U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization

U.S. citizenship can be acquired by any individual in two ways.

  1. When the individual is born in the United States or in a U.S. Territory or born to parents who are U.S. Citizens outside of U.S.
  2. Through naturalization process. This is the process through which individuals born outside the United States become U.S. citizens. 

Through the process of naturalization, an individual who is a permanent resident is granted citizenship by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

There is difference between Naturalization and acquisition of Citizenship. If an immigrant couple acquired U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process, their children do not have to go through the naturalization process if they are under 18 years of age. The parents can fill out a form to grant citizenship to their children. This is acquisition of citizenship.

To apply for naturalization the individual must meet the following certain requirements:

  • Must be at least 18 years old.
  • Must be a permanent resident of the United States and hold a permanent residency card.
  • Must have been a permanent resident for at least five (5) years (or if married to U.S. citizen for at least three (3) years).
  • The applicant must have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the required residency period. Specifically, he/she should have spent at least half of the last five (5) years [or three (3) years, if married to a U.S. citizen] physically in the U.S. preceding the submission of the application. Usually, lengthy trips abroad may disrupt this continuity.
  • Applicant must demonstrate good moral character during the required residency period. Criminal convictions, certain types of financial issues, immigration violations, and other factors can affect the eligibility determination.
  • The applicant must also demonstrate proficiency in English language, including speaking, reading, and writing. 
  • Additionally, the applicant must pass a civics test that assesses his/her knowledge of U.S. government and U.S. history. However, there are exceptions and accommodations for certain age and disability groups.
  • The requirements also include that the applicant must declare his/her willingness to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and be willing to bear arms on behalf of the United States if required. So, once the application is approved, the applicant will be required to take the Oath of Allegiance to become a U.S. citizen.

Application Process:

The first step is to complete and submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization with the USCIS. The application package will need to include the necessary supporting documents, such as copies of permanent residency (GC) card, photographs, etc. along with required fees.

Once the application is submitted the USCIS will issue a receipt notice immediately. USCIS will then schedule a biometrics appointment for fingerprints and photograph. This information is used by the USIS for background checks.

Interview and Tests:

The applicant will be invited for an interview with a USCIS officer. This interview will include a review of the application, a civics and English language test (unless exempt), and a discussion of the applicant background.

The interview itself will determine the applicant’s English-speaking ability. He/she must also read one out of three sentences correctly to pass. Also, the applicant must write one out of three sentences correctly. The writing topics are about U.S. history and civics.

The applicant will also be asked a series of questions during the civics test portion. Depending on when the application was filed, the applicant will either take the 2008 or 2020 version of the civics test.

    2008 Civics Test — The USCIS officer will ask a series of 10 questions and the applicant must correctly answer 6 of questions to pass.

    2020 Civics Test — The USCIS officer will ask a series of 20 questions and the applicant must correctly answer 12 of the questions to pass.

The 2020 version is the new standard.

N-400 Final Decision:

There are three decisions the applicant can receive from USCIS: They are as follows:

  1. Granted – The application is approved, and the applicant is eligible for U.S. Citizenship
  2. Continued – The applicant is eligible for citizenship but may need to send in additional documents or retake the English and civics tests.
  3. Denied – The application is denied if the applicant is found to be ineligible for citizenship.

Oath of Allegiance:

If the application is approved, the applicant will be scheduled to attend a naturalization ceremony, where he/she will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. The ceremony could either be a judicial ceremony through the court or an administrative survey through USCIS.

At the ceremony the applicant must fill out the questions on Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony and give it to a USCIS officer.

Naturalization Ceremony:

At the ceremony, the applicant must return his/her permanent residency (GC) card as he/she will not need it after the ceremony.

The applicant will become an official U.S. Citizen once he/she takes the Oath of Allegiance. He/she will then accept the Certificate of Naturalization.

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