American citizenship

The path to becoming a US citizen

American citizenship

For many, US citizenship is the emblem of the American dream. Every year, thousands of people apply to become American citizens through a process called naturalization. But, how exactly does it work?

US citizenship comes with many benefits: voting rights, the ability to sponsor your relatives for a green card, access to certain jobs and benefits, and the ability to travel with one of the most powerful passports in the world. If you are a green card holder living in the US, you may be eligible to apply.

Who qualifies?

To be eligible to become a US citizen, with some exceptions, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have had a green card for at least 5 years, or for at least 3 if you’re married to a US citizen (and abided by the rules regarding leaving the country for prolonged periods of time) 
  • Have been a resident of the state or USCIS district where you plan to apply for citizenship for at least 3 months before applying
  • Be of “good moral character” - meaning you have not committed certain types of crimes and did not lie during your naturalization interview
  • Demonstrate basic knowledge of the English language and understanding of US history and government. This will be tested through a two-part naturalization test
  • Register for military service if you are a male who has lived in the US between the ages of 18 and 26 - this can be done online through the Selective Service System 

How to apply

The estimated processing time for naturalization applications is between 6 months to 1 year, but this can vary by region. The overall naturalization process, however, involves more steps and may take up to 9 additional months. The steps are as followed:

1. File your Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) and supporting documents. You will also have to pay a filing fee of $640 and a further $85 for biometric services.

2. Attend your biometrics appointment - you’ll receive an appointment notice from the USCIS specifying when and where to get your fingerprints and photos taken.

3. Complete the interview - you’ll be given an appointment date and time, and this is also when you will be asked to complete the citizenship exam:

  • The English test has three components: reading, writing, and speaking.
  • The Civics test consists of 10 questions from a list of 100 pre-selected questions  about important US history and government topics. Practice tests are available on the government website 
  • If you don’t pass, you can retake that portion of the exam at a later date.

4. Receive a decision on your application - this usually happens on the same day as your interview. Your application may be:

  • Approved - in which case you will move on to the next step
  • Continued - this means you either didn’t pass the citizenship exam or you didn’t provide the correct documentation
  • Denied - in which case you may file an appeal within 30 days of receiving your decision

5. Attend the Naturalization Oath Ceremony and receive your Certificate of Naturalization

Dual citizenship

The United States allows its citizens to have dual nationality, but you should make sure that your other country of citizenship allows this as well. US citizens are required by law to use their US passport, and not a foreign passport, when travelling to and from the States.

Further reading

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