What Is Naturalization?

If you are planning to become an American citizen, you have probably already heard about the term ‘naturalization.’ Well, naturalization is usually the last phase immigrants have to go through before becoming U.S. citizens.

What Is Naturalization? Here’s All You Need To Know

Naturalization is the process of admission of a foreign citizen into another country’s citizenship. The United States has different categories of foreign citizens eligible for citizenship through naturalization. If you are eligible for U.S. citizenship, you will be required to file Form N-400, Application For Naturalization.

In this article, you will learn what is required to meet the USCIS eligibility to become a US citizen. You will also learn about the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen and other helpful information to help you prepare for the United States naturalization process.

Who Is Eligible For U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization?

The US government accepts applications for naturalization from eligible foreign citizens. All applicants are expected to be lawful permanent residents of the US. Eligible applicants may be categorized into three different groups based on the difference in their eligibility requirements. These groups are US lawful permanent residents, US lawful permanent residents married to U.S. citizens, and US Military servicemen or veterans.

The Difference Between U.S. Citizenship And Permanent Resident Status

The United States Citizenship and the Permanent Resident Status are often mistaken as being the same. A foreign national becomes a lawful permanent resident in the United States after being awarded a green card, also known as the permanent resident card. This card is a permit that allows a foreign national to live and work in the U.S. However, the green card does not change the foreigner’s home country’s citizenship status. If the lawful permanent resident wishes to have United States citizenship, they do so through the process of naturalization, provided they are eligible to change status.

It is important to note that naturalization into United States citizenship does not nullify the foreigner’s citizenship status of their home country unless the country’s laws do not allow dual citizenship. In that case, the foreign national will be required to denounce their home country’s citizenship upon becoming a U.S. citizen. Also, U.S. citizenship does not forbid the naturalized citizen from attaining another country’s citizenship status. However, if the reason for attaining citizenship of another country is to let go of U.S. citizenship, the person must officially do so.

Green card holders have different eligibility criteria determined by the time they have lived in the United States and the green card category to which they belong. Below are the details of eligibility based on these two factors:

A Lawful Permanent Resident With No Special Circumstances

An eligible applicant can typically apply for naturalization after five years of being a lawful permanent resident. To be eligible, the applicant must have physically lived in the United States for at least 30 months after receiving the green card. For example, if you are a U.S. green card holder for five years, but you have not spent at least 30 months in the U.S., you are not eligible to apply to be a US citizen.

A Permanent Resident Who Is Married To A U.S. Citizen

Permanent residents married to U.S. citizens must have physically lived in the U.S. for at least 18 months. If they meet this requirement, they may apply for naturalization after three years.

Naturalization Through Military Service

Foreign citizens who serve under the U.S. military or are directly related to a military serviceman have different sets of eligibility requirements to meet before applying to become a U.S. citizen.

Eligibility For Military Servicemen

A foreigner currently serving in the U.S. military or served in the U.S. military may be eligible to apply for naturalization following the provisions of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. There are different categories of eligibility for military servicemen as described below:

One Year Of U.S. Military Service During Peacetime

Foreigners who have honorably served in the U.S. military for at least one year during peacetime are eligible for naturalization. Further requirements before starting the naturalization process in this category are:

  • The applicant must be a lawful permanent resident of the United States at the time of application for naturalization
  • The applicant must demonstrate knowledge of the U.S. history and government
  • The applicant must demonstrate a history of good moral character for at least five years before applying through to their naturalization
  • The applicant must prove attachment to the US constitution
  • The applicant must have the ability to read, write, and verbally communicate in English
  • The applicant must be at least 18 years old

An applicant who meets these requirements may start the naturalization process while in active duty or within 6 months of honorable discharge from the service. The applicant does not have to wait for a certain period before filing for naturalization.

A Green Card Holder With Less Than One Year Of U.S. Military Service During Peacetime

Permanent Residents who have served in the U.S. Military for less than six months during peacetime may be eligible for naturalization. The applicant must prove to have physically and continuously lived in the United States for at least 30 months after getting a green card as part of the eligibility requirement. Once eligible, the applicant may file for naturalization after five years of being a permanent resident. Other requirements include demonstrating attachment to the U.S. constitution, demonstrating knowledge of U.S. history and government, and the ability to read, write and verbally communicate in English.

A Green Card Holder With At Least One Year In Service During Peacetime And Honorably Discharged More Than Six Months Ago

The foreign citizen in such a situation may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after proving to have physically and continuously lived in the United States for at least 30 months after becoming a legal permanent resident. This applicant may file their application after five years of permanent residence status.

A Foreign Citizen Without A Green Card But Served In The Military During The Wartime Periods

Foreign veterans or active duty service members who served in any U.S. wartime period are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. These foreigners are not required to prove continuous physical residence in the United States and are not restricted by any waiting period before applying. These wartimes periods are:

  • Sept. 1, 1939 – Dec. 31, 1946
  • Jun. 25, 1950 – Jul. 1, 1955
  • Feb. 28, 1961 – Oct. 15, 1978
  • Aug. 2, 1990 – Apr. 11, 1991
  • Sept. 11, 2001 – present

Posthumous Citizenship For US Military Servicemen

Any foreign citizen who honorably served in the U.S. Military and died due to injury or disease they acquired in the line of duty during specified hostile periods is eligible for posthumous citizenship. This type of citizenship establishes that the person was a US citizen at the time of their death while on active duty.

The applicant files Form N-644, Application For Posthumous Citizenship, on behalf of the deceased within two years after the veteran’s death. A citizenship certificate will be issued after a successful application, bearing the deceased serviceman’s names. The immediate relatives surviving family of the deceased veterans are entitled to some immigration benefits. For example, the deceased veteran child qualifies to become a US citizen.

Immediate Relatives Of The Deceased Veteran

The USCIS recognizes spouses, children, and parents of the deceased veteran for the Family Based Survival Benefits. U.S. citizenship is one of them. Once the USCIS, as part of the Department of Homeland Security, establishes that you are an immediate relative of a military serviceman who died due to injury or disease acquired while in the line of duty, they may accept your application for naturalization. In this case, the applicant must not have proof of physical and continuous stay in the U.S. There is also no waiting time limit before starting the naturalization process.

Exceptions And Accommodations For Eligibility Requirements For Naturalization

There are a few exceptions and accommodations for the eligibility requirements for naturalization.

Exceptions Of The English Language Requirements

The 50/20 rule is the exemption of the English requirements of applicants of the age of 50 years and above who have lived in the United States for at least 20 years as permanent residents. This group of people will be exempted from the English test but will still be required to do the civics test.

The 55/15 exemption is for applicants who are 55 years old and above and have lived in the US for at least 15 years as permanent residents. This group of applicants is exempted from the English test but will still be required to do the civics test.

Applicants above the age of 65 and have lived in the US for at least 20 years will also be exempted from the English test. They will be required to do the civics test; however, they may choose to do it in their native language. The applicant will be required to bring an interpreter during the interview. This interpreter must be fluent in both English and the native language.

Exemptions Of The Civics Test

This exemption is only applicable to applicants who are at least 65 years old. The candidates will be required to prepare for only 20 of the 100 common civics test questions. The examiner will ask only 10 of the 20 questions in the test, but the candidate must pass with at least six of the ten questions asked.

Read more: What Should I Expect From The U.S. Citizenship Test?

Exemptions For Medical Conditions Or Disabilities

Applicants who have a medical condition that has lasted over 12 months or is expected to at least last for 12 months are exempted from both the English and Civics tests with an approved waiver.

Exemptions Of Continuous Residence

A qualified naturalization applicant must either reside in the US continuously for 5 years or 3 years, depending on the eligibility category of the green cardholder. Within this period, the applicant must have physically lived in the US for a stipulated period. If this period is interrupted, the applicant’s eligibility may also be interrupted. Applicant’s absence in the U.S. for more than six months may interrupt their continuous physical residence.

An applicant engaged in some overseas deployment that may require them to be outside the United States for a period longer than the statutory period may be exempted from the physical and continuous residence eligibility requirements.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has exceptions for the continuous residence interruption. If an applicant has qualifying employment abroad to disrupt his continuous stay in the U.S. for more than one year, the applicant must file Form N-470 Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization. This form preserves the resident status of the green card holder, who will be absent in the United States for one year or more.

Naturalization Application Process

The application for naturalization is an easy process to follow once you have confirmed that you are eligible and that you have all the necessary documents and fees required for the process. The average processing time is between 12 months and 17.5 months as of February 2021. Below is the start to end application for the naturalization process:

Step 1: Filing Form N-400

After verifying your eligibility for being a U.S. citizen through naturalization, the first step is to file for N-400. You can file the form online, and also pay the filing fee online. The processing time for this application is 8 months on average.

Supporting Documents For A Green Card Holder Without Special Considerations

A permanent resident who is eligible for naturalization is required to submit the following documents along with their application:

  • A copy of their Permanent Resident Card
  • A check or money order for the biometrics fees. (Applicants above 75 years of age are exempted from the fees)
  • Two passport photos for applicants who are abroad
  • Evidence of preserved residence if the applicant disrupted continuous residence statutory period
  • Proof of good moral character

Supporting Documents For A Green Card Holder Married To A U.S. Citizen

The following are some of the documents required to support the application for naturalization by a green card holder who is married to a US citizen:

  • Evidence that the foreign spouse has been residing in the U.S. for the past three years
  • The marriage certificate
  • Children’s birth certificates (if any)
  • Tax returns, bank statements, or lease documents for the couple
  • Proof of termination of previous marriages if applicable
  • Tax returns filed by the couple in the past three years

Supporting Documents For U.S. Military Serviceman On Active Duty

An individual applying for naturalization based on their service in the U. S Military is required to file Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Services, to the Department of Defense. The defense department will then verify the applicant as a member of the US Military. A US military service member must submit the original copy of this document along with their application for naturalization form.

Step 2: Biometrics Appointment

As of February 2021, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services no longer exempts applicants who are 75 years of age and older from taking the biometric test because of the improved biometrics capturing technology. Such applicants are now required to attend the scheduled biometrics appointments. The biometrics notice sent by the USCIS includes the date, time, and location for the appointment.

A biometrics appointment happens soon after the application has been processed. There is no additional waiting time before the USCIS sets up an appointment for the applicant.

Step 3: Citizenship Interview And Naturalization test

After all the required preliminaries of naturalization application are done, the USCIS will invite the applicant for an interview for U.S. citizenship. The applicant must attend the interview and test, in person, at the USCIS offices on the set date and time. The applicant must also carry the original appointment notice to the interview. On average, this process takes an extra four months of waiting time before the applicant receives an invitation for the interview.

Step 4: Receive A Decision From USCIS

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services may take between 0-4 months to make their decision concerning your N-400 application. There are three possible outcomes of the application’s decision. The USCIS may grant the applicant U.S. Citizenship if they are convinced that the applicant is eligible based on evidence submitted. Another expected decision outcome may be continued application if USCIS requires additional information and documentation from the applicant. The third expected decision for the application is a denial. The decision to deny the application may be based on the failure to establish proof of eligibility for naturalization.

Step 5: Oath Of Allegiance

The U.S. Citizenship ad Immigration Services sends a notice for the oath of allegiance to successful applicants. The oath of allegiance may happen on the same day as the interview through a naturalization ceremony. If the ceremony cannot be conducted on the same day as the interview, the applicant must wait to receive a notification inviting them to a scheduled naturalization ceremony. The waiting period may take between 0-1.5 months.

An applicant does not acquire US citizenship until after taking the oath of allegiance. The applicant is required to complete a few steps as described below:

  • Complete Form N-455, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony
  • Turn in the permanent resident card
  • Take the oath of allegiance
  • Receive the certificate of naturalization. If the certificate has any errors, the applicant must notify the USCIS official before leaving the ceremony

Step 6: Become A U.S. Citizen

After taking the oath of allegiance and being awarded a certificate of naturalization, the applicant officially becomes an American Citizen. A US citizen through naturalization has equal rights and responsibilities just like any other U.S. Citizens through birth.

What Is The Oath Of Allegiance Ceremony? | Read more

After naturalization, the new citizen is required to update their social security records within 10 days. The records will change the status from a permanent resident to that of an American Citizen.

The citizen will also need to apply for a US passport, a process that takes between 2-6 weeks.

Why You Should Consider Applying For U.S. Citizenship

There are several benefits of American Citizenship status. The US passport is one of the most powerful in the world; it allows a U.S. citizen access to over 180 countries without requiring a visa. Children of naturalized citizens automatically qualify to become American Citizens even if they may be living abroad. You will also be entitled to federal benefits of U.S. citizenship.

Once you become a United States citizen, there are no more immigration processes involved. Attaining U.S. citizenship will be the end of your immigrant status.

How Much Does It Cost To Apply For U.S. Citizenship? | Read more


  • Commit To Citizenship Staff

    Commit To Citizenship‘s team consists of individuals who have successfully immigrated to the United States and have learned how to avoid common mistakes in filling out immigration applications. Our team works closely with immigration lawyers to ensure that all content provided on our website is up-to-date and accurate. We offer guidance on a range of immigration topics, including green cards, diversity visas, and DACA.