"Naturalization" means that a foreign-born individual has become a U.S. citizen. Although it can be a long, involved process, naturalization gives you all the same rights you'd enjoy if you'd been born in the United States. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) manages the process, and the final decision comes down to a USCIS officer.
Certain Requirements Must Be Met
The first step toward becoming a naturalized citizen is making sure you meet all the requirements. In most cases, you must have a green card, and you must have been a permanent resident of the United States for at least five years. The five-year rule is reduced to three years if you got your green card because you married a U.S. citizen. If you've served in the U.S. military, there's usually no time requirement. You must be at least 18 years old and not convicted of a serious crime.
Form N-400 Begins the Process
If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can complete Form N-400 and submit it to USCIS. You'll need Form M-599 if you're applying for naturalization based on military service.
Most Children Are Already Citizens
If your parents are or were U.S. citizens, either born or naturalized before you turned 18, you may already be a citizen. You would not have to apply to USCIS for naturalization.
You Must Be Fingerprinted
Naturalization requires fingerprinting. After you've submitted an acceptable application, you'll receive a notice from USCIS telling you where and when to go to have this done. Most members of the U.S. military can skip this step, but speak with a lawyer to be sure.
USCIS Will Interview You
After you've submitted your naturalization application and had your fingerprints sent to USCIS, an officer will notify you with a time and place for an interview. The interview involves reviewing your paperwork, as well as taking a test. The test proves that you can speak, read, and write English. You'll be tested on your knowledge of U.S. history, as well as the U.S. government system. If you fail the test, you'll be assigned a date and time to take it again. Otherwise, you'll receive a notice of when to appear to be sworn in as a citizen of the United States.
An Immigration Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding citizenship and naturalization is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an immigration lawyer.