US Citizenship Application Guidance
Under US law it is possible for qualifying non-US nationals to apply for US citizenship where they meet the stringent eligibility criteria.
The process of naturalization requires an individual who does not automatically hold US citizenship through birth or as derived from their parent(s) to make an application to USCIS to be granted US nationality.
Before embarking on the US naturalization process, it helps to understand what USCIS will be looking for in your application.
US citizenship requirements
If you do not automatically hold US citizenship, you first need to be certain you are eligible to make an application to naturalize.
You will need to hold valid, lawful status in the US for a minimum period of time.
The most common path to citizenship is to hold a Green Card for a minimum of five years. Green Card holders married to US citizens require a lesser minimum of three years permanent residence status. Green Card holders in the military and their dependants also differ in the time period criteria. We can advise on your specific circumstances if you fall under these classifications.
The main criteria for US naturalization are:
- You have resided in the United States continuously for at least 5 years (less if you fall under an exemption). Note that absences of more than 180 days will generally to be held to break the continuity of residence.
- You meet the physical presence requirement. This means you have lived in the US for a minimum of 30 months out of the five years immediately preceding your application date. If you have spent more than half of your time outside the US, even if this is for short, frequent trips, you will be ineligible.
- You must pass the language and civics tests to demonstrate good knowledge of US history and government and the English language.
- You are of good character.
US citizenship application process
To apply, you will need to complete form N-400, ‘Application for Naturalization’ and pay the relevant filing fee.
Along with the form, you also will be required to collate and submit supporting documents. The specific documents to include will depend on the basis of your eligibility, for example, if your application is based on your marriage to a US citizen.
Once your application has been received, you may be asked to provide your Biometric information at an Application Support Centre.
Security checks will then be carried out ahead of you being requested to attend an eligibility interview.
During your naturalization interview, you will have t take the civics and languages tests, and you will be asked questions by a USCIS officer on the information you have provided in your N-400 application form to clarify your eligibility.
You will be under oath and required to answer truthfully and comprehensively.
You will need to bring a number of documents in original format with you to the eligibility interview. Exactly which documentation will be required will be determined by your circumstances and the detail in your application, but as a minimum you should bring:
- Your current passport and old passports
- Your birth certificate
- Where applicable, your marriage certificate, divorce, final adoption or naturalization certificates;
- Relevant court orders or decrees
The civics test will require you to answer at least 6 out of ten questions correctly to pass. You will be asked the questions in person by a USCIS officer at your naturalization interview.
The questions will be drawn at random from a list of 100. You can download all 100 civics questions in advance to prepare for the test. Ensure you are working to the most up to date version.
The USCIS website has a number of free to use resources and exercises for applicants to prepare and practise for the test.
English language test
You will be tested on reading, writing and speaking. Your English language ability will also be assessed during this interview, as you will need to be able to understand the questioning and respond clearly in English.
There are exceptions to the language test, and certain applicants can request to take the civics test in their preferred language.
If you fail the English and civics requirements, you have two attempts to retake the part(s) you failed during a new interview between 60 and 90 days from the date of your initial interview
How long does the citizenship application process take?
The naturalization process can take around 6 months to complete, provided all relevant documents have been submitted and you pass the required tests. Errors or omissions in your application could result in a delayed decision or worse, a refused application.
- Application approved
You passed the interview and civic and language tests, and your application is approved.
To complete your naturalization, you will have to take an Oath of Allegiance at a public ceremony.
Your Certificate of Naturalization will be issued as proof of citizenship at the oath ceremony. It will be important to retain this document for future purposes.
- Decision delayed
Following your interview, the USCIS officer may require further information before a decision is made on your application.
This could mean a further written request is sent to you for additional information to be provided.
Ensuring correct preparation of your original application can help to avoid this scenario, and any ensuing delay with the decision.
- Application denied
You will receive formal notification from USCIS if your application is denied, which should also detail the grounds for refusal.
Based on the reasons provided, you may choose to appeal the decision. You have only 30 days from the refusal notice to request a hearing, so it will be important to act quickly. Take advice to assess the merits of your challenge and help build your strategy and response to the decision.
Can children apply for US naturalization?
It is possible for children born outside of the US to a US citizen parent(s) to acquire US citizenship. It requires the US citizen parent(s) to apply to naturalize each child using Form N-600K.
The criteria are:
- at least one parent is a US citizen, either by birth or by naturalization;
- the child is and will remain under 18 until the naturalization process is completed;
- the citizen parent must have lived in the US for a total of five years, at least two of which were after age 14; OR the US citizen parent of the citizen parent (child’s grandparent) must have lived in the United States for a total of five years, two of which were after age 14;
- the child is not married;
- the child is residing outside of the US with the citizen parent; and
- the child is temporarily present in the US under a lawful admission, and remains in lawful status until the naturalization process is completed.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.