When you've been granted a U.S. green card, you have two options: you can renew it regularly or you apply to become a full-pledged U.S. citizen. Although you are not required to become a U.S. citizen when you get your green card, there are many advantages in becoming one. Here are some benefits of being a U.S. citizen:
- Get the right to vote
- Run for public office
- Be qualified for federal benefits and employment
- Enjoy overseas travel longer than six months
- No fear of deportation
- Ability to sponsor other qualified family members for green card status
- Benefit from the tax laws of the U.S.
- Be qualified for monetary award, scholarships or government grants
- Be entitled to carry a U.S. passport
Depending on the circumstances, the process to gain U.S. citizenship can be less than a year or it could take several years. One of the reasons is based on where you are located when you apply for citizenship. If you are not yet a permanent resident (green card holder), this is where your entire process to gain U.S. citizenship will start. If your parents are not U.S. citizens, you have to immigrate to the U.S. first and become a permanent resident. Later you have to establish the required 5-year continuous residency and apply for naturalization. The residency requirement is shorter (by about 2 years) if you are married to a citizen of the United States or you are part of the United States Armed Forces.
If you are already a green card holder and you have fulfilled the required years of continuous residency, you are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
The first step is to file Form N-400 and pay the corresponding fees. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will process your application. This first step of your journey to becoming a U.S. citizen can take between 6 months to 1 year or more. A slight mistake in your application equates to delays in processing, so make sure that this important first step is error-free. You can get help from an immigration lawyer and ensure that a certified translator translates all your personal documents not written in English.
Once the USCIS has reviewed and approved your application, you will receive notice from the agency. You'll be informed of your schedule of immigration test and interview. The waiting time for the interview schedule will likewise depend on where you are, as longer waiting lists exist in some areas.
When you pass the exam and the interview, you may still need to wait for a day, 180 days or about 2 years before you can take the oath of citizenship, which is the final step to becoming a U.S. citizen. Your location and the number of people waiting for citizenship approval affect the waiting time for the oath-taking ceremony, where you will receive your certificate of naturalization.
Step-by-step Process to Become a U.S. Citizen
This process assumes that you are already a permanent resident of the United States, meaning you are a green card holder. This detailed process provides the most common questions about the naturalization process in the United States.
- Download, complete and submit the application form for U.S. Citizenship
To qualify to apply for U.S. citizenship via naturalization, you should meet following requirements:
- You are 18 years old and above at the time of application
- A lawful green card holder (permanent resident) for five years
- Have established continuous residency for 5 years and are physically present in the U.S.
- Possess good moral character
- Have basic knowledge of the English language
- Have basic knowledge of U.S. history and government
- Show willingness to take the Oath of Allegiance
- Submit to biometric services
- When you receive the application receipt notice sent by the USCIS, you should go to the local Application Support Center that is indicated in the USCIS letter on the specified time and date to get fingerprinted.
- The USCIS in the meantime will conduct a standard background check based on the information you've provided in your application form.
- There will be cases when the USCIS will request other supporting documents from you. You should comply with the instructions within the specified time.
- Attend the interview and take the exam conducted by the USCIS
- If all your papers are in order and your background check has been analyzed and there are no discrepancies, the USCIS will send you an interview appointment letter. Prepare for the interview by going over all the information that you have included in your application form, your documents and your environment.
- Make sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before your interview schedule. Bring the USCIS letter with you.
- Bring identification with photo as well as copies of the photo you have submitted together with your application. You should also bring any other document that the USCIS indicated in its letter.
- Provide simple and honest answers to the interview questions.
- Take the English and history tests.
- If you pass, you will be informed on the same day or you may have to wait for a few days before the USCIS gets in touch with you.
- Attend the Oath-Taking Ceremony
- If you qualify, you will receive another letter from the USCIS informing you of the time, date and location of the oath-taking ceremony.
- Arrive at the venue about 30 minutes to one hour prior to the specified time. Dress formally for the occasion.
- Register and return you green card (permanent resident card) to the USCIS.
- A USCIS officer will ask you what you have done from the time you had your interview.
- Take the oath of allegiance with other applicants like you.
- Receive your Certificate of Naturalization, confirming that you are now a bona fide citizen of the United States.
If you are already a permanent resident in the U.S., the process of naturalization can be from 6 months to more than two years. It is necessary that you comply with all the requirements given to you by the USCIS and that you remain in the U.S. for the duration. Ensure that all your supporting documents are in order, have all your foreign documents translated and certified, and keep duplicate copies of everything. Seek professional help, such as from an immigration attorney so you will get the right advice and representation.
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