Are you a Green Card holder who wants to become a US citizen? The way to do it is through a legal process known as naturalization, in which a foreign national becomes a citizen of the United States. There are many benefits to becoming a US citizen, such as the right to vote and the possibility to travel with a US passport, eligibility for certain jobs, and more. With naturalization, you can also petition for your relatives to join you in the US. However, before you can become a US citizen, you have to meet several requirements. In the following sections, we’ll take you through the steps you need to follow to apply for naturalization and become a US citizen.
Step 1: How do you determine your eligibility for Naturalization?
In order to naturalize in the US as a Green Card holder, you must meet certain basic requirements:
- Age: you must be 18 years or older when you file your naturalization application.
- Continuous residence: you must be a legal permanent resident (Green Card holder) for at least five years prior to the application, or three years if you are married to a US citizen and acquired your permanent residency status on this basis.
- Physical presence: you must also be physically present in the US for at least half of the aforementioned time period. Otherwise, the government authorities may claim that your “life center” was not in the US during this time.
- Good moral character: having a “good moral character” is not defined explicitly in US law. However, the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) has provided guidance on what it means to have good moral character for the purposes of naturalization:
- Criminal record: USCIS will review your criminal record, including any convictions, arrests, or offenses committed. While serious crimes are considered to be “permanent bars to good moral character”, and will have a significant impact on your ability to demonstrate good moral character; other, less serious, crimes are considered as “conditional bars for acts in statutory period” – and you can still be considered having a good moral character, even if you had committed them.
- Registering with the Selective Service System: the Selective Service System (SSS) is a US government agency that maintains information on men who are eligible for military service in the country. The SSS was established in 1917 by the Selective Service Act, which was passed in response to World War I. The act authorized the President of the United States to conscript men into the military in times of a national emergency. Men between the ages of 18 and 26 are required to register with the SSS, by filing an online form, in order to show good moral character under US immigration law. Refusing or failing to register for the SSS can be considered a sign of bad moral character and may disqualify an applicant from naturalization. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, an applicant who was unable to register for the SSS due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of the law may still be eligible for naturalization.
- Knowledge in English: in order to naturalize in the United States, you will need to demonstrate a basic understanding of the English language. The specific English language requirements for naturalization are as follows:
- Reading: You should be able to read and understand basic English sentences and passages found in documents like newspapers, simple instructions, and signs.
- Writing: You should be able to write simple English sentences and complete basic forms and written exercises.
- Speaking: You should be able to engage in simple, everyday conversations in English, such as answering questions about yourself, asking for directions, and participating in basic discussions.
The USCIS will determine your English language proficiency level by combining your reading and writing skills with the level of your speaking skills, which will be tested during your naturalization interview (see below) by a USCIS officer.
You might be eligible for an exemption from the English language requirement or an accommodation if:
- You are 50 years of age or older and have been a Green Card holder for at least 20 years, or if you are 55 years of age or older and have been a Green Card holder for at least 15 years.
- You have a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment that prevents you from meeting the English language requirement; you may be eligible for an exemption. You will need to submit Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, completed by a licensed medical professional (this form is relevant also for the US Civics demand – see below).
- Knowledge of US Civics: another requirement for naturalization is to pass a test in US Civics. The test consists of questions about US history, government, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The purpose is to ensure that you have a basic understanding of the principles and foundations of the United States.
The USCIS provides study materials to help you prepare for the civics test. The official study materials are available on the USCIS website and include a list of 100 civics questions. The test will consist of 10 questions randomly selected from the list, and you must answer at least 6 correctly to pass. Some of the topics include the Constitution, the branches of government, the Bill of Rights, landmark Supreme Court cases, American holidays, and the rights and responsibilities of US citizens. It is important to note that the answers to the questions might change due to ever changing events, such as elections and appointments.
- If you qualify for an exemption from the English language requirement due to age or disability, you may be eligible to take the civics test in your native language. In this case, you will need to bring an interpreter to your naturalization interview.
- Exceptions and accommodations: in certain cases, individuals may be eligible for exceptions or accommodations regarding the civics test. For example, if you have a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment that prevents you from meeting the civics test requirement, you may be eligible for an exemption or accommodation. You will need to submit the above mentioned Form N-648.
Step 2: How do you file a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization?
Once you have determined that you are eligible for naturalization, you must prepare and submit Form N-400 – Application for Naturalization, which is perhaps the most important part of the process. It is essential to read and understand the questions on the form before filling it out. If any of the items in the form does not apply to you, please write “N/A” (not applicable). If you need extra space to complete any item, please add a separate sheet of paper.
The application comprises several sections that encompass biographical information, employment and residential history, criminal offenses and convictions, travel history, and more. It is crucial to file the form correctly and to answer the questions truthfully. Before submitting the application, take some time to read through your answers thoroughly. If you are unsure of anything, seek clarification from a US immigration lawyer. Mistakes or omissions can lead to delay or denial of your application, so make sure everything is accurate and complete.
Gathering and attaching documentation to form N-400 is yet another crucial step in preparing your application for naturalization. You will need to provide identification documents, such as your passport, driver’s license, and birth certificate, as well as evidence of your lawful permanent residency. You may also need to submit documents that prove your good moral character, such as records from your employers and schools. It is a good idea to start gathering your documents well in advance of submitting your application to ensure you have everything you need. Keep your original documentation in a safe place and make sure you have copies that you can submit with your application. If any of your documents are missing or incomplete, your application may be rejected.
Once you have completed and gathered all the necessary documentation, it’s time to fill out the N-400 form and submit it. Make sure you use black ink and write legibly to avoid mishaps. The filing fee for the form is $640, which is non-refundable and required for processing it. If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you may be eligible for a fee waiver. Keep in mind that the USCIS does not issue refunds if your application is denied, so make sure you have met all requirements before applying.
After submitting your application, you will receive a receipt notice from the USCIS, which contains your case number. This number will come in handy when you need to check the status of your application or for any inquiries.
The form is divided into 18 parts, which we will review below:
- Part 1 – Information about your eligibility. You need to select the box that applies to your case.
- Part 2 – Information about you.
- Item Number 1. Your current legal name.
- Item Number 2. Your name exactly as it appears on your Green Card (even if it is misspelled or has changed since you received the Green Card).
- Item Number 3. Other names you have used since birth. This includes nicknames, aliases, and maiden name.
- Item Number 4. Name change. If you want to change your name as part of your naturalization process, it is possible to do so as part of the naturalization process. If approved, your new name will be reflected on your Certificate of Naturalization.
- Item Number 5. US Social Security Number.
- Item Number 6. USCIS Online Account Number. This item is applicable if you had previously filed an application or petition using the USCIS online filing system.
- Item Number 7. Gender.
- Item Number 8. Date of birth. Use eight numbers to show the date of birth. For example, May 15, 1990, must be written as 05/15/1990.
- Item Number 9. Date you became a lawful Green Card Holder. Provide the date shown on your Green Card in the same eight numbers format as above.
- Item Number 10. Country of birth. Write the name of the country as it was when you were born, even if the country’s name has since changed or if the country no longer exists.
- Item Number 11. Country of citizenship or nationality. If the country no longer exists, write the name of present country. If you are stateless, provide the name of the country where you were last a citizen or national. If you are a citizen or national of more than one country, provide the name of the country that issued your latest passport.
- Item Number 12. Physical or developmental disability or mental impairment. If you have such a condition, that prevents you from demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of the English language or civics requirements for naturalization, select “Yes”, and submit the above mentioned Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, as an attachment to Form N-400.
- Item Number 13. Exemptions from the English language test. As mentioned above, and depending on your age and the time you have been a Green Card holder, you may be exempt from taking the English language test. Part 3. Accommodations for individuals with disabilities or impairments. If you need assistance from the USCIS to accommodate your disability or impairment, select “Yes” and then any applicable box in Items A – C, and describe the types of accommodations you are requesting on the lines provided.
- Part 4. Your telephone and email details.
- Part 5. Information about your residence. List every address where you have lived during the last 5 years (including other countries), and which periods you lived there. Provide your current mailing address/care of address.
- Part 6. Information about your parents. This part is only relevant for individuals who have a parent who is a US citizen.
- Part 7. Biographic Information.
- Item Numbers 1-2. Ethnicity and race. Select the boxes that best describe your ethnicity and race. Most Jews fall under category 2 – “white”’ as it is defined as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa”.
- Item Numbers 3-6. Height and weight, eye and hair color. Provide your height and weight in Imperial Units (feet, inches and pounds).
- Part 8. Information about your employment and schools you attended. Provide details of work places or schools you attended during the last 5 years. This includes also military service.
- Part 9. Time outside the US. Provide details of trips and the total number of days (24 hours or longer) you spent outside the US during the last 5 years.
- Part 10. Information about your marital history.
- Item Number 1. What is your current marital status? If you have never been married, skip to Part 11.
- Item Number 2. If you are currently married, is your spouse a current member of the US Armed Forces?
- Item Number 3. How many times have you been married? This includes annulled marriages and marriages to the same person – count each time as a separate marriage.
- Item Numbers 4-8. Provide information about your current spouse. Indicate whether your current spouse is a US citizen, whether they became a US citizen after birth, and how many times have they been married (including annulled marriages and marriages to the same person)? If your current spouse has been married before, provide information about their previous spouse/s, including their full legal name, immigration status (if known), date and country of birth, country of citizenship or nationality and periods of their past marriages.
- Item Number 9. If you were married before, provide information about your prior spouse. This includes of their full legal name, immigration status (if known), date of birth, country of birth, country of citizenship or nationality, date of marriage with prior spouse, date marriage ended, and how the marriage ended.
- Part 11. Information about your children.
- Item Number 1. Indicate your total number of children (regardless of whether they are missing, deceased, born in other countries etc.).
- Item Number 2. Provide information about all your children listed in Item Number 1. This includes each child’s current legal name; A-Number (if applicable); date of birth; country of birth; relationship to you (biological child, stepchild, legally adopted child); and current address.
- Part 12. Additional information about you.
- Item Numbers 1- 50. Answer each question by selecting “Yes” or “No,” where applicable. If you answer “Yes” to any of the questions in Item Numbers 1-44, you should include a typed or printed explanation on a separate sheet of paper. You may also provide evidence to support your answers. If you answer “No” to any question in Item Numbers 45-50, include a typed or printed explanation on a separate sheet of paper.
- Part 13. Applicant’s statement, certification, and signature.
- Parts 14-15 are relevant if a person other than the applicant filled the form on their behalf.
Step 3: What is the Biometrics Appointment?
After submitting your application, you will receive a notice to schedule a biometrics appointment. At this appointment, your fingerprints, signature and photograph will be taken. There is a fee of $85 for the biometrics appointment, which is usually scheduled within 2-3 months of filing your application.
Step 4: What happens during the Naturalization Interview?
After your biometrics appointment, you will be scheduled for a naturalization interview. The interview is a critical part of the process, where you will be asked questions about your application and tested on your English language and US civics knowledge. Preparing for the interview is essential, and it is recommended to practice with study materials provided by USCIS. During the interview, make sure to answer questions truthfully and accurately. A small mistake can lead to delays or even a denial of your application. A US immigration lawyer is allowed to be present at the interview and assist you during this stressful event. After the interview you will be notified if your naturalization application is approved. If so, you will be scheduled for a naturalization ceremony. In the ceremony you will be taking the Oath of Allegiance.
Step 5: What is the Naturalization Ceremony?
If your naturalization application is approved, you will be notified of the date and time of your oath ceremony. During the ceremony, you will take – together with other individuals who went through the same process – the Oath of Allegiance, which signifies your commitment to uphold the values of the US Constitution and the laws of the US. After the ceremony, you will officially become a US citizen by receiving the Certificate of Naturalization.
Congratulations! You are now officially a US citizen. In conclusion: Becoming a US citizen through naturalization is a complex process that requires careful planning and preparation. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can successfully navigate the path to citizenship. Remember to stay committed and patient throughout the process, and soon, you will be able to enjoy all the benefits of being a US citizen.
Contact a US immigration lawyer to Naturalize in the US
By contacting an experienced immigration lawyer, you will be able to better understand the naturalization process, which can be complex and confusing. An immigration lawyer can help you identify any potential eligibility issues and ensure that you meet all of the requirements, assist you with the application process, including the completion the application forms correctly and on time, and they can also help you gather the necessary supporting documentation. As mentioned above, a US immigration lawyer can also be present during your naturalization interview.
Our law firm specializes in US immigration laws and has a dedicated immigration team to assist you with your application for naturalization in the United States. We will be happy to be at your service and assist you in everything related to the issue. You are more than welcome to contact us using the phone number or email address listed below. Our offices are located in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The article was written in collaboration with attorney Adam Jonsson.