What is Naturalization?
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Jonathan Jamieson with Phillips Law Group.
Naturalization is the process by which a non-citizen becomes a citizen of the country they moved to. In some countries, naturalization may occur automatically over a period of time. In other countries like the United States, eligible individuals must apply for citizenship, which involves a ten-step naturalization process. For help understanding naturalization’s role in the application for U.S. citizenship, contact an immigration attorney.
U.S. citizenship is granted by naturalization after a lawful permanent resident has met all of the requirements in the Immigration and National Act (INA). The INA was enacted in 1952 and continues to govern the naturalization process for potential citizens. The INA has been and continues to be amended as necessary.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the naturalization process to become a U.S Citizen contains the following ten steps:
- 1. Determine if you are already a U.S. citizen. People born in the U.S., or born in another country to one or more parents with U.S. citizenship, generally already have citizenship. Similarly, if both parents completed the naturalization process, minor children may also be considered U.S. citizens. The determination of your current citizenship status will determine the following steps you will need to take.
- 2. Determine your eligibility. There are a variety of eligibility requirements a person needs to meet before being able to apply for naturalization. In general, a person must be 18 years of age or older and must have been a permanent lawful resident in the U.S. for at least five years, or three years if married to a U.S. citizen. Other eligibility requirements may include the ability to read, write, and speak basic English, proof of good moral character, and sponsorship status.
- 3. Prepare Form N-400. This form is considered the application for naturalization. This form must be completed and signed by the applicant, and may also require passport-style photos of the applicant in addition to whatever documents the applicant has that can prove their eligibility for naturalization.
- 4. Submit Form N-400. This may include an application and/or biometric service fee. If the applicant is seeking an exception to the English-proficiency/civil test requirements due to a disability or mental impairment, they will also need to submit Form N-648 Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions with their application. This is also where the passport-style photos and other documentation of eligibility will be submitted. If you relocate after filing the N-400, you have 10 days to change your address by filing Form AR-11 Change of Address.
- 5. Attend the biometrics appointment. A biometrics appointment may be scheduled. At this appointment, the applicant will be fingerprinted and have their picture taken in order for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct a background check.
- 6. Complete the requested interview. After the biometrics appointment if applicable, the applicant will need to complete an interview. This is one of the final steps in the naturalization application process. The applicant must report to the location set for the appointment at the date and time included on their appointment notice. Additionally, the appointment notice must be brought to the meeting. This is when the applicant will take the U.S. history and civics test to prove their knowledge of the country. If the interviewer cannot grant eligibility for citizenship after this step due to further questions, the application process may be extended; common reasons for this include failure of the U.S. history, civics, or English language test, a need for additional evidence proving eligibility, or because the applicant did not bring the correct documents to the interview.
- 7. Receive a decision. This is when the applicant will either receive an approval or denial of their Form N-400. If the Form N-400 is accepted, the applicant will be granted eligibility for naturalization. If not, the records will show that the applicant is not eligible for naturalization and will include an explanation of why. If an application is denied and the applicant believes the reasons are incorrect, the applicant may request a hearing to appeal the decision.
- 8. Receive a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance. In some situations, the applicant may be able to take the Oath of Allegiance on the same day they pass their interview. If not, the applicant will receive a notice of the date, time, and location of the oath ceremony and must attend. If for some reason the applicant cannot attend the scheduled ceremony, they may submit Form N-445 Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony to request your participation in the ceremony be rescheduled.
- 9. Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This is the last step in the naturalization process to becoming a U.S. citizen. After taking the Oath of Allegiance, the new citizen will receive their Certificate of Naturalization. At this time the new citizen will be expected to turn in their Permanent Resident (Green) Card.
- 10. Understand U.S. citizenship rights and responsibilities. Common rights and responsibilities that are expected of every U.S. citizen include various personal freedoms and responsibilities to the United States itself. The new citizen will likely be provided with further resources and material for understanding their new role as an official U.S. citizen.
For help understanding or going through the naturalization process, or to appeal a denial of citizenship, reach out to an immigration attorney.