People born outside of the United States may obtain US citizenship through a process called naturalization.
Once the requirements have been met, American citizenship shall be granted to foreign-born residents. This means they can vote, they have the right to government jobs, the right to apply for resident status for family members and the right to travel with a US passport which provides entry into many countries without a Visa.
A key benefit is the ability to petition an immediate family member without any visa number wait or visa limitations. This includes spouses, parents. and minor children under 21. Other family such as adult children and siblings are also eligible to receive a green card but is subject to visa number limitations and has a wait time.
Typically, the spouses and minor children of US citizens have a shorter wait periods than family members of residents because of no annual visa number limits.
Thinking about applying for Naturalization? Here’s a list to help you get ready.
Are you eligible to apply for naturalization?
Before you apply for US citizenship through naturalization, you must meet a number of specific requirements. Depending on your situation, there are different requirements that may apply to you. However, generally an applicant must:
- Applicant has been a lawful permanent resident for five years (or 3 years for a spouse of a US citizen)
- Applicant is 18 years or older
- Applicant has good moral character
- Applicant can read, write and speak English
- Applicant can pass a test on US history and government
- Applicant was physically present in the US at least half of the requisite time
- Applicant has maintained continued lawful permanent residence status
- Applicant did not have any trips outside the US more than 6 months
- Applicant is willing and able to swear loyalty to the United States and is willing to take an oath of allegiance to that United States.
Before applying, keep in mind that if you have a parent or a grandparent who was a US citizen either by birth, or naturalization before you turned 18 years old, you may have a claim to citizenship through acquisition. In this case, you would need to file a form N-600, application for certificate of citizenship.
Can you speak, read and write basic English and do you have an understanding of US History and government (civics)?
During your interview, a USCIS officer will test your ability to read, write and speak English and your knowledge of civics. Many times the reason the applicants fail the naturalization test is that they cannot answer the interview questions in English. You can find English and/or citizenship classes at your local community college or adult education programs. In Las Vegas, you can go to the community college of southern Nevada for citizenship classes. You should be prepared for the English portion for your naturalization test when you submit your application. At the naturalization interview, you will also be tested on your knowledge of US history and government (civics). Information on the test and study materials can be found at uscis.gov/citizenship.
Do you support the principles and ideals of the US Constitution and are you willing to swear an oath to the United States?
You must be willing to support and defend the United States and its Constitution. You declare your “attachment” or loyalty to the United States and the Constitution when you take the Oath of Allegiance at your naturalization ceremony. You become a US citizen after you take the Oath of Allegiance and a judge or state authorized officer swear you in.
Have you ever been married, divorced, widowed or had your name legally changed?
If yes, bring a copy of your marriage certificate, your divorce or annulment decree or death certificate of your former spouse to your naturalization interview. If you changed your name through a court, bring a copy of the court decree that legally changed your name. Also, if your current spouse was married before, bring evidence of the termination of your spouse’s prior marriage. Failure to show proof of your current marital status or legal name may delay your case.
Naturalization is the most easiest and cost effective (free) way to change your name and you can choose any name you want (even if it has no familiar relations to you). So, you can become John Smith if you’d like. All you need to do is choose the box indicating that you want to change your legal name and state which name you would like to have when you become a citizen. When you select this option, you will be asked again during your interview if you want to change your name, You will have to sign a paper stating your new name with your old signature and during your Oath Ceremony or shortly thereafter, you will receive an official judge signed order of change of your legal name.
Have you ever been arrested, detained or cited by the police or any other law enforcement officer?
If yes, bring documents that show the court disposition of the case for your interview. These documents show the final outcome of the case and are required for all arrests and detentions, including expunged records and plea bargains. If you were put on probation, bring evidence that you completed your probation. Failing to provide original or certified copied of court disposition could delay your case. They must be certified copies as well
Have you traveled outside of the United States since becoming a permanent resident?
If yes, you will need to show all foreign travel during the last five years as a permanent resident. Even if you have not traveled outside of the United States since becoming a permanent resident, you should bring all of your valid and expired passports and any travel documents issued by USCIS to your naturalization interview. Not bringing the passport documents could result in your case being delayed.
Are you a man between the ages of 18 and 26?
If you are a man between the ages of 18 and 26, you must register for the selective service and provide proof of your registration to the USCIS. If you are 26 or older, but under the age of 31, you must provide proof that you registered with the selective service when you were required to do so. If you were required to register and did not, you must bring to your interview both a written statement explaining why you did not register and a letter from the selective service system indicating your status. If you cant do so, you would have to wait until your 31 years old before applying for Naturalization.
Have you reported your income on your income tax forms?
Your tax returns are very important proof that you are eligible for naturalization. On the day of your interview, bring a certified tax returns for the last 5 years. (3 years if married to a US citizen). Certified tax transcripts may be ordered from irs.gov. If you owe any money to the IRS, you must show you have a re-payment plan if you want become a U.S. citizen. Failure to pay tax or arrange for a repayment plan disqualifies you for naturalization.
Did you submit photocopies of your Permanent Resident Card with your N-400, application for Naturalization?
If you are a lawful permanent resident, you must submit photocopies (front and back) of your form I-551, Permanent Resident Card. You will also need to bring your Permanent Resident Card and state-issued identification such as a driver’s license to your interview with USCIS. If you have lost your permanent Resident Card, attach a copy of any other entry document or a photocopy of a receipt showing that you have filed the Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card.
Did you sign the application and pay the correct fee?
Visit uscis.gov/n-400 to file your Application for Naturalization online. You should review your form N-400 Application for Naturalization, before submitting it to USCIS. If you live outside of the US you must provide 2 passport-style photos with your N-400. Make sure to sign the application and pay the correct fee. Also, we suggest that you keep a copy of your application for your records.
This fact sheet is meant to simplify the naturalization eligibility requirements and list of documents that can be asked during the naturalization interview, it does not constitutes a legal advice. This fact sheet lists the most commonly used documents but is not an all-inclusive list. A USCIS officer may ask for additional documents not listed here. If you have specific questions about your case, you may wish to consult an expert immigration attorney. They will be able to guide you in the right direction and make sure that the process is as streamlined as possible.