The Basics of Naturalization

Naturalization is the legal process through which a foreign citizen or national can become a U.S. citizen. In order to be naturalized, an applicant must first meet certain criteria to apply for citizenship. Then, the applicant must complete an application, attend an interview, and pass an English and a civics test. Upon successful completion of these steps, the applicant takes an oath of allegiance, and becomes a citizen.

These legal requirements help the immigration service ensure that only those people who are sincere in their desire to become U.S. citizens become naturalized. Below you'll find a more detailed look at the basics of naturalization, including eligibility for naturalization and the steps involved in the application process.

Eligibility for Naturalization

Before you can apply for naturalization in the United States, you'll need to meet certain eligibility requirements. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states that applicants for naturalization must be:

  • At least eighteen years old.
  • A lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least five years before applying for naturalization.
  • Physically present in the United States for at least five years at the time of application.
  • Able to understand and speak English.
  • Of good moral character.

The residency requirement has some exceptions for time outside the country that your attorney can explain in detail. USCIS also provides a Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet that helps potential applicants determine if they're able to apply. Your most important resource is an experienced immigration attorney, who can prepare your application and coach you through the test and interview preparation.

If you meet these requirements, you may apply for naturalization. The government provides a range of publications to explain the naturalization process in detail. A useful starting point to learn more about the basics of naturalization is A Guide to Naturalization, available through USCIS.

Completing Your Application

It's important to complete your naturalization application accurately and completely. For the part of the process, you must:

  • Complete Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
  • Get two photographs of yourself that meet immigration service requirements (pose, size, lighting, etc.).
  • Collect the necessary documents.
  • Send your application, documents, and filing fees to the appropriate Service Center.

It's important to remember that once you file your application, you're expected to reside continuously in the U.S. from the date of the application to the time of naturalization.

Getting Fingerprinted

As part of the naturalization application, you'll need to be fingerprinted. For this step of the process, you will:

  • Receive an appointment letter from USCIS.
  • Go to the fingerprint location and get your fingerprints taken.
  • Mail additional documents, if requested.

This security step ensures that no fraud is perpetrated on USCIS.

Being Interviewed and Tested

The next step is the big one: the interview and tests. You will:

  • Receive an appointment for your interview.
  • Go to your local office at the specified time.
  • Bring identification.
  • Answer questions about your application and your background.
  • Take the English and civics tests.

Once you've completed the interview and tests, you should receive a decision about your application for naturalization.

Taking the Oath of Allegiance

If you're successful during your interview and test, you can take the final step: the oath of allegiance. For this step of the naturalization process, you will:

  • Receive a ceremony date.
  • Check in at the ceremony.
  • Return your Permanent Resident Card.
  • Answer questions about what you've been doing since your interview.
  • Take the oath of allegiance.

More Questions About the Basics of Naturalization in Your Case? Get Legal Help Today

Successfully naturalizing in the United States requires a thorough understanding of the steps involved, and careful preparation at each stage. If you're considering becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization, you should contact an experienced immigration attorney who can guide you through each step of the process and help you file all the necessary paperwork.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with the citizenship process.