If you wondering how to become a US citizen, the first step is usually to file an application for naturalization by filing Form N-400. This is how you begin the process of converting your Green Card into a Certificate of Citizenship. However, there are many eligibility requirements you have to meet in order to qualify to begin the naturalization process.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the main options available to obtain US citizenship, the requirements, the application process, costs, wait times, the benefits of becoming an American citizen, and all the other important things you need to know.
Benefits of Holding US Citizenship:
Becoming a United States citizen is a significant milestone for immigrants who want to fully participate in American society and enjoy the rights and privileges that come with it. US citizenship offers numerous benefits, including the ability to vote in federal elections, run for public office, sponsor family members for immigration, and gain protection from deportation.
Indeed, becoming a US citizen comes with privileges, including many not available to Green Card holders, such as:
- Voting rights: US citizens have the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections. Voting is a fundamental way to participate in the democratic process and shape the country’s future.
- Eligibility for public office: US citizens can run for and hold public office at various levels of government, from local positions to the presidency. Citizenship opens the door to leadership opportunities.
- Sponsorship of relatives: US citizens can sponsor certain family members for immigration to the United States, including spouses, parents, children, and siblings. This can help reunite families.
- Protection from deportation: US citizens are not subject to deportation due to immigration violations. They have the security of knowing they cannot be removed from the country based on their immigration status.
- Access to federal benefits: Some federal benefits and programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, are available exclusively to US citizens.
Who is eligible to become a US citizen?
To become a naturalized citizen of the US, a foreign citizen must meet certain requirements, which are outlined in the section below.
General Eligibility Requirements for a US Citizenship Application:
Age: You must be at least 18 years old at the time of filing your application.
Permanent resident status: You must have been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least five years (or three years if married to a US citizen) before applying for citizenship.
Continuous residence: You must have continuously resided in the United States as a permanent resident (Green Card holder) for at least five years (or three years if married to a US citizen) immediately preceding the date of filing the application.
Physical presence: You must have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years (or 18 months out of three years if married to a US citizen) immediately preceding the date of filing the application.
Good moral character: Applicants must demonstrate good moral character during the required period of residence, which includes avoiding criminal convictions and demonstrating financial responsibility. Good moral character is broadly defined as character that measures up to the standards of average citizens.
Your criminal history will be scrutinized during the process. Anyone who has been convicted of a crime, such as immigration fraud, domestic violence, or drug abuse, will likely encounter problems with their application. Anyone who is in this situation should seek legal assistance regarding their criminal history before applying for naturalization.
Attachment to the constitution: There is also a civics test requirement. In this test, you must demonstrate an understanding of and attachment to the principles of the US Constitution and be willing to bear arms (serve in the US military) on behalf of the United States and perform civilian service if required by law.
Ability to read, write, and speak basic English: Most applicants must demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking English by completing an English language test. Some exceptions are available based on age and length of residence.
For both of these tests, there are certain exemptions and accommodations. To apply for these exemptions or accommodations because of physical or developmental disability or mental impairment, applicants should file Form N-648 (“the Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions”).
Knowledge of US government and history: Applicants must pass a civics test to demonstrate knowledge of US government and history.
Eligibility based on marriage to a US citizen:
If you are married to a US citizen, you may be eligible for expedited naturalization. In this case:
- You must have been a lawful permanent resident for at least three years.
- You must have been living in a marital union with your US citizen spouse for at least three years.
- Your spouse must have been a US citizen for the entire three-year period.
Eligibility based on military service:
US military service members and veterans may be eligible for expedited naturalization. The requirements vary depending on whether service is during peacetime or wartime:
Peacetime Military Service Individuals:
- Generally, you must have served honorably in the US armed forces for at least one year.
- You must be a lawful permanent resident at the time of your naturalization interview.
Wartime Military Service Individuals:
- There is no specific length of service requirement during periods of hostilities.
- You must have been a lawful permanent resident at the time of your enlistment or induction into the US armed forces.
Exceptions Based on Disability: Certain applicants with disabilities may be eligible for exceptions to the English and civics requirements.
Automatic Citizenship for Children: Children born to US citizen parents (including adoptive parents) outside the United States may automatically acquire US citizenship. Specific rules apply, and the child must meet certain conditions.
US Citizenship Through Employment:
Citizenship through employment, also known as employment-based naturalization, is a less common but viable path to becoming a US citizen. This route is generally available to foreign nationals who have worked in the United States under specific employment-based visas, such as H-1B for skilled workers or L-1 for intracompany transferees. Here’s how the process typically works:
Eligibility: To be eligible for citizenship through employment, you must have maintained a lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (a Green Card holder) in the United States for a specified period. The length of this period can vary depending on the specific employment-based visa category.
Continuous residence: During your Green Card tenure, you are required to maintain continuous residence in the United States. This means you should not spend extended periods outside the country while you are a Green Card holder.
Physical presence: Like other naturalization pathways, you must meet presence requirements, which entail residing in the US for a specific duration within the qualifying period.
Good moral character: As with all naturalization applicants, you must demonstrate good moral character throughout your period of permanent residence in the United States.
English language proficiency and civics knowledge: You are also subject to the English language and civics requirements, including passing the naturalization exam, which evaluates your knowledge of US government, history, and language skills.
Employment-based criteria: Specific employment-based categories may have their own unique criteria and requirements. For instance, some visa holders may need to work for the same employer for a specified number of years before being eligible for naturalization.
Permanent employment: You should have the intention to remain employed permanently in the United States. Naturalization under this category is often seen as the final step in integrating into American society for individuals who have pursued their careers and established themselves in the country.
Timing: It’s essential to carefully plan your naturalization application to ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria and timeframes associated with your employment-based visa.
US Citizenship Through Investment (EB-5 Program):
In addition to employment-based naturalization, the United States also offers a path to citizenship through investment, known as the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. This program provides a means for foreign investors and their immediate family members to obtain US citizenship by making a qualifying investment in a new commercial enterprise that creates jobs in the United States. Here are the key elements of the EB-5 Program:
Investment requirements: To be eligible for the EB-5 Program, foreign nationals must invest a specific amount of capital in a new commercial enterprise. The minimum investment amount varies depending on whether the investment is made in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA), which generally requires a lower investment, or a non-TEA.
Job creation: The investment must lead to the creation of at least ten full-time jobs for qualifying US workers within two years of the investor’s admission to the United States as a conditional permanent resident.
Conditional permanent residency: Initially, successful EB-5 applicants and their immediate family members (spouse and unmarried children under 21) are granted conditional permanent residency, which is valid for two years.
I-829 Petition: Within the 90-day period immediately before the two-year anniversary of obtaining conditional permanent residency, the investor must file Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions, to demonstrate that the required jobs have been created and that the investment capital remains at risk.
Permanent residency: Once USCIS approves the I-829 petition, the investor and their family members become lawful permanent residents of the United States with full rights and privileges.
Naturalization: After holding permanent residency (a Green Card) for at least five years (including the two-year conditional period), EB-5 investors and their family members may be eligible to apply for US citizenship through the naturalization process, provided they meet all the standard naturalization requirements, including good moral character, physical presence, and English language proficiency.
The EB-5 Program provides an opportunity for investors and their families to not only secure permanent residency but also eventually obtain US citizenship by contributing to job creation and economic growth in the United States through their investments. It is a pathway that appeals to those seeking both immigration benefits and long-term business opportunities in the United States.
Application for Naturalization Process
Naturalization enables a Green Card holder to apply for citizenship and become a United States citizen. This is available to people who have been lawful permanent residents for three to five years as well as those who meet various military service requirements. Those who apply for naturalization based on a period or type of military service do not need to meet the continuous presence requirement.
Submit an application:
Should you meet the requirements for naturalization, you can apply by submitting Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and paying a filing fee to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is the organization responsible for citizenship and naturalization services. You can fill out a physical form and mail it or create an online account with USCIS and file online.
In your application, you need to include your Green Card, two passport photos, and a copy of your marriage certificate or divorce decree (if applicable).
Attend a biometrics appointment:
If you are under 75 years old, you’ll need to attend an appointment to gather your biometric data. At the appointment, USCIS will take a fingerprint scan, a photograph, and your signature. You must bring a valid form of ID, such as your passport, driver’s license, state-issued photo ID card, or military photo identification.
The next step is to attend a USCIS interview. You will need to bring your passport, marriage certificate (if applicable), tax returns for the past five years, and evidence of your continued residence in the US. In the interview, a USCIS officer will ask you about your application, your character, your background, and your travel and immigration history.
Following the interview, you’ll have an English test. You’ll be tested on your ability to read, write, and speak basic English.
Then, you will have a civics test; you must answer six out of ten questions on US history and government correctly to pass the test.
Oath of Allegiance ceremony:
A few weeks after your naturalization interview, you can expect to receive a notification to participate in your Oath of Allegiance ceremony, which is usually held at a local courthouse or USCIS office. This ceremony is an important step in the process; you’ll pledge to uphold the US Constitution and US laws.
How much does It cost to apply for naturalization?
The cost to apply for naturalization is $725, which includes a $640 application fee and an $85 fee for biometrics, which are used to perform a criminal background check. There are some exemptions for the biometrics fee; for details, see the USCIS website.
How long does it take to become a US citizen?
In general, the processing time for a naturalization application is about 10 months. However, the timeframe for an application to be processed can vary by several months depending on various factors, including the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office’s caseload, the applicant’s location, and other individual circumstances. USCIS provides processing time estimates on its website, but these times are subject to change and may not always reflect the current situation. Applicants are encouraged to check the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website for the most up-to-date information on processing times.
As the process of becoming US citizen through naturalization begins when you file the N-400 form to apply for citizenship and ends when you take the Oath of Allegiance, the entire process can take longer, up to about two years.
Global Citizen Solutions is a boutique migration consultancy firm with years of experience delivering bespoke residence and citizenship by investment solutions for international families. With offices worldwide and an experienced, hands-on team, we have helped hundreds of clients worldwide acquire citizenship, residence visas, or homes while diversifying their portfolios with robust investments. We guide you from start to finish, taking you beyond your citizenship or residency by investment application.
How Can Global Citizen Solutions Help You?
Global Citizen Solutions is a boutique migration consultancy firm with years of experience delivering bespoke residence and citizenship by investment solutions for international families. With offices worldwide and an experienced, hands-on team, we have helped hundreds of clients worldwide acquire citizenship, residence visas, or homes while diversifying their portfolios with robust investments.
We guide you from start to finish, taking you beyond your citizenship or residency by investment application.
Frequently Asked Questions about How to Get US Citizenship
Do I need an immigration lawyer for a naturalization application?
Because becoming a naturalized citizen can be complex and arduous, it is advisable to consult with an immigration lawyer to help you avoid common pitfalls in an application, but it is not mandatory to do so.
How many times can I apply to get US citizenship?
There is no restriction on the number of times you can apply for US citizenship, but you would need to pay the filing fee each time you submit an N-400 form.
What documents should I bring to the naturalization interview?
You should bring proof of identity, documentation of your legal status, and verification of the information you have provided in your application.
How much does it cost to become a US citizen?
The cost for applying for US citizenship is $725, which comprises $640 for processing the application and $85 for biometric services. These fees are not refundable, irrespective of whether the US government approves or denies the application.
Does the US allow dual citizenship?
The US allows dual citizenship by default, and the Oath of Allegiance doesn’t address it explicitly.
A US Supreme Court opinion affirms that one can have rights in two countries and be subject to their responsibilities.
However, many countries do not recognize dual citizenship (or multiple citizenships), and some may automatically revoke your citizenship upon becoming a US citizen. It’s crucial to know your country of origin’s rules before pursuing US citizenship.
How can an immigration lawyer help me with a US citizenship application?
An immigration lawyer can assist you with your application by providing legal expertise, ensuring your application is complete and accurate, and helping you navigate the complex immigration laws and requirements.
They can help you gather necessary documentation, represent you in legal proceedings, address any issues that may arise during the process, and increase your chances of a successful application.
Can you apply for US citizenship if you have a Green Card?
Yes, having a Green Card is a prerequisite for applying for US citizenship. To become a US citizen, you generally need to have held a Green Card for at least five years (or three years if married to an American citizen), meet residency and other requirements, and follow the naturalization process.
Can I maintain my Green Card while applying for US citizenship?
Yes, you can maintain your Green Card during the US citizenship application process. It’s important to ensure you meet the required residency and presence criteria to both maintain your Green Card status and pursue citizenship simultaneously.
How long does it take to become a US citizen?
Naturalization takes approximately 18 to 24 months following the three-to-five-year period of being a Green Card holder, but the timeline may vary.
How much does it cost to become a US citizen?
The naturalization application fee amounts to $725, comprising two charges: a $640 filing fee for the mandatory application form, and an $85 fee for the biometrics appointment.
How hard is it to become a US citizen?
Becoming a US citizen can be a challenging process, but the difficulty varies depending on individual circumstances. Generally, it involves meeting residency and physical presence requirements, passing an English and civics test, demonstrating good moral character, and completing paperwork.
While it can be demanding, many successfully navigate the process with proper preparation, legal assistance, and dedication to meeting the requirements.
How can I become a US citizen from Canada?
To become a US citizen from Canada, you typically need to be a permanent resident (Green Card holder) for at least five years, demonstrate good moral character, pass English and civics tests, and submit the application for naturalization. Spouses of US citizens may qualify sooner.