How Long Does It Take To Become a U.S. Citizen

The process of becoming a U.S. citizen varies depending on your eligibility. Generally, it takes between 8 to 12 months to become a citizen of the United States. However, due to some unavoidable circumstances such as backlogs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic or executive orders, the process could take up to 16 months.

But even before we discuss the question of how long does it take to become a US citizen, here are some eligibility requirements that should be met prior to initiating the application process.

Eligibility requirements to attain US citizenship

  • You must prove that you are a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., also known as a green cardholder.
  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • You must prove that you have lived in the United States for at least five years. If you are married to a US citizen, you must have lived in the U.S. for at least three years.
  • You must also prove that you have lived in the U.S. state that you currently live for not less than three months.
  • If you are in the U.S. Armed Forces or you will be filing for citizenship within the first 6 months of an honorable discharge, having served for at least one year.
  • You must also be a green card holder on the day of your interview.
  • You have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government.
  • You are a person of good morals.

Once you have met the above eligibility requirements, it is now time to fill out your N-400 application for naturalization. The filing instructions are usually provided by USCIS on their website. The instructions may vary depending on the nature of your application.

Here are some five key steps involved in the naturalization process.

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Step #1 – Fill out Form N-400

Form N-400, also known as Application for Naturalization, is a government-issued form given to green card holders who wish to become citizens of the United States.

Filling this form is considered the first step to becoming a U.S. citizen, also known as naturalization.

Along with your application, make sure you submit your supporting documents, which may include a copy of your green card and two passport style photos. The list of supporting documents that should be submitted with form N-400 is available as form M-477 on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website – the government agency in charge of processing citizenship and immigration applications.

You have two options to file your N-400 application; online or via mail. The online option is mostly preferred because it is faster and more convenient.

If you choose to file your form N-400 online, you must create an account on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) site. The online option lets you pay your filing fee online, check the status of your application, receive notifications and updates about your application, monitor estimated case completion dates, respond to requests for additional information, and update your contact information such as address.

To file your N-400 by mail, USCIS provides a list of addresses where you can mail your application. To view the list of addresses, click go to the USCIS website, and then click on Where To File.

The addresses vary depending on your state or military service history. If you are a current or former member of the military who wishes to apply based on your military service, the USCIS offers a different mailing address for your citizenship application.

Once your application has been submitted and a receipt notice sent to you, you may have to wait for up to a month to proceed to the next step. The waiting period may be shorter or longer than a month depending on factors such as huge backlog of applications.

Step #2 – Biometrics appointment

Upon receiving and processing your application to become a citizen, a biometrics appointment will be set to have your fingerprints taken. The fingerprints will be used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to confirm your identity and run a few checks.

This appointment is usually scheduled around a month after USCIS receives the application to become a US citizen. However, depending on factors such as huge backlogs, the Covid-19 pandemic, or other related reasons, the processing times may be longer than a month.

The biometrics appointment is scheduled at your local USCIS Application Support Center. Once your fingerprints have been submitted to the FBI, your identity will be verified and criminal history (if any) analyzed.

If the USCIS needs additional information from you, you will be notified by mail with details of the required information, where to send it, including the deadline. However, if the government agency is satisfied with the information you provided earlier, USCIS will schedule an interview, and you will be notified about it via mail. The notification will include the date, location and time of the interview.

Step #3 – The interview

Approximately nine months after your fingerprints appointment, you will be summoned for an interview with an USCIS officer to review your form N-400 application. The USCIS recommends that you bring the some important documentation during your citizenship interview.

What to bring to your citizenship interview

  • Your interview appointment notice
  • Form 1-551 also known as the Permanent Resident Card
  • A driver’s license or any other state-issued identification

All valid and expired travel documents and passports issued to you as proof of your absences from the U.S. since being granted a green card.

During the citizenship interview, the USCIS interviewing officer may also request clarification about certain questions regarding your application.

Common U.S. citizenship interview questions

You may be asked questions about your sponsor who made you eligible for your green card. If your sponsor is also your spouse, you may be asked random questions about your history together, such as how and where you met, how long you have been together, details about your children (if any), among other related questions.

If you have had any past criminal arrests or convictions, the USCIS officer may ask you some related questions. You may be required to provide relevant documents as proof of your explanation. If the USCIS officer is satisfied with your answers, the next step will involve taking your citizenship test.

The citizenship exam is usually scheduled for the same day as your interview. It includes an English language skills test and Civics questions. The English test will evaluate your speaking, writing and reading skills.

The Civics exam, on the other hand, will involve 10 questions about the history of the United States and its government. The 10 questions derive from 100 questions that are usually given out to the applicants before the date of their exam. Here’s an overview of the two tests, according to USCIS site.

You can find more information about the interview questions here.

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What does the English test include?

Before becoming a US citizen, your understanding of the English language will be evaluated when you take the English test. It involves speaking, reading and writing.

Your ability to speak English will be evaluated by the USCIS officer during your oral eligibility interview.

To pass the reading test, you will be required to read out loud one out of three sentences correctly. The examiner will then decide if you have demonstrated the ability to read in English.

As for the writing test, you will be required to write one out of three sentences correctly. The interviewer will then decide whether you have passed the test.

What does the Civics test include?

To pass the test, you must answer correctly at least six out of the 10 questions deriving from the 100 civics questions provided prior to the interview. However, it is important to understand that USCIS policies change frequently, and so do the requirements for the civics test.

For example, according to the USCIS website, applicants who initiated the naturalization process before December 1, 2020 will take the 2008 version of the test. The study materials for the test are provided on the USCIS site.

The 2020 version of the test, on the other hand, includes 20 questions deriving from 128 questions. To pass the test, you must correctly answer at least 12 of the 20 questions. The 2020 version of the test is also available on USCIS website.

There is also an exception; for applications who have lived in the United States for more than 20 years and are 65 years or older, they may study just 20 questions highlighted with an asterisk at the end of each question. Also, in this case, applicants may answer the questions in the language of their choice.

For applicants who are not so confident about their English skills or preparation for the naturalization process, USCIS offers English and citizenship preparation classes. The applicants can easily look up the physical locations of local classes offered by this government agency by providing their zip codes or addressed as required on the USCIS site.

Step #4 – The decision

At this stage, your overall performance during the citizenship interview will be evaluated by the USCIS. If you pass, you will be notified approximately four months after the interview, and your application will be approved. You will then be required to move on to the final step.

What happens if you fail your citizenship exam?

However, if you fail your exam, USCIS will schedule one last attempt for you. If you fail for the second time, you will be denied citizenship, and the only option is to file an appeal to initiate the process once again. You may need to contact a professional law firm to help you with the citizenship process if this happens.

Step #5 – The Oath

Assuming that you have passed the interview and the two tests, the final step of your application process will involve taking the Oath of Allegiance before receiving your Certificate of Naturalization as proof of citizenship. Oath ceremonies usually take place between one to two months after the approval of your application. You will receive the form N-445, also known as the Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony. The letter will include the date, time and location of the naturalization ceremony.

What is the Oath of Allegiance?

The Oath asks you to be loyal to the United States, and let go of loyalty to the government of your home country. It also asks you to support and defend the constitution of the United States, and carry out your responsibilities as a U.S. citizen. This may include serving in the armed forces and participating in other duties of national importance.

What happens to your green card after becoming a U.S. Citizen?

After the naturalization ceremony, you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization, and USCIS will take your green card. In some cases, you may also be able to register to vote at the same location.

However, if for any reason you are unable to take the Oath of Allegiance on the specified date, make sure you notify your local USCIS field office in advance. Your naturalization application may be denied if you fail to appear for your oath more than once. If your application has been denied, you may need to contact a professional law firm that deals with citizenship and immigration cases to guide you on the next steps.

Timeline summary

So, exactly how long does it take to become a US citizen? To recap, the process takes between 8 to 16 months after filling form N-400 to be granted U.S. citizenship. A few years ago, the citizenship process took between 6 to 8 months. However, due to the increasing number of applications and factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a huge backlog of applications that need to be processed by the USCIS. After considering all these factors, here’s a breakdown of the journey to citizenship from application to the Oath of Allegiance.

Please note that this is just an approximation, and that the exact processing times may increase or decrease depending on several factors.

  • N-400 Application for naturalization – Takes less than a day
  • Biometrics appointment – One month after your citizenship application
  • Interview and tests – Nine months after the biometrics appointment
  • Decision – Four months after passing the test
  • The Oath ceremony – Two months after the decision

As a U.S. citizen, you will have the right to live, vote and support the U.S. Constitution. You can also work, run for federal office, travel in and out of the country, serve on a jury, and explore additional opportunities to sponsor your family members to live in the United States.

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