Naturalization is the way an immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen. Becoming a citizen gives you more rights and protections, and it potentially expands your eligibility for public benefits. However, naturalization is not a good choice for everyone.
Eligibility for naturalization
To be eligible for citizenship through naturalization, you must:
- Be a lawful permanent resident (LPR). To apply for citizenship, you must be an LPR for at least 5 years. If you are married to a citizen, you can apply for citizenship after 3 years of LPR status.
- Be an adult. You must be at least 18 years old.
- Have good moral character. You must have “good moral character.” Having good moral character means you are a good community member. To judge your moral character, officials look at things like your criminal history, tax-payment record, child support payment history and volunteer experience.
- Be in the U.S. You must be in the U.S. and maintain a residence for a certain time.
- Know U.S. civics. You must pass a U.S. civics test. It tests information about U.S. government and history. There are exceptions to the civics test if you are mentally or physically impaired. If you fall into this category, you should talk to a lawyer.
- Know English. You must pass an English test. The English test includes reading, writing and speaking. Your speaking is tested during the whole interview. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers study guides that you can use to prepare for the English test. There are exceptions to the English test if you are older or mentally or physically impaired. If you fall into this category, you should talk to a lawyer.
If you have a green card, you are not required to become a citizen. If you have eligibility questions, talk to an immigration lawyer. You can find nonprofits that offer free legal help in your area on this page under "Legal Help and Lawyers."
Risks of applying for naturalization
When you apply for naturalization, USCIS will carefully review your full history in the U.S. This means that if you apply for naturalization, you may risk removal (deportation). Your risk depends on your immigration, travel and criminal histories.
You should talk to an immigration lawyer to understand your individual risk level. Learn more about hiring an immigration lawyer.
Applying to become a citizen
After you determine you’re eligible, you will:
- Complete the form. A lawyer can help you complete the USCIS form to apply for naturalization. Complete the form honestly and completely.
- Pay the fees. When you apply, you will be charged a filing fee and a biometrics fee. Check the USCIS website to see the current fees and exceptions.
- Submit fingerprints. After you submit the application, USCIS may notify you of a biometrics appointment to take your fingerprints. If you are notified, you must go to the appointment. Your fingerprints are run through various criminal and security databases to make sure you’re eligible for naturalization.
- Go to your interview. After your background check, USCIS schedules an interview. Go to your interview. At your interview, you take the English and U.S. civics tests and go through your entire application.
- Receive results. After the interview, USCIS sends a written decision notice. USCIS may grant (approve), deny (reject) or continue your application. If your application is continued, you must submit more information or retake the civics or English test.
- Take the oath. In order to complete the naturalization process and become a U.S. citizen, you must take the U.S. Oath of Allegiance.
Appealing a denial
If you believe USCIS mistakenly denied your application, you can request a hearing. Before you request a hearing, talk to an immigration lawyer. You can find nonprofits that offer free legal help in your area on this page under "Legal Help and Lawyers."
Learn more about hiring an immigration lawyer.
Ways to become a citizen through your parents
Besides naturalization, there are other ways to become a citizen:
- Acquisition. You may be eligible for acquisition if your parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of your birth abroad.
- Derivation. You may be eligible for derivation if your parent became a U.S. citizen when you were under 18 years old.
If you want to become a citizen through acquisition or derivation, you should talk to a lawyer.
Almost everyone born in the U.S., regardless of their parents’ immigration status, becomes a U.S. citizen at birth.