Acquiring private citizenship in the United States is known as naturalization. To become a U.S. citizen, you have to meet certain eligibility requirements and provide necessary identification, then go through an interview and testing process. When all of these steps are completed and your application is approved, you are a private citizen of the United States.
Eligibility Requirements for Private Citizenship
To become a U.S. citizen, you must have had a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) for a minimum of five years. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you must have had a Green Card for at least three years. You must also be at least 18 years old, be able to read, write and speak basic English, and have good moral character. If you don't have a current, valid Green Card, you must apply for a new one and send a photocopy of the receipt of your Form I-90 (Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office as soon as you receive it.
Application Form N-400
If you satisfy all eligibility requirements, becoming a private citizen of the United States begins with the application form N-400, which you can print from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Alternatively, you can pick one up from your local citizenship and immigration office. The completed form application should be returned by mail or to your local office, together with a photocopy of both sides of your Green Card and a check or money order for the application fee and the biometric services fee. If you are applying for citizenship on the basis that you are married to a U.S. citizen, you must also send evidence that your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for the last three years (e.g., her birth certificate or Certificate of Citizenship), your current marriage certificate, proof of termination of any previous marriages, and paperwork in the names of both you and your spouse, such as a tax return or mortgage statement.
Biometrics Screening Appointment
Some applicants are required to have a biometrics appointment to confirm their identity. This involves taking your photograph, fingerprints and signature, and usually takes no more than 30 minutes. If you are required to have biometrics screening, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will send you an appointment notice after you submit your application stating the date, time and location to attend. Your fingerprints are sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a criminal background check.
U.S. Naturalization Test
The U.S. naturalization test consists of an interview and an English and civics test. You will receive a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with a time, date and location of your naturalization test (it normally takes place at your local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office). You must take your Permanent Resident Card or Alien Resident Card, passport, State Identification Card and any re-entry permits you have with you, as well as any other identification you have been asked to provide.
During the interview, you will be asked questions about your background and the information you provided on form N-400. The interview takes place under oath, so you must tell the truth. If you are discovered to have lied during the interview, you will be denied citizenship.
The English and civics test takes place at the same time as your interview and is designed to determine your ability to read, write and speak English. For example, you must read one sentence out of three sentences in a way to show the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer that you understand the meaning of the sentence. You are also asked 10 questions about U.S. history and government. You must answer six out of the 10 questions correctly to pass. You can obtain study materials for both tests, including all 100 civics questions, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. If you don't pass either test on your first attempt, you get another opportunity to take the section of the test that you failed. This will be scheduled within 60 to 90 days after the date of your initial interview.
If your citizenship application is granted, you will receive the decision in writing from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services the day you attend your interview.
Read More: Difference Between Certificate of Citizenship & Naturalization
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Apply for Citizenship
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: N-400, Application for Naturalization
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: The Naturalization Test
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: What Should I Expect From the Naturalization Process?
- A criminal record will affect your ability to become a citizen. There is a five year waiting period for some offenses while certain other crimes will prohibit you from citizenship altogether.
- If you are the child of a naturalized citizen or are married to a U.S. citizen, your application status will have more lenient requirements.
- Your fees are not refundable if you do not pass your exam or your application is not approved.
- There are organizations and websites that charge fees to do the paperwork for you. Be cautious if you choose this option. You can do the task yourself free of charge, though you will have to pay the required filing fees.
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.