If you were born in the U.S., you are automatically a U.S. citizen. Some are eligible to acquire or derive citizenship from their U.S. citizen parents. Those who are not eligible, can apply for naturalization. The process to naturalize is meant for foreign nationals who seek to become citizens of the U.S. However, one must become a permanent resident first to apply for naturalization. The different ways to become a U.S. citizen are detailed below.
US Citizenship Through Naturalization
In most cases, to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you will first need to be a legal permanent resident of the U.S. If you are a legal permanent resident and if you have had your Green Card for the past five years, you may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. If you are a permanent resident who has acquired permanent residency in the U.S. through marriage, and you’ve been married to the same U.S. citizen for the last 3 years, you may also be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Residency requirements for Naturalization
Before you file an application for naturalization, make sure you meet the following requirements.
- You must have entered into the U.S. legally.
- You must have lived here for the past five years (or three years). For example, if you are applying for naturalization in September 2018, you must have lived in the U.S. as a legal resident since September 2013, or if you’re applying on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen in September 2018, you must have lived in the U.S. as a legal resident since September 2015.
- Within that five-year period, you must have lived here for at least thirty months. If you’re applying on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen, during the three-year period, you must have lived in the U.S. for at least 18 months.
- You must have lived in the American state in which you are applying for naturalization, for the past three months.
Apart from the above, you will also need to meet the following requirements.
- You must be at least 18 years old at the time of filing your application for naturalization.
- You must be able to demonstrate your proficiency of the English language.
- You must not have committed crimes that would prevent you from applying for citizenship. You must establish that you are a person of good moral character and that you have not broken any U.S. law.
If you meet the above requirements, you are likely able to start your application for U.S. citizenship.
File Your Naturalization Application
The USCIS requires Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, be submitted to apply for citizenship in the U.S. Just like the other immigration forms, you can complete this form by hand or print in black ink. However, you must read the form filing instructions before completing your form.
This form must accompany supporting documents that will help you to prove you are eligible for citizenship in the U.S. You can find the list of supporting documents that need to be submitted on the form instructions page.
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Form N-400 Filing Fee
Form filing fees are subject to change. As of July 2018, the current filing fee for Form N-400 is $640. Apart from the form filing fee, you will also need to pay the fee for your fingerprinting appointment, commonly known as the biometrics appointment. The fee for that service is $85. You can write a check or pay the fees with a money order. The fee should be payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”
Application Receipt Notice
If you have filed your application correctly with the USCIS, you will receive an application receipt notice. This notice is to show that your application has been accepted. Remember, it is not an approval notice. If your application has not been accepted by the USCIS because of the wrong fees or for some other reason, you will receive a notice of rejection. You can then make the necessary corrections and file the form again.
Though you may be able to file your application again, this will further delay your application. It is strongly recommended you read the form instructions and file the application properly with the USCIS.
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Once your application is accepted for processing, USCIS will schedule an appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC), which you will need to visit to submit your fingerprints, signature, and photograph. The notice you receive will have information on the location, date and time of your appointment.
If you are not able to attend the scheduled appointment, you can submit a request for the USCIS to reschedule it. Information collected at the ASC will be used to conduct background checks.
Read more about the citizenship biometrics appointment.
Naturalization Test and Interview
You can start preparing for your naturalization test whenever you want, as soon as you file your N-400 application, before you file. This is really up to you. The test is an important step in the citizenship process.
USCIS will send you a notice to attend the naturalization test and interview after your biometrics appointment. This is where you will take your naturalization test and have your interview with an immigration officer. The English and civics tests are the two parts of the naturalization test.
During the interview, you will be asked about your background and your application. You will need to speak to the interviewing USCIS officer in English. Prepare carefully for these tests. Failing in one of these tests or both the tests will further delay your application.
Some candidates are granted accommodations or waivers to the naturalization test due to their age or disability.
Read more about the Naturalization test and interview and the naturalization accommodations.
Swear the Oath
This is the final step in the naturalization process. If your interview is successful, you will receive Form 455, which will have information on the location, date and time of the oath ceremony. This form will have a set of questions that you will need to answer. Your answers will be reviewed by an immigration officer at the naturalization oath ceremony.
You will have to surrender your Green Card to a USCIS officer before you take the Oath of Allegiance. You will then be asked to take the oath. At the end of the ceremony, you will be granted a Certificate of Naturalization.
Citizenship Through Parents
Citizenship Through Acquisition
You will automatically become a U.S. citizen if you were born to U.S. citizens. This also applies to those who were born abroad to U.S. citizens. If both your parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth and were legally married to each other, you will automatically become a U.S. citizen. However, either your father or your mother should have lived in the U.S. before your birth. This way you can become a U.S. through acquisition.
You will be eligible to acquire citizenship if you were born on or after November 14, 1986, and if at least your father or mother was a U.S. citizen when you were born. In this case, your parents must have been legally married when you were born, and your U.S. citizen parent must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least a five year period before your birth.
You can also acquire citizenship from your parents if you were born before November 14, 1986, but after October 10, 1952. In this case, at least one of your parents must have been a U.S. citizen when you were born and they must have been married legally. Your U.S. citizen parent must have lived in the U.S for at least ten years before your birth.
Those who have gained U.S. citizenship from their parents are not required to apply for U.S. citizenship using Form N-400. Instead, you may be eligible to file the USCIS Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship for proof of your U.S. citizenship. However, you must read the form filing instructions carefully before filing the form.
Citizenship Through Derivation
The other way through which you can gain citizenship status through your parents is through derivation. If your father or mother becomes a naturalized citizen, you may automatically derive citizenship from them provided you are below 18 years of age. You also need to be a permanent resident. If you derive citizenship from your parents, you do not have to apply for naturalization separately.
If you were born abroad, you can automatically acquire citizenship, if you are a Green Card holder and if at least one of your parents is a U.S. citizen. Likewise, you must be residing in the U.S. with your U.S. citizen parent.
However, the above may not apply to everyone and it depends on the laws that existed at the time your parents naturalized. If you are doubtful, you can always consult with an immigration attorney who may be able to help you with your case.