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U.S. Citizenship: An Overview

Applying for a United States Citizenship can provide many benefits such as the freedom to travel, the right to vote, reuniting with family members, providing citizenship for your children, and protection against deportation to name a few. Non-U.S. citizens typically go through the route of naturalization. This overview will cover the types of citizenship, general eligibility requirements, and a summary of the process of becoming a U.S. Citizen.

There are four types of citizenship: by family (jus sanguinis), by birth (jus soli), by marriage (jus matrimonii), and through naturalization.

Citizenship by family is when one is born to a U.S. citizen parent, making you eligible to apply for citizenship.

Citizenship by birth is where you were born in the USA and automatically become a U.S. citizen.

Citizenship by marriage is when you obtain citizenship through special circumstances, with your spouse sponsoring your green card.

By becoming a U.S. citizen through the process of Naturalization you would owe your allegiance to the U.S., are entitled to protection from deportation, and exercise rights and responsibilities as U.S. Citizens. The general eligibility requirements of naturalization include but are not limited to:

  • Being at least 18 years old at the time of filing the application (N-400)
  • Being able to read, write, speak, and understand basic English
  • Having a basic knowledge of U.S. history, government, and principles
  • Holding onto the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution
  • Prove continuous permanent residence and physical presence for at least five (5) years
  • Be of good moral character

The process to becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization can be quite costly for most in terms of time and money. Often immigrants who are applying for U.S. citizenship do not have a direct relative in the United States who happens to be a U.S. Citizen. As mentioned before, you must hold a green card for at least five years and be physically present in the United States for at least three (3) years in those five years. In addition, the cost of filing the N-400 application for naturalization is $640 which includes the application processing and an additional $85 for biometrics; both being non-refundable. There is no way to speed up the process of your application nor is there a way to purchase a U.S. citizenship.

After submitting the Form N-400 and paying any filing fees, USCIS will send a receipt notice, allowing you to check your case status online as well as the processing time. USCIS will also send an appointment notice for your biometrics service in case it is necessary. Once you have completed any of the necessary preliminary procedures of your case, you will report to the USCIS office on the date and time shown on your appointment notice, which you must bring with you.

During the interview by a USCIS officer, you will be asked questions about your background, which is required. The officer will also test your basic reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension of English unless you are exempt. As mentioned above, you will also be tested on your knowledge of U.S. history. This is known as the civics test, an oral exam in which the USCIS officer will ask the applicant up to 10 of the 100 civic questions. In order to pass, the applicant must have 6 out of 10 questions correct to pass this part of the naturalization process. You will have two chances to take the English and civics test, as well as answer any questions relating to the form N-400.

After the interview process, USCIS will mail a notice of decision. There are three outcomes to this: Granted, they may approve your form N-400 if the evidence in your record deems you eligible for naturalization. Continued, they may continue your application, provided you have any of the correct and additional documents or evidence that USCIS requires. Denied, they will deny your form N-400 if the evidence in your record deems you not eligible for naturalization.

If USCIS grants your Form N-400, you may be eligible to participate in a naturalization ceremony the same day as your interview. The naturalization ceremony is also where you take the Oath of Allegiance. If it cannot be done the same day, USCIS will send you a notice indicating a time, date, and location for your scheduled ceremony. This is not optional. Failure to appear more than once for your ceremony would result in your application being denied, as you are not a U.S. citizen until you take the Oath of Allegiance.

Upon checking in for your naturalization ceremony, you must surrender your Permanent Resident Card to USCIS. Though the requirement is waived, provided you give proof that your card was lost and attempted to recover it, or, due to military service, you were not granted permanent residence. Upon taking your Oath and receiving your Certificate of Naturalization, you will not be needing your Permanent Resident Card.

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