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Becoming a Naturalized Citizen

If you have been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years or three years if married to a United States citizen, you can apply for naturalization. You will be interviewed by a USCIS officer and must pass an English and civics test.

Citizenship offers many benefits, including full access to federal programs like Medicare and Social Security. Learn more in our article on Becoming a Naturalized Citizen.

Qualifications

The application process requires thorough, accurate preparation and filing of Form N-400, along with supporting documentation. Applicants must also undergo a naturalization interview and pass an English language and civics test.

Applicants must demonstrate that they have “good moral character,” meaning that they do not have a history of criminal activity that would make them deportable. Generally, this means having no serious crimes on your record within three or five years of applying for citizenship and not having taken trips outside the United States longer than six months during that time period.

Applicants must be at least 18 and have continuously lived as a permanent resident with a green card for at least three or five years (honorable military service can count toward that requirement). Males between the ages of 18 and 25 must register for Selective Service, which is mandatory military service.

Form N-400

The Form N-400 is the main document you need to file if you want to become a naturalized citizen. It includes sections where you must answer questions about your past and provide supporting documents.

For example, there are questions about your criminal record. It’s important to note that traffic tickets and other minor violations typically won’t disqualify you from being a citizen, so it is wise to provide documentary evidence that shows this information.

There is also a section where you must attest to the truthfulness of your answers. This can be a difficult question to answer, which is why many applicants hire an immigration lawyer to help them with the process. You must provide a photo of yourself and pay a citizenship filing fee.

Petition for Naturalization

A naturalization certificate is issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after an officer approves Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and the applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance. The document contains a Department of Homeland Security seal and a statement that the person satisfied all the eligibility requirements for citizenship.

Applicants for citizenship must file an application, attend an interview with a USCIS officer and pass a basic English language test and civics exam that covers topics like United States history and the Constitution. They also must renounce allegiance to any other country.

Until 1906, immigrants filed their naturalization papers with courts at the local, county or state level. The information recorded in these naturalization documents varied widely from court to court. After 1906, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (later the INS) established standardized forms and sent copies to courts.

Oath of Allegiance

After passing your civics and English tests, USCIS invites you to a ceremony to swear the Oath of Allegiance and officially complete your naturalization process. Your ceremony will be held at a courthouse, convention center, or other facility that USCIS tells you about in your invitation.

You will stand and recite the Oath of Allegiance in front of an immigration officer or judge. The Oath states that you renounce your allegiance to any foreign state, nation, or sovereign and renounce any hereditary or noble titles you may have, as well as promise to support and defend the laws and Constitution of the United States against its enemies and provide military or civilian service for the country if asked to do so.

Applicants who can’t physically take the Oath of Allegiance can request an oath waiver from USCIS. The waiver allows an applicant’s legal guardian or surrogate to sign on his behalf.

Interview

After completing the naturalization application, USCIS will schedule an interview with you. A USCIS officer will ask you questions about your application and background, and you will take an English test, which consists of reading, writing, and speaking.

In addition to the English test, you will also be tested on your knowledge of U.S. civics and history. The USCIS website lists all possible civics questions for the test, so you can study ahead of time.

To become a naturalized citizen, you must pass a series of tests and have good moral character. Generally, this means that you did not commit certain crimes (such as murder or illegal gambling) in the three or five years before applying for citizenship and that you have not defrauded the government for immigration purposes.

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