Requirements for Applying for Citizenship in the United States
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed January 18, 2018
Applying for U.S. citizenship is a long, extensive process, but for many it is worth the time and effort the process demands. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) handles citizenship applications, and here are the basic requirements you need to meet when applying for citizenship in the U.S.:
- You already have a green card.
- You are at least 18 years old.
- You have lived in the U.S. lawfully as a permanent resident for at least five years unless you are a spouse of a U.S. citizen, refugee, or received your green card through political asylum.
- During those five years, you have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the time.
- You have not spent more than one year at a time outside the U.S.
- You have not established a primary home in another country.
- You have lived in the state or district where you are filing your application for at least three months.
- You have "good moral character."
- You can read, write and speak English.
- You can pass a test about U.S. history and government.
- You will swear that you believe in the principles of the U.S. Constitution and will be loyal to the U.S.
The Application and Your Immigration History
If you meet all the above criteria, the next step is to actually apply. Complete the citizenship application and include a copy of your current green card, any required photos and any application fee(s). The USCIS is a slow agency and applying for citizenship will likely leave you waiting for months before they will schedule an appointment to get you fingerprinted and schedule an interview.
Be aware that they will question your entire immigration history. Every trip out of the U.S. will be closely examined, so be prepared to answer any potential questions and provide any documentation you can to substantiate why you left the country. Do not lie for any reason; if the USCIS detects any fraud, they will not only deny your citizenship request but strip you of your green card and deport you.
The interview is really a test, and a USCIS officer will test your proficiency in English (unless you fit within an exempted category and are over 50) as well as your knowledge of U.S. history and government. Disabled applicants can request reasonable accommodations. The test isn't a trap and the officers aren't out to fail you, but study up -- if you've waited this long to be a citizen, you don't want the test to be the reason you miss your opportunity.
The Swearing-In Ceremony
If you make it through the interview, you'll receive an appointment to a swearing-in ceremony. It's at this ceremony that you finally, formally, become a citizen. You will take an oath and receive a certificate of naturalization to prove your citizenship. Now that you are formally a citizen, you can also petition to have close family members legally enter the U.S.
Talk to an Attorney About the Requirements for Applying for Citizenship in the U.S.
Getting to the end goal of becoming a U.S. citizen requires time, research, and a lot of paperwork. If you're interested in applying for citizenship, you may want to contact an immigration lawyer to learn more about the requirements for applying for citizenship in the U.S. and have guidance when filling out all of the necessary paperwork.
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Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with the citizenship process.