American Citizenship

How Do You Obtain Citizenship?

The Fourteenth Amendment recognizes “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” as citizens. The naturalization process is thorough. Having a citizenship lawyer by your side helps ensure a smooth transition from noncitizen to American.

Although your specific path to citizenship may have certain requirements, don’t be overwhelmed or discouraged. Most of our attorneys are immigrants themselves and know how to help you overcome any obstacles you face in the citizenship process.

Citizenship Through Naturalization

Our citizenship attorneys help you file the citizenship application, ensure you understand the process and prepare you for your interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer.

Although the process might be slightly different for each path, most people seeking citizenship complete the following steps:

  • Form N-400: Lawful permanent residents and spouses of U.S. citizens should complete form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
  • Oral Civics Test: Although there are exceptions for age and ability, many immigrants answer questions about U.S. civics.
  • Language: Many immigrants applying for citizenship demonstrate a basic understanding of the English language. There are exceptions.
  • Lawful Permanent Resident: Generally, individuals seeking citizenship have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. Spouses of U.S. citizens should live in the U.S. for three years.
  • Physically Present: In addition to being a lawful permanent resident, you have remained physically present for at least half the time.
  • Strong Moral Character: It is helpful to have a clean background check and no history of criminal behavior or substance abuse issues.
  • Age: Certain naturalized paths to citizenship require applicants to be at least 18 years old.
  • Oath of Allegiance: The final step in the journey toward citizenship is taking an Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.

Children under 18 who are lawful permanent residents become U.S. citizens automatically when their parents complete the naturalization process.

Eligibility for Naturalization

To become a citizen of the United States and obtain naturalization, you must meet specific eligibility requirements. These include:

  • Being at least 18 years of age
  • Being a lawful permanent resident or a green card holder for a minimum of five years, or a minimum of three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen
  • Having a physical presence within the United States

Once your naturalization application is approved, you should be prepared to declare allegiance to the United States. This will renounce your allegiance to foreign countries and serve as a pledge of your loyalty to the United States.

Citizenship Through Acquisition

The most common path to citizenship through naturalization is being a lawful permanent resident, being married to a U.S. citizen, or serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, if your mother or father are U.S. citizens, you can become a citizen through acquisition.

If one or both of your parents are U.S. citizens, you may obtain citizenship at birth and after birth but before 18. There are different guidelines for children of U.S. citizens who live inside or outside the country:

  • Form N-600: Complete and file Form N-600 (Application for Certificate of Citizenship) for children of U.S. citizens born elsewhere but now live in the U.S.
  • INA-322: Complete and file the Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate for children of U.S. citizens who live outside the U.S.

An experienced citizenship application lawyer helps you avoid legal and administrative errors that could delay the process.

Dual Citizenship

The U.S. allows you to be a citizen of America and another country, provided you follow all laws and policies of the United States. However, some countries place restrictions on dual citizenship, also known as dual nationality. As much as you might want to retain dual citizenship, it might not be possible.

An American citizenship attorney at our firm can help you check for conflicts if you wish to seek dual citizenship

What Are the Differences between Naturalization and Citizenship?

Although naturalization and citizenship are often used interchangeably, the two have several differences. First, citizenship refers to your legal status granting specific responsibilities, privileges, and rights. Citizenship can be obtained through marriage, birthright, descent, or naturalization. Naturalization occurs when you become a citizen of a country voluntarily.

However, both naturalized citizens and citizens by birth have the same privileges and rights within the United States. This includes voting, receiving social benefits, holding a passport, and running for public office.

What Should Citizenship Applicants Expect?

When applying for United States citizenship, there are specific steps you can expect throughout the process. These include:

  • Determining whether you have met the eligibility requirements
  • Submitting your necessary citizenship application and other supporting documents
  • Completing a background check and an interview with USCIS officials
  • Passing a citizenship test
  • Demonstrating proof of English proficiency
  • Taking an oath of allegiance to the United States

How Long Is the Process, and What are the Costs?

Some people can get their applications approved in a matter of months. However, if your application is more complex, it could take a year or longer to get your application approved.

You should also expect to pay fees for filing your application and receiving a background check. Other expenses that you may need to absorb as part of the citizenship application process include:

  • Obtaining passports
  • Translation services
  • Transportation to immigration offices
  • The cost of a citizenship attorney
  • Birth certificates
  • Language testing fees
  • The cost of an attorney

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may qualify for a fee exemption or waiver if you meet specific criteria. For example, if you are going through financial hardship, USCIS may be able to waive certain costs. You can find out more about how much you could expect to spend and how long it might take to process your citizenship application when you discuss the details of your case with your naturalization attorneys at The American Immigration Law Group.

Biometrics Appointment

The USCIS office may require biometrics as part of your naturalization process. If you use the facial ID security option on your cell phone, you are already familiar with biometrics. You will receive an appointment with the date, location, and time for a biometric appointment.

You may have an immigration and naturalization attorney accompany you.

U.S. Civics & English Language Test

Your naturalization journey might include an English and civics test. You should demonstrate that you understand reading, writing, and speaking basic English. You’ll answer oral questions about the U.S. government and critical historical events.

American Immigration Law Group can connect you with additional resources to help you prepare for the citizenship test. We can also seek an exemption based on age or disability for one or both parts of the test.

Moral Character

A naturalization attorney can defend individuals who might be barred from citizenship from an alleged lack of “good moral character.”

We use every available legal instrument to overcome any obstacles to citizenship.

What Is “Good Moral Character?”

An individual’s conduct and character are crucial in the citizenship and naturalization process. To be considered of good moral character, you must:

  • Have limited or zero criminal convictions on your record
  • Limited or zero immigration violations, including overstaying a visa
  • Be honest and handle your naturalization application with integrity
  • Have respect for the United States laws and regulations
  • Be an active participant in the community through social engagement or volunteering

Naturalization Interview

A USCIS officer asks you questions about your application and background during your naturalization interview. Even if you have legal exemptions from the civics and English test, you must complete a brief interview.

Some of the questions might include why you want to become a naturalized citizen, your name, date of birth, and your background.

A citizenship and naturalization attorney may accompany you to the USCIS interview.

Naturalization Ceremony

One of the last forms you’ll need to become a naturalized citizen is Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony.

At the naturalization ceremony, you will:

  • Return your green card (permanent residence card) to a USCIS representative.
  • Take the Oath of Allegiance.
  • Receive your Certificate of Naturalization, which serves as official proof that you are a U.S. citizen.