You asked:  I have been a legal permanent resident for six years and am now ready to become a citizen of the United States.  Can you explain the citizenship process and let me know what to expect on the application, during the interview, and after I become a citizen?

Congratulations!  It is a privilege and a great honor to become a citizen of the United States. By choosing to become a U.S. citizen you will join approximately one million others who will take advantage of the benefits and responsibilities of becoming an American citizen this year.

Most U.S. citizens are such because they were born on American soil.  Others derived citizenship through their parents shortly after their birth.  For those not in these categories, a legal analysis is required to determine eligibility for U.S. citizenship.   Generally, one must be a legal permanent resident for five years (three years if permanent residency was granted due to marriage to a U.S. citizen), be at least 18 years old, and have been continuously present in the U.S.

As with any immigration matter, acquiring U.S. citizenship can be complicated, and making mistakes might have serious immigration consequences.  As such, you should seek the advice and assistance of an experienced immigration attorney prior to applying for U.S. citizenship or filing any immigration documents.

Beginning the Citizenship Process

Before we cover the process of obtaining citizenship, let’s clear up a couple termsNaturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign national after he or she proves eligibility in compliance with U.S. law.  Many people call this process citizenship.  In this blog post, we will use the two terms interchangeably.

Form and Filing Fee — To apply for citizenship, you must file Form N-400 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The cost for most applicants is $680.  The application is fairly general in nature.  It will ask you questions about your biographical and immigration history.  It will also gauge your willingness to comply with the responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.

The USCIS usually takes between two and four months to process the application.  That said, bureaucratic delays in immigration processing are notorious.  It is not usual for an N-400 application to take six to eight months or longer to process.

As with all immigration filings, after you file your N-400 application, you will receive an appointment to submit for fingerprinting.  The purpose of this is for the USCIS to determine if you have committed any crimes that would render you ineligible to become a U.S. citizen.  Because of this, if you have any criminal history (including cases for which you were arrested or questioned but not charged), you should seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney prior to filing your application.

Most applicants seeking to become U.S. citizens must then attend an in-person interview.  It is important that you make every effort to attend your interview at the scheduled time. If you cannot attend the interview, you may ask that it be rescheduled.  Please note, however, that rescheduling a citizenship interview can add several months to the citizenship process.

The Citizenship Interview

The citizenship interview can be the most stressful part of becoming a U.S. citizen.  There are some things you can do to alleviate this stress:

  • Arrive early. Plan to arrive at least thirty minutes before your scheduled interview time.  Arriving early allows you to go through security, organize your materials, review your application, meet with your attorney, and mentally relax before your interview.
  • Bring identification. You will need to prove your identity.  As such, bring your legal permanent resident card (“green card), home country passport, driver’s license (or other state-issued identification), and any entry documents you have.
  • Bring supporting documents. The immigration officer may wish to see additional documents or the original versions of photocopied documents you submitted with your application.  Check your appointment notice to see what additional items have been requested.

You will be under oath at your citizenship interview, so you will need to tell the complete truth regarding your citizenship application.  The immigration officer will review your application with you and ask you questions from each part.  It is important to be honest and complete in your responses.    If you find that your application contains an error, you should provide the correct information so that the immigration officer can amend your application.  Give the officer any supporting documentation that he or she requests.

You have the right to have your immigration attorney accompany you to your interview.  You attorney may not, however, help you answer the questions on the citizenship test.  So, it is important to have studied for the test and be ready to answer the questions.

The Government/Civics and English Proficiency Tests

Most citizenship applicants find the civics and English test portions of the naturalization interview to be the most stressful.   Here is what is involved:

Civics – The civics test measures your understanding of American government and U.S. history.  The test is given orally in English by the immigration officer.  Out of 100 possible test questions, the immigration officer will ask you ten.  You must answer six correctly to pass the test.  All of the possible test questions are available online.

English – Your English proficiency will be tested in the following three ways:

  • Reading – You must read aloud one sentence out of a list of three sentences, convincing the immigration officer that you understand the what the sentence means.
  • Writing – You must write one sentence out of three given to you by the immigration officer.
  • Speaking – You must be able to sufficiently answer the questions from the entire citizenship interview to show that you are proficient in spoken English.

Some citizenship applicants are exempt from these testing requirements.  To determine whether you are required to take these tests as part of your citizenship process, you should consult with an experienced immigration attorney.

Attending the Ceremony

After completing the interview, you will receive a decision from the USCIS on your application. Once your application is approved, you will be required to attend a swearing-in ceremony.  These events are often times special occasions, and you should make every effort to attend.  You will then be given a certificate of naturalization and will be eligible to apply for a U.S. passport, register to vote, and take advantage of any other benefit of being an American citizen.

This blog post contains a lot of information, but don’t lose faith!  Deciding to become a U.S. citizen is a big step, and you can do it.  Our office is experienced at U.S. citizenship, and we are here to help.  Contact us to see if you are eligible for U.S. citizenship and what steps you might take to become a U.S. citizen.