Naturalization is the legal process through which a foreign national becomes a citizen of a country. In the context of the United States, this process allows eligible immigrants to acquire U.S. citizenship, affording them all the rights and responsibilities of a citizen. The naturalization process in the U.S. is well-regulated and comprises specific steps and requirements.

1. Eligibility Criteria for Naturalization

Before delving into the naturalization process, it’s crucial to understand the eligibility criteria that applicants must meet to be considered for U.S. citizenship. These criteria are as follows:

  • Applicants must be at least 18 years old at the time of filing the application for naturalization.
  • Individuals seeking naturalization must have been a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States for a certain period, typically five years. However, this period can be reduced to three years for those married to U.S. citizens.
  • Continuous residence in the United States is required throughout the statutory period preceding the application. Extended trips abroad may disrupt the continuity of residence.
  • Applicants should have spent a significant portion of the required residency period physically present in the U.S. The general rule is that at least half of the statutory period (usually 30 months) must be spent in the country.
  • Applicants must demonstrate good moral character during the statutory period leading up to the application. Any criminal convictions or other moral character issues may affect eligibility.
  • Applicants are required to show a willingness to support and uphold the principles and values of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Most applicants must demonstrate the ability to read, write, and speak basic English. Exemptions may apply based on age and length of residence.
  • are generally required to pass a civics test, demonstrating knowledge of U.S. government and history.

2. The Naturalization Process

The naturalization process involves several steps and requirements, which are outlined below:

Step 1. Filing the N-400 Application: The naturalization journey begins with the submission of Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization, to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Along with the form, applicants must provide the necessary supporting documents and the required fee.

Step 2. Biometrics Appointment: After the application is received and processed, applicants will be scheduled for a biometrics appointment. During this appointment, fingerprints and photographs are taken for background checks.

Step 3. Interview and Examination: Applicants will be called for an interview with a USCIS officer. This interview assesses the applicant’s knowledge of English and U.S. history and government. Additionally, the applicant’s N-400 form and supporting documents are reviewed.

Step 4. Civics and English Test: As part of the interview, applicants are required to pass a civics test, which consists of questions about U.S. government and history. They must also demonstrate their ability to speak and understand English.

Step 5. Oath of Allegiance: If the USCIS officer approves the application, the applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This oath marks the final step in the naturalization process.

Step 6. Certificate of Naturalization: After taking the Oath of Allegiance, applicants receive a Certificate of Naturalization, officially conferring U.S. citizenship upon them. This certificate is a vital document and should be kept secure.

Step 7. Updating Records: Newly naturalized citizens should update their records with various government agencies, including the Social Security Administration and the Department of State.

Derivative Citizenship

In some cases, children born to U.S. citizen parents may acquire U.S. citizenship at birth. This is known as derivative citizenship, and it is subject to specific conditions and requirements. Typically, the child must be under 18 years of age, living in the custody of the U.S. citizen parent, and have lawful permanent resident status. The process for establishing derivative citizenship involves filing Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.

The Value of U.S. Citizenship

Obtaining U.S. citizenship through naturalization is a significant milestone in the lives of immigrants. It grants individuals the rights and privileges enjoyed by native-born citizens, including the right to vote, the ability to sponsor family members for immigration benefits, and access to a wide range of employment and educational opportunities. Additionally, U.S. citizens have the benefit of a U.S. passport, which facilitates international travel and offers protection while abroad.