How To Become A U.S. Citizen Through Naturalization

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
September 2, 2020

In this article, we discuss the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen and answer the following questions:


  • What is naturalization?
  • How do I know if I’m already a U.S. citizen?
  • What are the eligibility requirements for naturalization?
  • How do I start the naturalization process?
  • What happens after filing the naturalization application?


What Is Naturalization?


Naturalization is the process by which an individual becomes a U.S. citizen. Unless you are already a U.S. citizen, naturalization is the primary method for obtaining citizenship within the United States. However, before starting the naturalization process you must first meet a specific set of requirements, including being a lawful permanent resident (having your green card). Not everyone will be eligible, while some will already have their citizenship and not even be aware. 


How Do I Know If I’m Already A U.S. Citizen?


There are two ways an individual might naturally derive U.S. citizenship:


  1. Being born on U.S. soil, including a U.S. state, the District of Columbia, or certain U.S. territories outside of North America; or
  2. By gaining citizenship through a U.S. parent.


If you suspect that you are already a citizen, consult with an experienced immigration attorney before beginning the naturalization process. If it’s determined that you are U.S. citizen, you are considered legal even without documentation; although, it’s highly advised that you complete the application to obtain your proof of citizenship. Speaking to an immigration attorney can help you select the correct application for your situation.


What Are The Eligibility Requirements For Naturalization?


There are many requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen. While none are particularly ambiguous, if are unsure about any of the items listed below, it would be best to consult with an immigration attorney:


  • You must be a lawful permanent resident of the United States with a green card;
  • You must have lived in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for five years if unmarried to a U.S. citizen or three years if married to a U.S. citizen;
  • Must have not traveled outside the U.S. for more than 30 months total in the last five years and not more than a year continuously (this does not apply to those working for the government and other certain employment exemptions);
  • Must have lived in the district or state in which you are applying for the last three months;
  • Must be able to read, write and speak basic English, unless of a certain age and time living in the United States;
  • Must be able to demonstrate good moral character. This mostly refers to not having committed certain crimes while in the U.S. or abroad, including murder, fraud, and a handful of others;
  • Must be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the U.S. history and government;
  • Must support the Constitution of the United States; and
  • Must be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance


There are some subcategories dealing with military, marital, and age-related circumstances. If you are unsure about any of these when going through the questionnaire you should speak to an immigration attorney.


How Do I Start The Naturalization Process?


If you meet all the eligibility requirements, then you can file for naturalization. You should plan for the best time to apply, as you are required to reside continuously in the United States from the date you file to your admission as a U.S. citizen. If you leave the country for more than 6 months, your application will be in jeopardy unless you can present evidence that your leave of abscess was necessary. Leaving the country for longer than one year will automatically result in denial of citizenship unless the reason falls under the list of exemptions, the majority of which are military or government employment related.


Completing form N-400, the Application For Naturalization is the first official step in the naturalization process. Do not rush through the application, and be sure to double and triple check your work. It’s also wise to have your application reviewed by an immigration attorney. You’ll submit the application along with a copy of your Permanent Residence Card, two passport-sized photos, and any other evidence necessary to prove your eligibility to become a U.S. citizen.


What Happens After Filing The Naturalization Application?


Within ten to twenty days you should receive Form I-797C Receipt Notice from USCIS. This notice simply serves to acknowledge your application has been received and will be processed sometime soon. You will also receive an appointment notice indicating a date and time to have your biometrics taken at a USCIS office. Be sure to bring your appointment notice along. Missing and failing to reschedule your appointment can result in the delay or denial of your application.


You will have to complete a naturalization interview and citizenship test. If you fail the citizenship test, you can retake it within 60 to 90 days. Once you complete the naturalization interview and pass the citizenship you will receive a notice listing the date and time to take your Oath of Allegiance. Although this may seem like a formality, failure to complete this last step will result in the delay or denial of your citizenship. After taking your Oath of Allegiance, you will return your Permanent Residence Card and receive your Certificate of Naturalization. 


If you run into any issues during the process, such as failing the citizenship test or having your initial naturalization application denied, it is highly advised that you consult with an immigration attorney before moving forward. He or she can help you correct any mistake any avoid further delays or denials in the naturalization and citizenship process.


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