your naturalization application, however, depends heavily on the USCIS field office handling your case, which is assigned to you based on your physical address.
During this interview, a USCIS officer will verify that all of the information on your naturalization application is correct. The interview usually takes place at the nearest USCIS office. If you are applying from abroad, you will attend the interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. If you are in active military duty, your interview may be held at a military facility.
The citizenship interview is also referred to as a citizenship “exam” because, at the same time, the USCIS officer will also give you a two-part naturalization test: The first component, an English language test, will evaluate your written and spoken English skills. The second, a civics test, will assess your knowledge of U.S. history and basic information about how the U.S. government works. You can study the civic test at any time during your application and USCIS provides study materials to help you prepare. You’ll also have two chances to take the tests per application: once during your interview and again at a later date to retake any portion that you didn’t pass the first time.
If you pass the interview and exam, the USCIS officer will approve your application at the end of the interview. In some cases, USCIS may ask you for additional documentation or schedule a second interview.
If you do not pass, USCIS will send you a denial letter explaining why, but you may appeal their decision within 30 days of receiving the letter or reapply.
4: Oath of Allegiance
Once your application is approved, you will attend an Oath of Allegiance ceremony. It’s very important that you complete this step. You are not a U.S. citizen until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance.
After your citizenship interview, you’ll receive a notice in the mail with the date, time, and location of the ceremony (usually a local courthouse or USCIS office). The time it takes to schedule the ceremony varies by state.
You’ll be asked to return your green card when you check in. Once the ceremony is over, you’ll receive a Certificate of Naturalization and begin your life as a U.S. citizen!
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