Your guide to filing for naturalization

The process of filing for American citizenship is known as naturalization. Citizenship comes with a whole host of responsibilities, including the right to vote. That’s why U.S. immigration law implements a strict process for naturalization. Applying for U.S. citizenship can be a complex and lengthy process, but with time, effort and this handy guide, you may soon be able to call yourself a citizen of America.

Eligibility requirements

To qualify for naturalization, you have to meet a specific and strict set of requirements. You must:

  • Be 18 or older
  • Have been a permanent resident for a minimum amount of time (generally three or five years depending on how you gained resident status)
  • Be of good moral character
  • Have a basic understanding of the U.S. government
  • Have a period of physical presence and continuous residence in the U.S.
  • Be able to read, write and speak English at a basic level

These rules come with some exceptions based on age, length of permanent residency and mental ability. Additionally, those who have completed honorable service in the U.S. military and their spouses may also bypass some of these guidelines.

The process

If you meet the eligibility requirements for naturalization, you should prepare yourself for the elaborate and time-consuming process of applying for U.S. citizenship. It includes these steps:

Complete the application form
You will fill out either form N-400 or N-600. Remember to submit any requested documents and include any certified translations of documents.

Get your fingerprints taken
After you submit the application form, you will get a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) telling you when and where your appointment for fingerprinting will be. Follow the instructions carefully and make sure you’re on time for the appointment.

Attend an interview
You will be required to sit for an interview with a USCIS officer, and you will be informed of the details via an appointment letter. During the meeting, the officer will ask you questions about your application information and personal background. You must also take a civics and English test. USCIS offers practice quizzes to help you prepare.

Wait for the USCIS decision
Your request for naturalization will be granted, denied or continued depending on the results of your tests, interview and application review. The next step will depend on the decision:

  • Granted: If your application is accepted, you may attend an oath ceremony during which you will receive your certificate of naturalization.
  • Denied: Those who are denied will receive a letter explaining why the application was declined. You have the option of filing an appeal of the immigration decision with the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office or the Board of Immigration Appeals.
  • Continued: A case is generally “continued” when the applicant failed the civic or English tests or did not supply the proper documentation. In such circumstances, USCIS will let you retake the tests or resubmit your documents.