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U.S. Citizenship & Naturalization

For some, naturalization is a deeply-felt, emotional experience. For others, it is a paper-pushing exercise. Becoming a U.S. citizen involves commitment, and each person has his or her own view of their connection to the national community. Naturalization is, however, taken very seriously by the U.S. government.

The Basics: Who Can Become a U.S. Citizen?

The basic steps for U.S. citizenship require:

  • Permanent residence for five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen)
  • 50% of the five (or three) years of required residence spent in the U.S.
  • Good moral character
  • Passing an English and U.S. history test
  • Oath of allegiance to the U.S.

What is Naturalization?

Naturalization is the process by which a legal permanent resident (green card holder) becomes a U.S. citizen.

The U.S. Residence Requirement for Becoming a Citizen

A person more than 18 years old who has been a lawful permanent resident for five years (or three years, if married to a U.S. citizen) is eligible to apply for citizenship. In addition, the individual must have been a resident of the state where applying for at least three months. Applications may be filed three months before the eligibility date.

English and U.S. civics tests: Most applicants must be able to speak, read, and write basic English, as well as demonstrate basic knowledge of U.S. history and government. People who are more than 50 years old and who have been a permanent resident for 20 years or more, or who are over 55 and have been a permanent resident for 15 years, may take the examination in whatever language they choose. All other applicants must read, write, and speak basic English. People with physical or developmental disabilities or mental impairment may apply for a waiver of the test requirements.

The U.S. Naturalization Process

The U.S. naturalization procedure generally follows these steps:

  • Permanent residents must complete the USCIS Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and include two photographs, a copy of the permanent resident card, and a check or money order for the USCIS filing fee and fingerprinting fee. Applications are submitted to a regional USCIS office.
  • Applicants will be scheduled for fingerprinting.
  • Once the application has been processed, applicants will be scheduled for an interview.
  • At the interview, the application will be reviewed and the applicant will be asked to pledge allegiance to the U.S. Unless exempt, applicants will be tested on their knowledge of U.S. history and government and basic English.
  • Successful applicants will be sworn in as naturalized citizens at a subsequent ceremony and given a naturalization certificate. Naturalized citizens may then immediately apply for a U.S. passport.

Types of Questions on the U.S. Citizenship Test

The test questions cover basic U.S. history and civics, such as naming the first president, explaining the different branches of government, and other similar questions. USCIS uses a list of 100 questions and answers, which your immigration attorney can provide. The exam usually consists of 10 questions from this list. Usually, reading the 100 questions and answers a few times is sufficient study for the exam. The 100 questions and answers and an online booklet about U.S. government and history are available at the USCIS website.

Defining Continuous Residence

Residents must not have any continuous absences for longer than one year. In most cases, residents must demonstrate that they were physically present in the U.S. for at least 50 percent of the five-year (or three-year, if married to a U.S. citizen) eligibility period immediately before applying for naturalization. Absence of more than six months may be a problem.

Additional Requirements for Naturalization

The following are additional requirements:

  • Residents must demonstrate good moral character for the five years (or three years, if married to a U.S. citizen) prior to applying for citizenship. Many criminal convictions are seen as evidence of a lack of good moral character.
  • Men who lived in the U.S. as permanent residents when they were 18 to 26 years old should have registered for the draft.
  • Employed permanent residents should have filed U.S. income tax returns each year.

Learn more by viewing our Frequently Asked Questions About Citizenship & Naturalization.

Speak with an Immigration Attorney About U.S. Citizenship & Naturalization

Contact Ahmad & Associates to discuss your situation and schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney. Our Northern Virginia immigration attorneys work with clients in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., nationwide, as well as internationally. We speak Spanish, Arabic, Urdu, French, Hindi, and can make arrangements to have an interpreter available for many other languages.