Becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States is about more than just legal status — – it’s a pathway to opportunities. In addition to protection from deportation, you gain the right to vote in important elections, such as the upcoming presidential election, and have broader access to government benefits. With citizenship, you can run for elected office at the local, state, and federal levels along with being eligible for government jobs. You will also have priority status for sponsoring relatives for immigration, which may expedite the process of bringing loved ones to the United States.
If you have been thinking about becoming a citizen, now is a good time to begin the process. While the number of people who are naturalized varies from year to year, in 2020, despite the challenges of the pandemic, 231,000 individuals were naturalized just from April to September, according to USCIS data.
Here are some commonly asked questions about the naturalization process to help you get started.
Am I eligible?
Eligibility for naturalization typically begins after you have been a permanent resident for at least five years. The waiting period is reduced to three years if you have been married and living with your spouse during that time through whom you received resident alien status.
The eligibility for refugees, asylum seekers, and those in the military are slightly different.
What are the requirements?
To be eligible, you generally need to meet the requirements of being a permanent resident of the U.S. for a certain time.
You also have to demonstrate good moral character, be able to speak, read, and write basic English, and have a basic understanding of U.S. government and history.
What is the process?
The first step is to complete and submit Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization. Once it is submitted, USCIS will process the application, which can take several months. You may be asked for additional documentation during this time.
While the application is pending, you will have a biometrics appointment during which your fingerprints and photo will be taken. Finally, you will be scheduled for the naturalization interview. This will include a test on U.S. Government and history in addition to the ability to read and speak English.
What happens if I don’t pass the first time?
If you don’t pass the test on the first attempt, you will get a second chance to take the portions that you failed. Note that failing does not necessarily lead to denial of your application.
Is there a waiver if I’m unable to pass the test?
There is no specific waiver, however USCIS may provide accommodations for individuals with disabilities or certain medical conditions.
What questions are asked during the interview?
The questions vary but will include things such as whether you can read a sentence or answer a question in English.
You may also be asked about who is the President of the United States, how many U.S. Senators are there, and who wrote the Declaration of Independence. These types of questions are used to assess your civics knowledge.
You can also expect questions about whether you have been arrested or convicted of a crime, ever failed to file your taxes, or lied to a government official.
What is the filing fee?
The filing fee for Form N-400 is $640, but it will increase to $885 on April 1, 2024. There is also a biometric services fee of $85 that covers the cost of collecting your fingerprints and photographs.
USCIS offers waivers for certain individuals with financial hardships.
How long does the naturalization process take?
The timeline can vary, but it generally takes several months. The USCIS workload and individual case complexities contribute to the overall time.
Can I travel during the naturalization process?
Yes, you can travel while your application is being processed. However, it is essential for you to meet the continuous residence and physical presence requirements. An extended trip abroad could affect your eligibility, so you may want to consult with an immigration attorney before planning a long stay out of the US.
What happens after I pass the naturalization test?
Once you pass the test and your application is approved, you’ll attend a ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance. The oath signifies your commitment to the United States and officially grants you citizenship.
You’ll receive a naturalization certificate during the oath ceremony. Then, it’s time to celebrate with friends and family! You will also be eligible to apply for a U.S. Passport.