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  • Writer's pictureJose C de Wit

Understanding Naturalization: Your Path to U.S. Citizenship

For most immigrants to the United States, becoming a U.S. citizen is the final milestone in their immigration journey. We have prepared this guide to familiarize you with the basic requirements for naturalization, an overview of the process, and some common issues to watch out for.

As with anything else in U.S. immigration, though, things can get complicated quickly – we recommend always consulting with an experienced immigration attorney before starting the process and working with one all the way through to the finish line.

Basic Requirements for Naturalization:

Age: You must be at least 18 years old when you apply for naturalization by filing an N-400 application form with USCIS.

Residency: You must be a permanent resident (have a "green card") for at least 5 years before you apply for naturalization. For applicants living with a U.S. citizen spouse who sponsored their permanent residence, this period is reduced to 3 years.

Physical Presence: You must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the 5-year or 3-year residency period. For applicants filing based on a 5-year residency period, this means at least 30 months or 913 days physically present in the United States during the residency period. Applicants filing based on a 3-year residency period must show 18 months or 548 days of physical presence.

Continuous Residence: You must maintain “continuous residence” in the U.S. during the 3-year or 5-year residency period and also between filing and approval of your naturalization application.

Good Moral Character: You must demonstrate good moral character during your 3-year or 5-year residency period and until you become a U.S. citizen. Generally, this means the absence of issues like arrests or criminal activity and unpaid taxes or child support.

Language and Civics: You must be able to read, write, and speak basic English and pass a short quiz on U.S. government and history. Some applicants may qualify for an exemption from one or both of these requirements based on age, physical or developmental disability, or certain medical conditions.

Oath of Allegiance: To become a U.S. citizen, you must take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

Selective Service Registration: If you are a male who lived in the United States between the ages of 18 and 26, you must have registered with the Selective Service Administration during that time or else provide USCIS with a reasonable explanation of why you did not comply with this requirement.

Overview of the Naturalization Process:

Determine Your Eligibility: Before starting the process, ensure you meet all the requirements for naturalization. The list above is a general overview of the requirements for naturalization, but different or additional requirements may apply in individual cases. Even if your case is straightforward, it’s always a good idea to consult with an immigration attorney before starting the process.

Prepare and Submit Form N-400: This is USCIS’ form to apply for naturalization. It can be filed by mail or online. If you file on your own, make sure all details on the form are complete and accurate and submit the correct filing fee and supporting evidence.

Biometrics Appointment: After submitting your application, you'll be scheduled for a biometrics appointment to take your fingerprints, photo, and signature.

Interview: Once your application is processed, you'll be scheduled for an interview where a USCIS officer will review your application form, question you on any potential issues, and quiz you on your knowledge of English and U.S. civics.

Decision: After the interview, you'll receive a decision: granted, continued (if you need to provide more documents or fail the test), or denied.

Oath of Allegiance: If your application is approved, you'll take the Oath of Allegiance. This may happen on the same day as your interview or at a separate ceremony later – procedures vary at each USCIS field office.


Become a U.S. Citizen: Once you've taken the Oath, congratulations! You are now a U.S. citizen. You will receive a naturalization certificate and be entitled to important benefits that include applying for a U.S. passport, registering to vote in federal elections, and sponsoring parents and siblings for permanent residence. You already become a US Citizen, we wrote a guide to help you in your next steps.

Common Issues to Watch Out For:

Travel: Frequent or extended trips outside the U.S. during your 3-year or 5-year residency period and between filing and approval of your naturalization application can disrupt your continuous residence or required physical presence. It's essential to keep track of your travel dates and ensure you don't leave the country for too long or too often.

Criminal History: Any criminal history can affect your moral character determination. Certain crimes can also jeopardize your green card status or trigger deportation. USCIS will generally expect you to bring to your interview complete certified police and court records for any infraction or criminal incident in which you have been cited, arrested or charged. This is generally true even if the charges have been sealed, expunged, vacated, or similar. If you are a permanent resident with any criminal history – especially since you obtained your green card – it is critical that you consult with an immigration attorney before starting the naturalization process.

Unpaid Taxes or Child Support: Failure to pay taxes or child support will disrupt your good moral character determination. Gather documentation showing that you are up-to-date on both before starting the naturalization process.

False Claims to U.S. Citizenship: Falsely claiming you are a U.S. citizen – for example, by registering or voting in a federal election – may interfere with your eligibility for naturalization or even trigger deportation – even when it was in good faith or by mistake! One common scenario where this happens is applying for a driver’s license, because many states have incorporated voter registration applications into their driver’s license applications. Exceptions and strategies to deal with this exit, but they are narrow and tricky to navigate. We recommend consulting with an immigration attorney for expert help navigating this scenario.

Documentation: Always keep copies of all documents you submit. Ensure all information is consistent across forms to avoid discrepancies.

Changes in Circumstances: If there are any changes in your circumstances (e.g., marriage, divorce, or change of address) during your naturalization process, inform USCIS (or your immigration attorney) promptly.

While the path to U.S. citizenship can seem daunting, understanding the requirements and process can make it smoother. Always consult with an immigration attorney for personalized advice and guidance. Our firm is here to help you every step of the way.

If you found this helpful but still have questions or need personalized guidance, don't hesitate to reach out.



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