US Naturalization Process Guide
US naturalization is the process by which eligible non-US nationals born outside the USA can apply to become a US citizen. The following guide provides an overview of the US naturalization process, and the steps you will need to take to become a citizen of the USA.
US naturalization eligibility criteria
In accordance with the first step of the naturalization process, prior to submitting an application you should first check whether or not you are already a US citizen. Generally, people are born US citizens if they are born in the United States or if they are born abroad to US citizens. You may also derive US citizenship as a minor following the naturalization of one or both parents.
There are various general eligibility criteria that must also be satisfied when applying for naturalization. These include the following:
- You must be at least 18 years old at the time of filing your application for naturalization.
- You must have continuously and physically lived in the United States as a green card holder for a certain number of years, although this can vary depending on your eligibility to become a US citizen. For spouses it’s 3 years, while for other categories it’s typically 5 years.
- You must have established residency in the state or US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district where you intend to apply, typically 3 months prior to the date of filing your application.
- You must be able to read, write and speak basic English.
- You must be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of US history and government, otherwise known as civics.
- You must be a person of good moral character.
- You must demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the US Constitution.
There are additional, specific criteria you must meet depending on the basis of your application for naturalization, for example, where you are applying as a spouse of a US citizen you must have been a lawful permanent resident, ie; a green card holder, for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of your application and have been living in marital union with your spouse throughout that time.
Applicants for naturalization will in most cases also have to demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage. They must also demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and principles, and form of government, of the United States. Together, these are known as the English and civics requirements.
US naturalization process
The US naturalization process can be summarised as follows:
- Determine if you are already a US citizen
- Determine your eligibility to become a US citizen
- Prepare Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
- Submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
- Go to the biometrics appointment, if applicable
- Complete the interview, including the English and civics requirements
- Receive a decision from USCIS on your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
- Receive a notice to take the oath of allegiance
- Take the oath of allegiance to the United States
- Understand your rights and responsibilities as a US citizen.
To make your application for US citizenship, you will first need to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, together with the relevant fee and documentation in support with USCIS.
You may need to attend a biometrics appointment to enrol your biometric information, ie; a scan of your fingerprints, a photograph of your face and a digital signature. You will also be invited for an interview where, unless you are exempt, you will be tested on your understanding of English, as well as your knowledge of US history and government.
The English test comprises of three parts: reading, writing and speaking. Your ability to speak and understand English will be determined by your interviewing officer based on your response to general questions asked during the course of your interview. You will also be required to read aloud 1 out of 3 sentences correctly to demonstrate an ability to read in English, and to write 1 out of 3 sentences correctly to demonstrate an ability to write in English.
You can still meet the English requirement even if you make some errors in pronunciation, spelling and grammar, or do not understand every word or phrase that you are questioned about.
Further, the USCIS should take into account your age, background and level of education when choosing subject matters, phrasing questions and evaluating your responses. This is known as “due consideration”.
In relation to the civics test, this comprises of 100 questions in total, although you will only be asked 10 of these during your naturalization interview. These questions will be put to you orally, and you must answer 6 out of the 10 to pass.
Exemptions from the English and civics requirements
You may be exempt from the English and/or civics requirements depending on your age and time spent in the US. The exemptions include the following:
- If you are age 50 or older and have resided in the US as a lawful permanent resident for at least 20 years at the time of filing your application you will be exempt from the English requirement, but will still need to take the civics test. You may, however, take this test in your language of choice using an interpreter.
- If you are aged 55 or older and have resided in the US as a lawful permanent resident for at least 15 years at the time of filing, you will again be exempt from the English requirement, but still required to take the civics test.
- If you are aged 65 or older and have resided in the US as a lawful permanent resident for at least 20 years at the time of filing, you will be exempt from the English requirement, and you will be given special consideration in respect of the civics test. As such, you will still be required to take the test but this will be based on a specially designated test form and in the language of your choice.
You may also be exempt from the English or civics requirement, or even both, because of physical or developmental disability or mental impairment that has lasted, or is expected to last, 12 months or more.
Where applicable, you must file Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions. Further, a licensed medical professional must certify on that form that your medical condition prevents you from meeting the English requirement, the civics requirement, or both.
In the event that you can satisfy these requirements for naturalization with reasonable accommodations provide, you will not be eligible for a waiver. Reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to, sign language interpreters, as well as extended time for testing and off-site testing.
Illiteracy alone is not a valid reason to seek an exception to the English and civics requirements. In addition, advanced age, in and of itself, is not a medically determinable physical or developmental disability or mental impairment.
Can I re-take the English and civics tests?
You will be given two opportunities to pass the English and civics tests per naturalization application. As such, if you fail first time round you will be re-interviewed to take the test again between 60 and 90 days from the date of your initial interview. However, on re-examination, you will only be retested on those areas that you previously failed.
If you fail after two attempts, your application for naturalization will be denied and you will be given what’s known as a “denial notice”. Further, any failure to appear at the re-examination for testing, unless officially excused, counts as a failed attempt to pass the tests.
Oath of allegiance
If you satisfy the English and civics requirements, together with the relevant eligibility criteria, you will be asked to sign the naturalization application to acknowledge your willingness and ability to take an oath of allegiance and to accept certain obligations of US citizenship.
You will be required to recite this oath at a public ceremony, either the same day or at a later date, at which stage you will officially become a US citizen and be given a certificate of naturalization.
Under certain circumstances, an applicant may qualify for a modification or waiver of the oath, for example, because of religious beliefs you are opposed to bearing arms in the armed forces. Here, the USCIS officer will draw a line through the designated modified portions of the oath and you will not be required to recite the deleted portions.
The US naturalization process is complex, requiring an understanding of the eligibility criteria and the steps to follow to progress your application in accordance with the rules.
NNU Immigration are specialist immigration attorneys helping individuals with all aspects of their US naturalization applications.
If you have a specific question on naturalization, please contact us for advice.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.