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By Michael Vosilla
Senior Associate

In a recent fiscal year, 878,500 people who arrived in the United States from other countries took the oath and became naturalized citizens. This represents the culmination of achieving the American Dream for many immigrants. However, a foreign national wanting to assume the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship must pass through a complex process that underscores the privileges associated with citizenship.

Understanding Naturalization

Naturalization refers to the process by which a lawful permanent resident receives U.S. citizenship. A permanent resident must voluntarily choose to pursue citizenship. In the U.S., the naturalization process ensures a permanent resident’s suitability to become a citizen and confirms their commitment to the obligations and benefits that come with it. The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the authority to establish a naturalization law.

Eligibility Criteria for Naturalization

Lawful permanent residents wishing to pursue naturalization must meet various eligibility criteria. An applicant must be at least 18 years old, be a legal permanent resident of the U.S. for at least five years, and have a physical presence in the U.S. for at least two-and-a-half years (absences of six months or more reset the clock). 

Persons married to U.S. citizens only need lawful permanent resident status for three years before they may apply for naturalization. They must also have been married to their U.S. citizen spouse for at least three years and have a physical presence in the U.S. for 18 months out of those three years before applying. 

Minor children of U.S. citizens do not have to go through naturalization. Instead, they can seek acquisition of citizenship. 

Non-citizens who have honorably served in the U.S. Armed Forces for at least one year may also become eligible to pursue naturalization. Current or former servicemembers must obtain lawful permanent residency by the date of their naturalization interview. 

All applicants for naturalization must meet other basic eligibility criteria, including:

  • Demonstrating the ability to write, read, and speak in English (unless qualified for an exception or waiver)
  • Demonstrating knowledge of U.S. history and government (unless excepted)
  • Demonstrating good moral character for at least five years before applying for naturalization and maintaining good character through the date of naturalization
  • Demonstrating an attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and disposition to the good order and happiness of the U.S. 

Application Process

The naturalization process begins with completing Form N-400, the application form for naturalization. An applicant’s Form N-400 must include two passport-style photos (if the applicant resides outside the U.S.) and supporting documentation demonstrating their eligibility for naturalization. Applicants can also submit Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, to seek a waiver from the English or civics requirements due to a physical, mental, or developmental disability. 

After submitting the application forms, an applicant will receive an appointment notice to go to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office for fingerprinting and photographing to facilitate an FBI criminal background check. Applicants who pass the criminal background check will receive an appointment notice for their naturalization interview. During the interview, applicants meet with a USCIS officer who will ask questions about information on the applicant’s Form N-400. Applicants will also take the English and U.S. civics tests. 

Applicants who pass the naturalization interview (including the English and civics tests) will receive notice of approval of their application for naturalization. Approved applicants will receive a notice of the time, date, and location of their scheduled ceremony to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, after which the applicant officially becomes a U.S. citizen. In some cases, applicants approved at their naturalization interview can take the oath at the end of the interview. 

Contact an Immigration Attorney Today to Learn More About Naturalization

If you’ve considered becoming a U.S. citizen, an experienced immigration lawyer can help prepare and guide you through the naturalization process. Contact LaFountain & Wollman P.C. today for an initial consultation to discuss how we can help you succeed in your journey to becoming a citizen.

About the Author
Attorney Michael Vosilla is LaFountain & Wollman, P.C.’s Senior Associate, who currently resides in Brighton. As an immigration lawyer, Attorney Vosilla has secured green cards and citizenship for countless clients, and he is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).