Becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization is a difficult, lengthy process even under the best circumstances. You will need patience, lots of paperwork and a little studying. But it’s not impossible. Here is what to expect:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will become a big part of your life as you work toward becoming a citizen. All citizenship applications go through them.
The USCIS checklist to become a citizen includes:
- Must be 18 years of age or older
- Have been a lawful (Green Card) permanent resident for five years, or three years if you are filing as the spouse of a U.S. resident
- Be able to read, write and speak basic English
- Have knowledge of U.S. history and government
- Have continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S.
There are more requirements, like “demonstrate good moral character,” which is difficult to define exactly, but basically means you should not have much, or any, trouble with the law while you are a U.S. resident.
There is paperwork throughout the process, of course, but the most important of all is the N-400 application.
The test and interview
The U.S. Naturalization Test has two parts: The English language test and a U.S. civics test, which has questions on U.S. history and its government.
The naturalization interview is essentially a review and discussion of the questions on the N-400 application and additional questions about your background.
Part of this background discussion may include discussing past immigration violations or trouble with the law. If you have experienced either of these problems, it doesn’t mean you won’t be granted citizenship, but it will make the process more difficult and lengthier.
If you have been convicted of a felony while in the U.S., you will have to wait five years after the crime to apply for citizenship.
How long does everything take?
Each person is different, but the average processing time for a naturalization application is almost 15 months, though it can be as little as eight months or more than two years.
If you are trying to earn U.S. citizenship through naturalization, consulting an attorney before you start the process may save time and money.