Want to apply for U.S. Citizenship? In this guide we discuss eligibility requirements, filing fees, Form N-400 and how long does it take to become a U.S. citizen.

Every year, over half a million foreign-born individuals seek to become citizens of the United States.

The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is called naturalization.

Over 90% of foreign-born U.S. citizens were naturalized through their permanent resident (green card) status, by marrying a U.S. citizen, or serving in the military.

This article discusses who is eligible and the naturalization process through Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

Who’s Eligible to Apply for Citizenship?

Every person applying to become a naturalized citizen of the United States must:

  • Have good moral character;
  • Know basic knowledge of English and civics; and
  • Express an attachment to the Constitution (take an oath of allegiance).

Otherwise, depending on the grounds upon which your N-400 application is based, you must meet the following criteria:

 

 

Permanent Resident

As a lawful permanent resident, you may apply for naturalization if:

  • You are at least 18 years old;
  • You have maintained lawful permanent resident (green card) status for at least five years;
  • You have no special circumstances that would deny your application;
  • You have not traveled outside the U.S. for trips of six months or longer in the past five years;
  • You have maintained a physical presence in the U.S. for at least 30 months in the past five years; and
  • You have maintained a residence in the State or USCIS district for at least three months before your application.

Married to U.S. Citizen

If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you may apply for naturalization if:

  • You are at least 18 years old;
  • You are married to and living with the same U.S. citizen for at least three years;
  • Your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for at least three years;
  • You have maintained lawful permanent resident (green card) status for at least three years;
  • You have no special circumstances that would deny your application;
  • You have not traveled outside the United States for trips of six months or longer in the past three years;
  • You have maintained a physical presence in the U.S. for at least 18 months in the past three years; and
  • You have maintained a residence in the State or USCIS district for at least three months before submitting your application.

Military Service – More Than One Year

If you are in the U.S. military, you may apply for naturalization if:

  • You are at least 18 years old;
  • You are in the U.S. Armed Forces and served for at least one year (or will file your application within six months of an honorable discharge); and
  • You will be a permanent resident at the time of your interview.

Military Service – Less Than One Year or More Than Six Months From Discharge

If you were in the U.S. military, you may apply for naturalization if:

  • You are at least 18 years old;
  • You were in the U.S. Armed Forces for less than one year or were discharged more than six months ago;
  • You have maintained lawful permanent resident (green card) status for at least five years;
  • You have not traveled outside the United States for trips of six months or longer in the past five years (military travel is not counted);
  • You have not traveled outside the United States for trips of six months or longer in the past five years (military travel is not counted); and
  • You have maintained a residence in the State or USCIS district for at least three months before your application.

Grounds for Denying Citizenship

While the above-listed criteria are necessary to apply for U.S. citizenship, there are also several grounds that will cause your application to be denied:

Time as a Permanent Resident

The term “Permanent Resident” is foreign-born persons who have lawfully entered and are living in the United States under USCIS Form I-551, also known as a green card.

In most cases, a person seeking naturalization must have been a Permanent Resident for three or five years prior to the date of their N-400 application.

U.S. law makes no exception for this Permanent Resident time period.

Continuous Residence

Being a Permanent Resident for three or five years is not enough.

An N-400 applicant must have maintained a “continuous residence” in the U.S. for the three or five year period.

“Continuous residence” under U.S. law means that you have not traveled outside the United States for six months or more.

If you leave the country for six months or more, you disrupt your “continuous residence” status and risk your opportunity for U.S. citizenship, even if you re-enter the U.S. on a Re-entry Permit.

This continuous residence requirement does not apply to certain types of applicants such as members of the U.S. Armed Forces who were out of the U.S. on active military duty.

Under certain circumstances, if you have been a permanent resident for one year or more and plan on traveling outside the U.S. for one year or more, you may file Form N-470 (Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes) and, if approved, keep your continuous residence status:

  • If you are employed by or under contract with the U.S. government;
  • If you fulfill priestly or ministerial functions for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization;
  • If you are employed by:
    • An American research institution recognized by the Attorney General;
    • An American-owned firm or corporation engaged in foreign trade or commerce;
    • A public international organization of which the United States is a member by law or treaty.

Physical Presence in the United States

“Physical presence” means that you physically reside in the United States long enough to be eligible for naturalization.

Physical presence concerns the time you were physically in the U.S. before naturalization, whereas continuous residence concerns the time you lawfully held continuous U.S. residence before naturalization.

Include trips to Mexico and Canada when counting days outside the U.S.

Like in the continuous residence section above, under certain circumstances, if you have been a permanent resident for one year or more and plan on traveling outside the U.S. for one year or more, you may file Form N-470 (Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes) and, if approved, keep your physical presence status.

Time as a Resident in a USCIS District or State

Most people must live in the same state or USCIS district for at least three months prior to filing the N-400 citizenship application.

The USCIS defines a USCIS district as a geographic area covered by a USCIS District Office.

Students may file their naturalization application in either the state or district where their parents reside if claimed as a dependent by their parent’s taxes.

Or, students may file their application in the state or district where they go to school.

This state or district requirement does not apply to persons on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Good Moral Character

Certain crimes may bar you from becoming naturalized.

For example, you can never show good moral character if you were convicted of murder at any time, or any other aggravated offense on or after November 29, 1990.

Other examples of crimes that might show a lack of good moral character include:

  • Any crime against a person with the intent to harm;
  • Any crime against property or the Government that involves fraud or evil intent;
  • Two or more crimes for which the total sentence was 5 years or more;
  • Violating any controlled substance law of the United States, any State, or any foreign country;
  • Habitual drunkenness;
  • Illegal gambling;
  • Prostitution;
  • Polygamy (marriage to more than one person at the same time);
  • Lying to gain immigration benefits;
  • Failing to pay court-ordered child support or alimony payments;
  • Confinement in jail, prison, or similar institution for which the total confinement was 180 days or more during the past five years (or three years if you are applying based on your marriage to a United States citizen);
  • Failing to complete any probation, parole, or suspended sentence before you apply for naturalization;
  • Terrorist acts; and
  • Persecution of anyone because of race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or social group.

Lying during your USCIS interview will also result in being denied based on moral character.

Moreover, if you become a naturalized citizen and it is later discovered that you lied during your interview, your citizenship will be taken away.

Apply for Citizenship – Form N-400

USCIS Form N-400 is used by foreign-born persons seeking to become naturalized citizens of the United States.

The form itself is divided into 18 parts.

It collects basic biographical information to decide whether you meet all eligibility requirements to become naturalized citizens of the United States.

How Much Does it Cost to Apply for Citizenship?

As of February 2020, the filing fee for Form I-400 is $640.

There will also be a biometric fee of $85. The total cost is $725.

If your family’s total income is equal to or below 150% of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines levels, you may be eligible to have all your I-400 and associated biometric fees waived or reduced.

To ask for a waiver, file Form I-912 (Request for Waiver of Fees) with all supporting documentation. To request a reduction in fees, file Form I-942 (Request for Reduced Fees).

How Long Does it Take to Become a U.S. Citizen?

USCIS’s processing time for an N-400 application is about 8 to 14 months.

After filing your N-400 application, you can always check on the status of your case online through the USCIS website here: https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do

Required Documents Checklist

Depending on the grounds upon which you are filing, when filing your N-400 application, you must provide a copy of the following:

  • Your Permanent Resident Card;
  • Your marriage certificate (if applicable);
  • Your Form N-426 (Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service) (if applying for naturalization based on military service);
  • Your DD Form 214, NGB Form 22, or discharge orders (if applying for naturalization based on military service over six months ago);
  • Your official military orders (if applying for naturalization based on military service and currently serving);
  • Evidence of your citizen spouse’s employment abroad (if applying under 319(b)); and
  • Two passport-style photographs (if you live outside the United States).

Apply for Citizenship – Step-by-Step Overview

After you file Form N-400, the question is, “What’s next?”

N-400 Steps

In most cases, the steps to naturalization will be:

  • USCIS will notify you of the receipt of your N-400 application (about two to three weeks after filing);
  • Notice that USCIS has scheduled you a biometrics appointment (about three to five weeks after filing);
  • Attend your biometrics appointment (about five to eight weeks after filing);
  • Notice of scheduled USCIS interview (about four to eight months after filing);
  • Attend your USCIS naturalization interview (about six to ten months after filing);
  • Receive Form I-652 (Naturalization Interview Results);
  • Notice that your application has been:
    • Granted – USCIS approved your N-400 naturalization application;
    • Continued – USCIS lacked sufficient evidence, you failed a test, or did not send a required document, this will add extra time to your application;
    • Denied – USCIS found that the evidence in the record establishes that you do not qualify for naturalization; then
  • Notice of oath ceremony (about one to four weeks after the interview).

N-400 Interview

During your interview, the USCIS officer will check your identification and place you under oath before asking you about:

  • Your background;
  • Evidence you presented supporting your case;
  • Where you live and for how long;
  • Your character;
  • Your attachment to the U.S. Constitution; and
  • Your willingness to take an oath of allegiance.

Before your interview, study your N-400 application carefully.

Any differences between your interview answers and application answers will raise concerns with your USCIS interviewing officer.

Answer every question in a clear voice and using your best English, because your ability to understand and reply to the USCIS officer is part of the interview.

The Oath

During your naturalization ceremony, you will be required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The oath is as follows:

I hereby declare, on oath,

that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all

allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;

that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic;

that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;

that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;

that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law;

that I will perform work of national importance under

civilian direction when required by the law; and

that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;

so help me God.

Pros and Cons of Applying for Citizenship

Like everything else, there are both pros and cons of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Some pros include:

  • You cannot be deported;
  • You can travel anywhere in the world with a U.S. passport;
  • You can get federal benefits;
  • You can sponsor family members for their green card;
  • Your children are U.S. citizens at birth;
  • No more immigration paperwork;
  • You can apply for employment within the U.S. government;
  • You can vote in elections; and
  • You can run for most local, state, or national elected office.

Some cons include:

  • You might have to renounce your home country’s citizenship;
  • You have to pay U.S. taxes no matter where you live;
  • Any criminal record you might have will be investigated;
  • You might be forced to serve in the military; or
  • You might be called upon to serve on a jury.

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