Becoming a United States citizen allows immigrants endless opportunities for an improved life, better work, and bestows on them freedoms and protections. Naturalization is the legal process of becoming an American citizen.
The process is lengthy and requires much of the applicant, including extensive documentation, background investigations, biometrics screenings, English and civics testing, and an oath of loyalty. Participation in the process, overseen by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), demonstrates each foreign national’s sincerity and resolve to become a naturalized citizen.
To help you prepare, the following is a summary of what to expect as you pursue citizenship in the U.S.
Determine Your Eligibility
Before applying for citizenship in the U.S., you must first determine your eligibility. Applicants for naturalization must be:
- At least 18 years old at the time of your application.
- A current lawful permanent resident living in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years prior to your application date.
- Physically present and residing in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years prior to your application date.
- Able to understand, speak, and write English.
- Demonstrate good moral character with no criminal record.
- Knowledgeable regarding the government and history of the U.S.
- Be willing to pledge loyalty to the U.S., principals of the U.S. Constitution, and take the Oath of Allegiance.
If you meet the eligibility criteria, you may then apply for U.S. citizenship. The USCIS has many resources on their website that explain the naturalization process, what to expect, and how to prepare yourself for the remaining steps and citizenship test.
If you determine that you are not yet eligible to apply for citizenship, waiting and applying at a later time is generally recommended. Taking additional time affords you the opportunity to address any of the requirements you did not meet and correct them.
File Your Application
If you meet the eligibility requirements, you must then submit your application for naturalization, the required supplemental documentation, and fees. You will need to provide the following:
- A copy of your lawful permanent resident card.
- If married, a copy of your marriage certificate.
- Proof of foreign employment for your American citizen spouse, if applicable.
- If residing outside the U.S., two passport type photographs.
Attend a Biometrics Appointment
All applicants for naturalization must participate in a biometrics screening. During the screening, you will be fingerprinted, photographed, and provide your signature to a USCIS officer. This information will be used for a criminal background check conducted by the FBI and crosschecked with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) database for immigration violations. The background check examines:
- Any criminal history you have.
- Any affiliation you have with organizations deemed to be a threat to the U.S.
- Your immigration records, including any previous violations or deportation proceedings.
- Potential intelligence records and information pertaining to you and a crosscheck of terrorist watchlists and terrorist affiliations you may have.
- A thorough record of your travel history in and outside of the U.S.
- Participation in any foreign activity.
- A check for any fraudulent activity you may have been involved in, including identity theft.
Attend the Citizenship Interview and Exam
In order to become a U.S. citizen, you must take and pass the naturalization test, which will be scheduled within a few weeks following your biometrics screening. The test will be administered by a USCIS officer during the interview phase of the process. There test consists of two parts: English exam and a civics test.
- Speaking ability: The USCIS officer will discuss your application and eligibility requirements with you to gauge your understanding of the English language and your ability to speak English.
- Writing ability: You will be provided with three sentences and asked to write them in English. You are required to write at least one sentence correctly.
- Reading ability: You will be given three sentences to read aloud to the officer. You must read at least one correctly to demonstrate your English reading comprehension.
This portion of the test covers your knowledge of the history and government structure of the U.S. The test is given orally, and you will be required to answer all questions aloud in English.
The USCIS website has numerous study materials for the test, including online multiple-choice practice tests, that you may take as many times as you would like. There are over 120 potential questions the officer can choose from to test you on, so it is wise to spend considerable time studying and preparing for the exam. Many communities offer English as a second-language acquisition course that can help you learn and understand English. There may also be citizenship study groups in your area that you may find beneficial in preparing you for the test.
If you do not pass the test, you are given a second opportunity to take the test again. You are given up to 90 days to retake the exam, allowing you more time to study and prepare before taking the exam a second time. You will only be asked to test on the portions of the test you did not pass on your first attempt. Be dedicated to your studies, as you will not be allowed to test again if you fail a second time.
Participate in the Oath Ceremony
After you have successfully completed each step in the naturalization process and pass your exam, you will be required to participate in the Oath of Allegiance ceremony. This is a large public ceremony where you will swear your loyalty to the U.S., and it is the last step in becoming an American citizen. Following the ceremony, you will be given your certificate of naturalization stating you are now a citizen of the U.S.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Assist Clients in the Naturalization Process
The process of becoming a U.S. citizen can be overwhelming. Fortunately, our Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. can provide you with the support you need to help you succeed in obtaining American citizenship. Call us today at 215-925-4435 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.