Naturalization is the process by which the United States government grants citizenship to foreign citizens or nationals, who must first fulfill requirements outlined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Naturalization allows you full access to all of the rights given to U.S. citizens.
Note: The information below is not intended to be a complete guide to naturalization, and should not be taken as legal advice. Always consult a qualified attorney whenever you have a legal question. To speak with an attorney, call 212-203-4795.
What If You Already Have a Green Card?
A green card (or Permanent Resident Card) signifies your status as a permanent resident of the United States. This status allows you to work and live in the United States. However, you are not allowed to vote in U.S. elections, and you may be subject to losing your residency if you leave the country for too long, fail to update U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of any address changes, or commit a crime. Naturalization is often the next step after obtaining a green card.
Am I Eligible for Naturalization?
To be eligible for naturalization, you must meet the following requirements:
- You are 18 years of age or older.
- You are already a permanent resident (green card holder), and have been for at least 5 years.
- You exhibit good moral character.
- You have a basic understanding of how the U.S. government works.
- You can read, write, and speak basic English.
Additional qualifications may apply, such as:
- You are the spouse of a U.S. citizen and have been a permanent resident for at least 3 years.
- You have honorably served in the U.S. Armed Forces for at least 1 year.
- You have a parent who is a U.S. citizen.
How Do I Apply?
The process for naturalization has four main elements: your application, background checks, interviews, and oath-taking.
Submitting the Application
First, you must completely fill out Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization). Since you will be required to answer questions regarding your application in future interviews, keep a copy of your completed application form for reference.
Next, gather necessary documents, such as:
- Photocopies of your Permanent Resident Card (front and back)
- English translations of any documents that are not already written in English, and a statement from your translator
- Two identical color photographs of yourself, passport-style
- Fingerprints, if you currently reside outside the United States
Finally, mail your application to the USCIS Lockbox in your area. Include the required documents and fee. If you are a military applicant, you do not need to include a fee.
Your Biometrics Appointment
Once your application has been filed, USCIS will inform you where and when to have your biometrics taken. Biometrics are physical characteristics, such as your appearance and fingerprints, by which you can be identified. Most commonly you will be told to go to an Application Support Center (ASC) or van.
Be sure to arrive to your appointment early. Bring your appointment notice, along with your Permanent Resident Card, any secondary form of photo identification (such as a passport, driver’s license, or state-issued ID), and any other documents your USCIS notice indicates you should bring.
Once you have finished your appointment, all data you have supplied will be sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct a background check.
Once the background checks have been concluded, USCIS will send you your interview notice in the mail, which will give you the time, date, and place your interview is scheduled. If you are unable to make the date, inform USCIS by mail why you need to reschedule. Once the new date is set, you will be sent a new interview notice.
Appearing for Your Interview
Go to your local USCIS office at the time and date given on your interview notice. Try to arrive at least 30 minutes before your interview. If you miss your interview without contacting USCIS beforehand, your case will be “administratively closed.” To re-open your case, you must contact USCIS within one year, or your application will be denied. Bring your Permanent Resident or Alien Registration card, passport, state ID, and any Re-entry Permits you may have, as well as any additional documents requested on your interview notice
Your interview will take place under oath. You will be asked about your background, place and length of residence, your moral character (such as any crimes revealed by your background check), and any background information pertaining to your case (such as your eligibility and any differences between your application and any documents you have submitted). You will also be questioned about your attachment to the Constitution (how willing you are to live by its principles) and your willingness to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
For various exemptions, such as English language or civics requirements, you may submit a Form G-28 (Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Representative) with your application in order to have an immigration lawyer, representative, interpreter, or legal guardian with you.
As always, be honest in your responses. You will be denied citizenship if you are caught lying during your interview, and your citizenship may be taken away if USCIS finds out afterwards.
During your interview, you will be tested in reading, writing, and speaking English. You will also be asked ten civics questions. If you are able to correctly answer six questions or more you will receive a passing score. All materials for the tests given, including the civics questions, are available online.
After the interview, you will receive a Form N-652 detailing the results of your interview. Your citizenship may be granted, continued (put on hold, either for failure to pass the tests or failure to bring the correct documents), or denied. If you are denied, your denial letter will include a form to fill out (Form N-336) in order to request an appeal hearing. You may also file a petition for a U.S. District Court to review your application.
Taking the Oath
If approved for naturalization, you will be required to attend a ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. In some cases, this may happen the same day as your interview. Otherwise, USCIS will mail you a letter telling you the time and date of your ceremony. As before, check in at the USCIS office at least 30 minutes ahead of time. Return your Permanent Resident Card when you check in, as you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization at your ceremony.
If your ceremony takes place on a different date as your interview, you will be required to answer questions regarding any changes that may have occurred between then and now.
While reciting the Oath of Allegiance is required for all naturalization candidates, it does come with waivers and modifications. If it is against your religion to bear arms, or if you are unable or unwilling to take the oath with the phrases “on oath” or “so help me God,” you may request a modified version of the oath (religious exceptions require documentation from your religious organization, while the second type of modifications do not). USCIS may waive the Oath of Allegiance for persons whose physical, developmental, or mental conditions make them unable to understand or communicate understanding of the oath.
Once you receive your certificate of Naturalization, congratulations! You are now a citizen of the United States. Be sure to update your Social Security record with your citizenship and any name changes.
Applying for naturalization can be a lengthy, grueling process. Our experienced attorneys at Pollack, Pollack, Isaac & DeCicco, LLP, will help get you naturalized smoothly and legally, minimizing any confusion and avoiding any status problems. Give us a call at 212-203-4795 or contact us online today!