If you have your green card, you may want to know how long it would take to become a citizen of the U.S. The process is referred to as “naturalization,” and it involves several steps, with the potential for delays at each stage.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) handles naturalization applications. According to the agency, the time it takes to complete the process differs depending on location. USCIS is striving for an average time completion time of six months. However, experienced citizenship lawyers know that it often takes well over a year between the time an applicant files paperwork and is sworn in as a citizen.
What Happens When You Apply for U.S. Citizenship?
The U.S. citizenship process actually begins right when you get your green card as a lawful permanent resident. That starts the clock running on the waiting period to apply for citizenship. Most applicants must be lawfully admitted permanent residents for at least four years and nine months before they can apply for citizenship, although the waiting time is shorter in some situations.
To be eligible for U.S. citizenship, you must meet several requirements, and be prepared to demonstrate that you:
- Are a permanent resident (and that you were granted permanent residence lawfully)
- Are at least 18-years old
- Have “continuously” been present in the U.S. for five years or more (three years for those married to a US citizen)
- Meet physical presence requirements in the U.S.
- Have been a person of good moral character
- Have lived in the state where you are applying for the preceding 90 days
Those who meet the requirements can file and submit Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization.
USCIS Processing for Naturalization
Generally, USCIS will send a letter of receipt a few weeks after you file your naturalization form. USCIS may also require some additional supporting documents such as photos and identification.
The specific amount of time USCIS spends processing your application will depend on the quality of your application and where you live. Missing or incorrect information can delay processing, so many applicants choose to work with an immigration lawyer to ensure that they are submitting information properly. Applicants should make certain that USCIS has current contact information, including the correct mailing address, so that requests for information and other important communications are not delayed or lost.
USCIS’s website maintains an estimated processing time for all USCIS field offices. If you believe your application has been delayed due to a problem, an immigration attorney may be able to investigate to resolve the issue.
Once USCIS has begun processing your application, the agency may contact you to schedule a biometrics appointment. This will usually happen three to five weeks after filing, though it may depend on your specific case. For your biometrics appointment, you will go to your local USCIS Application Support Center to get your fingerprints taken, along with a signature and another photo. Using this information, USCIS will run a criminal background check and request any necessary additional information.
The USCIS Citizenship Interview
The next part of the naturalization process is usually the step that applicants find the most worrisome—the citizenship interview and test. After USCIS has completed a review of the documentation, the agency will schedule an interview with a USCIS officer. Applicants will receive a notice in the mail regarding the time and date of the interview, approximately five to nine months (or more) after filing the application.
During the interview, the officer will review your application and may ask other relevant questions regarding your eligibility. Unless you qualify for an exemption, you will also need to take two tests. To gain citizenship, you must demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak English, and you must show you understand basic information about U.S. government and history. Finally, in the interview, the USCIS officer may review issues that may have come up during your background check.
After the interview, USCIS will mail a notice of decision. The agency will either grant the application, continue the application if more evidence is necessary, or deny the application if the record does not demonstrate eligibility. If your application is granted, USCIS will schedule you for a naturalization ceremony where you will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and formally become a U.S. citizen.
Contact an experienced immigration attorney today
To help avoid delays getting U.S. citizenship or to investigate and resolve a problem with your application, contact an immigration attorney at The Law Offices of Robert M. Bell, P.A. We are happy to help answer your questions and will fight to help you obtain your U.S. citizenship. You can contact us at (954) 241-4209.