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: Feb 10, 2020

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To become a U.S citizen, apply to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) using Form N-400, Application for Naturalization (and also Form N-600 if you have a minor child). Submit the form to USCIS with all required supporting documents and the filing fee. USCIS will arrange for you to be fingerprinted so the FBI can run a background check, and will also interview you to confirm your suitability. Any missed deadlines, missed appointments, or incorrect paperwork can set you back—strongly consider hiring an immigration attorney to help you navigate this maze. As you apply, do not let your legal status lapse, since that will set you back, too.

Meeting citizenship requirements does not guarantee U.S. citizenship; the process requires strict adherence to the application procedures and deadlines. Your citizenship application will begin with Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization. If you have an accompanying child under 18 years of age for whom you also wish to apply for citizenship, then you’ll need to use Form N-600 as well. USCIS frequently updates its forms, so make sure that you utilize the most current form. Using the wrong form can result in your application being rejected.

Once you have filled out Form N-400 completely, you will submit it to USCIS along with any required attachments and the filing fee. Required attachments generally include passport-style photos, marriage certificates, birth certificates, and divorce decrees, if any. The current filing fee for naturalization is $680. This fee includes the cost for the application ($595) and a biometric fee of $85. USCIS designates certain service centers to receive applications. It is extremely important that you check with their website to find out where your application should be submitted, as the service center locations can change from year to year. Failure to send your application to the right service center could result in delays.

Pay Very Close Attention to Appointments and Filing Deadlines

The next step is to file your application in a timely manner. You may submit your application three months in advance of when you will meet your residency requirement. However, you may not submit an application if you have allowed your legal status to lapse to out-of-status or illegal status. Timelines are extremely important to the citizenship process.

After your application is received, USCIS will set up an appointment for you to be fingerprinted. USCIS will send the fingerprint card to the FBI, which conducts a background check to determine whether you have committed a crime that might disqualify you from citizenship. You will then be interviewed by an immigration officer. Failure to make either your fingerprinting appointment or the interview could result in your application being denied.

The application process can take up to two years to finalize. In the meantime, you can check the status of your application online at the USCIS website. If you are approved for citizenship, you will then take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.

The process for U.S. citizenship can be time-consuming and expensive. However, taking the time to consult an immigration attorney can actually help reduce expenses and delays in the long run by alerting you to pitfalls and deficiencies in your application.