Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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Immigrants who wish to apply for American citizenship must meet certain requirements before they can become citizens. While it would be nice if government agencies worked as smoothly as memberhship in your local fitness club, the process of applying for United States citizenship is far more extensive and can take several years depending on your situation. There are four general stages involved in the process of applying for citizenship and becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen: 

  1. Determining if you are eligible;
  2. Making your application;
  3. Completing an interview;
  4. Being sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Even though the steps seem basic, the process of weaving through the administrative procedures can be daunting. Just to determine eligibility can actually end up being a longer part of the process. Some of the requirements that you must meet before you apply include:

  • You must be 18 years of age;
  • You must be of good moral character;
  • You have to be able to read, write and speak the English language;
  • You must pass a test of U.S. history;
  • You must meet certain residency requirements.

Laying the Groundwork – the Green Card

For preparation, you can probably deal with most of the requirements on your own just by studying in the library. The legal requirements, however, tend to be more tedious, namely that you already have a green card. If you do not have a green card, review the section regarding navigating the green card process. Going from temporary status to permanent status with a green card can take several years depending on your individual situation. Filing an application for citizenship without laying the groundwork will only result in wasted effort and funds.

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Submitting Your Citizenship Application

Once you meet the eligibility requirements, you must then submit an application. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will provide the form required for application of citizenship. The form you will need is Form N-400. The form also comes with a checklist of documents required to be submitted with the form. All applications require two photos and an application fee. Depending on your personal situation, you may be required to submit other documentation. For example, if you are divorced, you will need to submit copies of your divorce decree. If you were recently placed on deferred adjudication for a criminal offense, you will need to submit a copy of the criminal court’s order. It is extremely important to submit a correct and complete application. Falsifying answers or failing to attach required documents could either cause delays or denials of your application.

After you file your application, you will receive a written notice of an appointment to be fingerprinted from the USCIS. You will also receive additional notices for an interview and a civics quiz. Failure to make any of the required appointments can also result in denial or delays of your applications.

Naturalization Application Review

Once your application for American citizenship is completed and filed, the USCIS will review your application. You will get a letter that will usually provide one of three decisions. Your application will be accepted, denied, or continued. If your application is continued, USCIS may want you to amend or change something before they will approve your application. If your application is denied, your letter will include a set of instructions on how to appeal the denial. If your application is accepted, you will then be required to take an oath of allegiance. 

This article serves as a general overview of the process of becoming an American citizen. Providing correct responses and the timing of certain applications can affect your progress in becoming a naturalized citizen. An attorney who specializes in immigration law can help navigate you through the process and the pitfalls.