Why Should I Become a United States Citizen?
Despite being eligible for U.S. citizenship, several green card holders have not applied for citizenship due to love for their motherland, access to a cheaper healthcare system, and in some cases, to retain property rights and save in taxes. However, there are many benefits to becoming a United States citizen. Some of these benefits include:
- Employment in government jobs not available to permanent residents
- Vote and hold public office
- Live outside the U.S. without losing your green card
- Obtain a U.S. passport so you can travel more conveniently
- Petition for your family members' legal residency
Who Can Become a United States Citizen?
If you are a permanent resident, you can become a U.S. citizen through naturalization. To be naturalized, most applicants must meet the following requirements:
- Be at least 18 years of age and legally competent to take an oath of allegiance to the U.S.
- Be a legal permanent resident for five years, or three years, IF married to and living with a U.S. citizen during those three years
- Have a physical presence in the United States for half of the five (or three) year period.
- Reside in the district or state where you are applying for citizenship for the last three months
- Be a person of good moral character
- Have a basic knowledge of the U.S. government and history
- Have the ability to read, write and speak simple English except for if:
- You are over 50 years old and have lived in the U.S. for at least 20 years since you became a permanent resident, or
- You are over 55 years old and have lived in the U.S. for at least 15 years since you became a permanent resident, or
- You have a disability that prevents you from fulfilling this requirement and will be filing a "Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions" (Form N-648) completed and signed by a doctor with your application
How to File for U.S. Citizenship
The U.S. Citizenship process is a long and sometimes confusing one (6 to 12 months on average), but it can be broken down into the following steps:
Step 1: Complete the N-400 application
Gather all necessary documents before starting this application process. Submit copies of your green card and passport with travel stamps within five years. You will also need to provide two passport photos of yourself, no more than six months old. The total fee for the N-400 application is $640.
Send your application, documents, and fee to the Department of Homeland Security).
If you choose to print and complete the application, you will need to mail your application to the address and pay the applicable fees payable to the Department of Homeland Security. You can find which one applies to you here.
Please keep in mind that this form can also be completed and submitted electronically. The mailing address will be dependent on your current location.
Once you have submitted your application, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will mail a notice verifying the receipt of the application.
Step 2: Fingerprints
USCIS may mail you a fingerprint notification letter indicating the dates and location to take the fingerprints. USCIS and the F.B.I. will utilize your fingerprint information to conduct a background check. If no derogatory information comes up from this check, you can proceed with naturalization. In this case, a biometrics fee of $85 will be applied to your application for $725.
Step 3: The Interview
Once all the preliminary processes on your case are complete, USCIS will schedule an interview with you to complete the naturalization process. You must report to the USCIS office at the date and time on your appointment notice. Be sure to bring your appointment notice with you, as well as your government issued, valid photo I.D.
A USCIS officer will interview you in English to assess your knowledge of the English language and U.S. history and government during the interview.
You will also need to produce up to five years of tax returns, W-2s, and other documents that establish good moral character, including police reports and court disposition records (if any). At the end of the interview, the USCIS officer will provide a decision regarding the application.
Exemptions from the English and Civics Proficiency Requirements
An applicant may take the interview in their native language if they are:
- 55 years of age and has been an LPR for at least 15 years, OR
- 50 years of age and has been LPR for at least 20 years, OR
- 65 years of age and at least 20 years as LPR receive a shorter version of the exam.
- Applicants with mental disabilities can obtain a waiver of the interview by submitting form N-648 (medial exemption)
How to Prepare for a Citizenship Interview
Upon filing the N-400 application with the proper fees, you will be requested to give a fingerprint within five weeks. The interview letter should arrive within one year or more. During the interview, the officer will review your travel history through your passport and go over your fingerprint report to see if there are any cases against your good moral character. Upon completing the standard N-400 review, the officer will test your civic knowledge about the U.S.
Step 4: Oath Ceremony
USCIS will mail an appointment for the oath ceremony. Upon taking the oath, you will then become a united states citizen.
General Requirements to be Eligible to Apply for Naturalization
- Have a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States
- Be a legal Permanent Resident for five years OR, if married to a U.S. citizen, be a legal permanent resident for three Years
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Have the ability to read, write and speak basic English
- Have basic knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government
- Have good moral character
- Willing to take Oath of Allegiance
- Residence must be continuous - certain absences may break the continuity of residence
- Absence of less than or equal to 6 months
- Absence of greater than six months and less than one year
- Absence of equal to or greater than one year
- Three months of residence in C.I.S. Service District or state where file N-400
- Must reside in the U.S. from the filing of an application to Oath
- May apply three months before the residence period (3 or 5 years) is completed
Note: Applicants may be found to have Abandoned LPR status and put in removal proceedings if it appears that s/he intended to abandon residence in the U.S.
(The C.B.P. has given a liberal interpretation to this rule during the Covid-19 Pandemic and allowed people who stayed more than one year outside of the U.S. without a re-entry permit and could not return due to travel ban or their health conditions).
Physical Presence Requirements
Applicants must be physically present in the U.S. for at least 1/2 of the previous five years or ½ of 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen.
Good Moral Character Requirement
The good moral character requirement is a statutory requirement for naturalization. It is the only requirement that does not have an application form. The good moral character requirement is met if you do not have any of the statutory or discretionary bars to naturalization, as listed below.
What is Meant by Good Moral Character?
You cannot demonstrate good moral character if, during the five (or three) year period before your naturalization, you were convicted, in the United States or abroad, of one or more of the following:
- A crime involving moral turpitude (such as theft, fraud, forgery, assault, sex offenses, prostitution, and false testimony to obtain immigration benefits)
- Two or more gambling offenses
- A narcotics offense
- Two or more nonpolitical offenses for which you were sentenced to five years of more imprisonment
- Any crime for which you were confined to prison for more than 180 days
- Any aggravated felony
- Habitual drunkard
- Unlawful voting
- False claim to U.S. citizenship
Parking tickets, disorderly conduct, and fines should not prevent a finding of good moral character. However, your naturalization application will be denied if you were required to file a federal tax return but failed to do so.
Citizenship and Good Moral Character
The standard for deciding as to an applicant's good moral character is outlined in 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(1), which states in pertinent part, "[a]n applicant for naturalization bears the burden of demonstrating that, during the statutorily prescribed period, he or she has been and continues to be a person of good moral character. This includes the period between the examination and the administration of the oath of allegiance." (Emphasis added). The statutorily prescribed period is five years prior to the date of filing the application. See, I.N.A. §316(a)(3).
In accordance with Section 101(f) of the Act, the Service shall evaluate claims of good moral character on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the elements enumerated in this section and the standards of the average citizen in the community of residence. The Service is not limited to reviewing the applicant's conduct during the five years immediately preceding the filing of the application but may take into consideration, as a basis for its determination, the applicant's conduct and acts at any time prior to that period, if the conduct of the applicant during the statutory period does not reflect that there has been reform of character from an earlier period or if the earlier conduct and acts appear relevant to a determination of the applicant's present moral character.
Pursuant to I.N.A. section 316 (a)(3) and 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(1) and (2) and section 316 (a)(3) states that "during all the periods referred to in this subsection has been and still is a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States." This is further explained in 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(1) and (2), which states,
(1) An applicant for naturalization bears the burden of demonstrating that, during the statutorily prescribed period, he or she has been and continues to be a person of good moral character. This includes the period between the examination and the administration of the oath of allegiance.
(2) In accordance with Section 101(f) of the Act, the Service shall evaluate claims of good moral character on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the elements enumerated in this section and the standards of the average citizen in the community of residence. The Service is not limited to reviewing the applicant's conduct during the five years immediately preceding the filing of the application but may take into consideration, as a basis for its determination, the applicant's conduct and acts at any time prior to that period, if the conduct of the applicant during the statutory period does not reflect that there has been reform of character from an earlier period or if the earlier conduct and acts appear relevant to a determination of the applicant's present moral character.
The section states:
(1) An applicant shall be found to lack good moral character if the applicant has been:
(i) Convicted of murder at any time; or (Revised 9/24/93; 58 FR 49913)
(ii) Convicted of an aggravated felony as defined in Section 101(a)(43) of the Act on or after November 29, 1990. (Revised 9/24/93; 58 FR 49913)
(2) An applicant shall be found to lack good moral character if, during the statutory period, the applicant:
(i) Committed one or more crimes involving moral turpitude, other than a purely political offense, for which the applicant was convicted, except as specified in Section 212(a)(2)(A)(ii)(II) of the Act;
(ii) Committed two or more offenses for which the applicant was convicted and the aggregate sentence actually imposed was five years or more, provided that, if the offense was committed outside the United States, it was not a purely political offense;
(iii) Violated any law of the United States, any State, or any foreign country relating to a controlled substance, provided that the violation was not a single offense for simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana;
(iv) Admits committing any criminal act covered by paragraphs (b)(2)(i), (ii), or (iii) of this section for which there was never a formal charge, indictment, arrest, or conviction, whether committed in the United States or any other country.
(v) Is or was confined to a penal institution for an aggregate of 180 days pursuant to a conviction or convictions (provided that such confinement was not outside the United States due to a conviction outside the United States for a purely political offense);
(vi) Has given false testimony to obtain any benefit from the Act, if the testimony was made under oath or affirmation and with an intent to obtain an immigration benefit; this prohibition applies regardless of whether the information provided in the false testimony was material, in the sense that if given truthfully it would have rendered ineligible for benefits either the applicant or the person on whose behalf the applicant sought the benefit;
(vii) Is or was involved in prostitution or commercialized vice as described in Section 212(a)(2)(D) of the Act;
(viii) Is or was involved in the smuggling of a person or persons into the United States as described in Section 212(a)(6)(E) of the Act;
(ix) Has practiced or is practicing polygamy;
(x) Committed two or more gambling offenses for which the applicant was convicted;
(xi) Earns his or her income principally from illegal gambling activities; or
(xii) Is or was a habitual drunkard.
(3) Unless the applicant establishes extenuating circumstances, the applicant shall be found to lack good moral character if, during the statutory period, the applicant:
(i) Willfully failed or refused to support dependents;
(ii) Had an extramarital affair which tended to destroy an existing marriage; or
(iii) Committed unlawful acts that adversely reflect upon the applicant's moral character, or was convicted or imprisoned for such acts, although the acts do not fall within the purview of Sec.316.10(b)(1) or (2).
Knowledge of U.S. History and Civics Requirements
USCIS requires that all applicants for naturalization be proficient in English and have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government.
How to Prepare for the Civic Test
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for administering the naturalization process, including the citizenship test. The citizenship test is a 100-question, multiple-choice test that examines applicants' English language abilities, U.S. history and government, and civics.
Before taking the citizenship test, it's essential to be prepared with information about U.S. history and government. You should also know how to read and write in English to pass the written portion of the exam. If English isn't your first language or you need to improve your reading skills, we recommend taking an English as a Second Language (E.S.L.) course before attempting the naturalization process.
The following are some tips for preparing for the exam:
Learn about U.S. history and government. Study this information before taking the exam to become familiar with it. Take practice tests to make sure that you understand the topics covered by each question type.
Read newspapers and magazines from around the country to keep up-to-date with current events in America. This will also help with question types related to knowledge of current events in America and its policies on issues such as immigration or foreign affairs.
Practice speaking English by talking with people who were born in the United States or have lived here most of their lives; they will be able to help you improve your pronunciation and intonation when speaking English aloud
Sample question and answers
Q: What is the supreme law of the land?
A: The Constitution
Q: When do we celebrate Independence Day?
A: July 4
Oath of Allegiance Requirement
You are not considered a U.S. citizen until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance. Here is what you will need to do:
- Complete the questionnaire on Form N-445
- Report to your naturalization ceremony
- Turn in your green card
- Take your Oath of Allegiance
- Receive your Naturalization Certificate. Be sure to review it and ensure that your name and other information are accurate.
Appealing a USCIS denial of your citizenship application
If the USCIS denies your application, the USCIS examiner must inform your that you have 30 days to request a hearing before an immigration officer. If you are unsuccessful at that hearing, you may seek a review of the decision in federal court. The court will make an independent decision and can overturn the USCIS decision.
Step 5: Receive your decision from USCIS visa mail if you mailed in your application. If you completed the form online, you will receive an electronic decision as well on your USCIS account.
- Granted - USCIS may approve your Form N-400 if the evidence in your record establishes that you are eligible for naturalization.
- Continued - USCIS may continue your application if you need to provide additional evidence/documentation, fail to provide USCIS the correct documents, or fail the English and/or civics test the first time.
- Denied - USCIS will deny your Form N-400 if the evidence in your record establishes you are not eligible for naturalization.
Dual Nationality and U.S. Citizenship
The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a citizen of two countries simultaneously. Each country has its own citizenship laws based on its own policy. Persons may have dual nationality by automatic operation of different laws rather than by choice. For example, a child born in a foreign country to U.S. citizen parents may be both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the country of birth.
A U.S. citizen may acquire foreign citizenship by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth. The law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. However, a person who acquires foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. To lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.
Intent can be shown by the person's statements or conduct. The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person's allegiance.
However, dual nationals owe allegiance to the United States and the foreign country, and they are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, mainly if the person later travels there. Most U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. The foreign country may also require dual nationals to use their passport to enter and leave that country. The use of a foreign passport does not endanger U.S. citizenship. Most countries permit a person to renounce or otherwise lose citizenship.