The U.S. naturalization process and citizenship test, next to an American flag.

Overview of the United States naturalization process: Benefits, eligibility requirements, application procedure and more

Individuals may be a U.S. citizen by virtue of their birth in the United States or by derivation if they are a child of a U.S. citizen.

The most common way an immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen is through the process of naturalization.

Benefits of U.S. naturalization

Benefits of U.S. naturalization include:

  • Obtaining a U.S. passport
  • Voting rights
  • Eligibility to run for office
  • No need to renew status with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • Access to government programs and benefits
  • Ability to sponsor relatives seeking immigration status

Becoming an American citizen also greatly reduces the risk of deportation. In most circumstances, citizenship can only be rescinded if United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines that an applicant lied during the naturalization process or in order to secure Lawful Permanent Residence.

Eligibility requirements for naturalization

Basic eligibility requirements for naturalization include:

  • Being a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen)
  • Be at least 18 years old at the time the naturalization application is filed
  • Proof of continuous residence in the United States: Applicants must demonstrate they have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years (three years if married to a U.S. citizen) before filing for naturalization and up to the time of naturalization. Absences from the U.S. of six months or more can interrupt continuous presence.
  • Demonstrate physical presence in the U.S.: Applicants must be physically present in the United States for half of the five‐year period before applying to become a citizen (or half of the three years if married to a U.S. citizen). Applicants will need to list all trips outside the United States and the total number of days outside the U.S. during the five‐ or three‐year time period in their naturalization applications. Therefore, it is important to keep track of all travel upon obtaining permanent residence.
  • Be a resident of the state where the applicant plans to apply for naturalization for at least three months
  • Have basic English reading, writing and speaking skills: Certain applicants may be exempt from the English language requirement because of their age and length of time they have been a permanent resident. Applicants may be exempt from the English language requirement if, at the time of filing the naturalization application, they are 50 years old and have been a permanent resident for at least 20 years or are 55 years old and have been a permanent resident for at least 15 years. Applicants must still pass the civics test in their native language.
  • Be a person of “good moral character:” Good moral character may be called into question if an individual has a criminal record, failed to pay required spousal or child support, failed to pay taxes, willfully failed to register with the Selective Service, or lied to immigration officials to gain immigration benefits. Traffic offenses usually will not prevent someone from proving good moral character.
  • Pass a U.S. Civics test: At the interview, an applicant must show a basic understanding of U.S. history and government (civics). Applicants must answer six out of ten questions correctly from a list of 100 questions provided by USCIS.
  • Be willing to take an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S.: Applicants may be required to renounce citizenship to other countries and will be required to swear to protect the U.S. Constitution.

Naturalization: Application steps and procedure

  1. Apply for Naturalization and pay filing fees
  2. Biometrics appointment
  3. Citizenship interview and exam
  4. Oath ceremony to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen

The decision to become a U.S. citizen is ultimately a very personal choice for each individual. It should involve careful consideration of the advantages and potential disadvantages. Individuals considering applying for naturalization should consult with experienced immigration counsel to discuss their options and eligibility.

Further reading

An in-depth analysis of the naturalization process

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to revert back to 2008 version of Naturalization Civics Test

Visa Bulletin and the green-card process

What are the four family-based green card preference categories?

Who is eligible for a green card in the United States?

As always, please do not hesitate to contact Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm at 704-442-8000 or via email with any questions.

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