The highest immigration status in the U.S. is citizenship. So before knowing the process of becoming a citizen, let us take a look at the numerous benefits that come with citizenship. Some of these are:
- You can vote in the elections.
- You can get a U.S. passport only if you are a U.S. citizen.
- You can leave and enter the U.S. at any time without any restrictions.
- You can sponsor your family members for a permanent resident card (green card).
- You are entitled to access Medicare and other public health care programs and benefits.
- If selected for jury duty, you can sit on federal and state juries.
- Many federal jobs and special security-clearance jobs in America are only open to American citizens. As a U.S. citizen, you get access to more job options.
- Per U.S. immigration law, children born to U.S. citizens are U.S. citizens by birthright. Even if your child is born outside the U.S. after you become a citizen, your children will automatically become U.S. citizens.
- Only U.S. citizens can run for elected office.
- Scholarships, grants, government benefits, and financial aid of many kinds are only available to U.S. citizens.
- You can work and live in the U.S. indefinitely.
With so many benefits, there are a whole lot of people eager to become a U.S. citizen. So before knowing the process, let us take a look if you are eligible for U.S. citizenship.
Do You Qualify?
There are different requirements that may apply to you depending on your situation. But these are the general requirements that a naturalization applicant has to fulfill:
- You should be at least 18 years of age at the time of filing the form.
- You should be a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. for a stipulated period of time.
- You should prove that you maintained continuous permanent residence in the U.S. for at least 5 years. (This may be reduced to 3 years if you are married to a U.S. citizen)
- You should also prove that you have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months. (This may be reduced to 18 months if you are married to a U.S. citizen)
- Another proof to submit is that you have lived for at least 3 months in the state or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district where you claim residence.
- Have good moral character?
- You should demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.
- You should demonstrate a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government (civics) and also prove your ability to read, write, speak and understand the basics in English language.
- You should take an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Some applicants might qualify for a modified oath.
At the time of your interview, your proficiency to read, write, and speak English and your knowledge of civics will be tested.
You could be exempted from taking the English test while filing your Form N-400 if:
- You are 50 years or older and have lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident for a total period of at least 20 years.
- You are 55 years or older and have lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident for a total period of at least 15 years.
- You are 65 years or older and have lived in the U.S .as a permanent resident for a total period of at least 20 years.
In all the above-mentioned cases, you have to write the civics test, but you can write it in a language of your choice.
You can claim an exemption to the English language and/or civics tests requirements if you have a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment that has lasted, or is expected to last, a year or more.
If you are a man between the ages of 18 and 26, you should register for Selective Service and have proof for the same during the naturalization process. If you are 26 or older but under the age of 31, you should show proof that you registered with the Selective Service when you needed to.
There are some who automatically become U.S. citizens without even the need to file Form N-400. If your parent was a U.S. citizen, either by birth or naturalization, before you turned 18 years old, you may have become a citizen automatically through your citizen parent. So all you need to do is to file a claim to U.S. citizenship through Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.
Have You Filed Your Income Tax Returns?
Your income tax returns are very handy when it comes to proving you are eligible for naturalization. You should bring certified tax returns for the previous 5 years (3 years in case you are married to a U.S. citizen) on the day of your interview.
Filing the N-400 Application
Black ink is typically the best option to type or print your application. Make sure you answer all the relevant questions completely and correctly. If some question doesn’t apply to your situation, just type or print N/A unless specifically mentioned and instead of zero, you can type or print “None”. Should your answer be lengthy, you can use an extra paper. Ensure that you mention your Alien Registration Number or the A- number (you can find this on your permanent resident card) at the top right corner of every paper. The ARN consists of a seven to nine-digit number, depending on the year. If the A-Number has lesser than nine digits, place enough zeros before the first number to get a total of nine digits to enter on Form N-400. For example, A1234567 should be replaced with A001234567.
Though it might sound schoolish, please avoid highlighting, crossing out answers, or typing or printing outside the box meant for a response. Avoid using white correction tape or any fluid to white-out and to correct mistakes. Some scanners can see through such fluids or tape which might result in wrong data getting saved in USCIS systems. This might lead to a risk in processing delays or possibly even your form getting rejected.
Your N-400 application should be clearly completed, signed, and filed. Even if there are empty sheets left in your form, make sure you include them as well. You can send a photocopy of your application if all signatures on the form are handwritten and original. Remember that stamped or typewritten name in place of a signature is NOT accepted.
USCIS states that you can file your N-400 application up to 90 days before you meet the required 5-year period of continuous residence as a lawful permanent resident. Whereas if your spouse is filing, he or she may file up to 90 days before meeting the required 3-year period of continuous residence as a lawful permanent resident. Though you may file early according to the 90-day early filing provision, you are not eligible for naturalization until you have reached the required 3 or 5-year period of continuous residence as a legal resident.
How Much Is the Filing Fee for Form N-400?
You have to pay a filing fee of $640. If you are below 75 years of age, you will need to pay an additional $85 for biometrics. This is regardless of whether you are filing the form in the U.S. or from abroad. If you are a military applicant filing under section 328 or 329 of the INA, you may not be required to pay the filing fee.
USCIS will reject your Form N-400 if you submit the incorrect fee or choose an incorrect payment method. They will also likely reject your form if you pay in excess for more than what you are required to pay. In such cases, they may return your filing fees with your application.
Important Guidelines While Making Your Payment
- Choose a single payment method for each application (check, money order, or credit card) and not a combination of all.
- Choose the same payment method for all applications that you send together.
- You must pay the exact fees.
- Whether your application is accepted or rejected, the filing fee and biometric services fee will not be refunded.
- You should not mail cash. This mode of payment is not accepted.
- Check or money order has to be drawn on a bank or other financial institution located in the U.S. It has to be in U.S currency.
- It has to be made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Please do not use abbreviations such as USDHS or DHS. Write the full name.
- If you are abroad, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate to know the available modes of payment.
Biometric Service Appointment
Once your application is received by the USCIS, they will check it for completeness. Then they will let you know in writing if you have to attend a biometric service appointment. Should an appointment be needed, you will receive a notice that will have the necessary information about the location of your local or designated USCIS Application Support Center, date and time of your appointment. If you are abroad at that time, you will be directed to contact the U.S. Embassy, U.S. Consulate, or a USCIS office abroad to set up an appointment.
Your biometric appointment is to give fingerprints, have your photograph taken, and/or sign to confirm your identity. This is also to get additional information and conduct background and security checks. This includes a check of criminal history records maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), before coming to a conclusion on your application.
In most cases, you will be asked to submit photocopies of some documents, unless they specifically ask you for the original documents. USCIS may ask you to furnish an original document at the time of filing or at any time while your application is being processed. Your documents, even if it is an original will be safe in the hands of the USCIS and they will return it to you after they deem it no longer required.
So let’s say you are submitting a document requested by the USCIS in a foreign language. In this case, the document should be accompanied by a full English translation. The person translating this document should sign a certification that the English language translation is complete and accurate. He should also state that he is good enough to translate the document from the foreign language into English.
If your Form N-400 is not signed or does not include the correct filing fee and biometric services fee, your application may be rejected. If any pages are missing or if the application is incomplete, your application will likely be rejected. This is true even in the case where initial evidence is not provided.
If need be, they will request you to furnish more information or evidence to support your application. In certain instances, you will be required to provide the originals of any copies you submit. If the USCIS asks for an original document from you, they will return it to you after they no longer feel it is needed anymore.