Citizenship may seem like a simple process, but as you start going through the application process questions will naturally arise. We’ve collected and answered 32 of the most common citizenship F.A.Q. to help you through the process.
Are only native-born Americans eligible for U.S. citizenship?
No. If you’re a foreign-born national you can gain citizenship through the naturalization process. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the federal agency that handles naturalization.
Do you have to be born in the U.S. to receive birthright citizenship?
No. If you’re born abroad to two married U.S. citizen parents then you are granted U.S. citizenship.
If you’re born abroad, your parents are married but only one is a U.S. citizen you are granted citizenship if the citizen parent has been physically present in the U.S. prior to the birth. If born after November 14, 1986, the citizen parent had to have spent at least five years in the U.S. prior to the birth with two of those years being after the citizen was 14 years old. If you were born between December 24, 1952, and November 13, 1986, your citizen parent needs to have spent at least 10 years in the U.S. prior to your birth with at least five of those years after the citizen was 14 years old.
If you were born out of wedlock you should review the State Department’s website for clarification of citizenship.
Who is eligible to naturalize as a U.S. citizen?
Green card holders who have been under that status for at least five years—3 years if married to a U.S. citizen—are the most common eligible group for naturalization. Other eligible groups include:
- Children of U.S. citizens under the age of 18 years old
- Veterans or current U.S. military service members
- Spouse of a U.S. citizen
Along with being in one of those eligible criteria:
- Be at least 18 years old except for children of U.S. citizens
- Be of good and moral character
- Be a resident for at least 5 years before applying
Do I need a lawyer to apply for citizenship?
You do not need a lawyer to apply for U.S. citizenship. The forms needed are available online and you can pay and correspond directly with USCIS.
However, it is advised to use a lawyer to help avoid denials or worse. Some may think that they have a simple enough case that an application will fly through but if you have even a traffic citation then you should seek the assistance of an attorney.
Does having a criminal record eliminate me from getting citizenship?
A criminal record doesn’t automatically eliminate you from being able to apply for citizenship, but it can bring into question if you are of good moral character. USCIS will take into consideration every arrest or citation—even traffic citations—when judging moral character.
If you have a criminal record the first thing you should do is hire an immigration attorney to help you with your citizenship application. One of the things they might recommend is to wait at least five years between your conviction or citation before applying for citizenship. However certain crimes will permanently bar you from being granted citizenship. If you’ve been convicted of murder or any aggravated felony, USCIS will never grant you citizenship.
The USCIS defines an aggravated felony as the following:
“The term ‘aggravated felony’ means murder, any illicit trafficking in any controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of title 21), including any drug trafficking crime as defined in section 924(c)(2) of title 18, or any illicit trafficking in any firearms or destructive devices as defined in section 921 of such title, any offense described in section 1956 of title 18 (relating to laundering of monetary instruments), or any crime of violence (as defined in section 16 of title 18, not including a purely political offense) for which the term of imprisonment imposed (regardless of any suspension of such imprisonment) is at least 5 years, or any attempt or conspiracy to commit any such act. Such term applies to offenses described in the previous sentence whether in violation of Federal or State law and also applies to offenses described in the previous sentence in violation of foreign law for which the term of imprisonment was completed within the previous 15 years.”
You can still be found of poor moral character even if you wait five years from your last conviction and have never committed murder or an aggravated felony. If you have multiple convictions of varying degrees of crime over an extended period you can still be found to have poor moral character because USCIS will see you as someone who has not rehabilitated even if it’s been five years.
Can I be deported while applying for citizenship?
Yes. This is one of the primary reasons why it is essential to seek the counsel of an experienced immigration attorney. If you have a serious crime on your record, not only can USCIS deny your citizenship application but they can also begin removal proceedings. Not all instances of lacking moral character will automatically result in deportation, so please seek the advice of an experienced immigration lawyer.
What forms do I need to fill out to apply for citizenship?
The primary citizenship form is N-400, Application for Naturalization. After submitting the form, you also have to go to a biometrics appointment and a naturalization interview.
How much does citizenship cost?
Citizenship cost varies on whether you seek the help of an attorney and that attorney’s fees. However, outside of attorney fees, the total fees for naturalization are $725. The total is split between filing the N-400, $640, and the biometrics appointment fee, $85.
How long does it take to get citizenship?
After filing your N-400, the processing time varies on the case, and the field office processing your application. There are nearly 90 USCIS field offices that process the N-400 and all have different processing times. In Miami, the processing time currently 8.5 months to 10.5 months while Chicago is 11 months to 19 months, and Raleigh can be as short as 3 months.
After you get your I-797, you can see which office is processing your application and then use the USCIS Processing Times tool to see the range.
Can I become a U.S. citizen and stay a citizen of my home country?
The U.S. does allow dual citizenship. However, you need to refer to your home country’s laws to see if they also allow dual citizenship. While dual citizenship is possible and advantageous for some, it is important to recognize the potential economic burden as well as the increased risk of losing your U.S. citizenship depending on your activities in the other country.
Can my citizenship be revoked after I naturalize?
Yes. Having your citizenship revoked is called denaturalization. Many cases of denaturalization occur when after naturalization there is fraud discovered from the naturalization process. Another way denaturalization occurs if you join the following organizations within five years of naturalization:
- Communist Party
- Any Totalitarian Party
- Terrorist Organization
How many and what kind of questions do they ask in the test portion? Do I have to get them all right?
Along with asking you about your background and assessing your English skills, USCIS will test your civics knowledge as part of the naturalization process. You will be asked 20 questions and need to get 12 right.
The 20 questions come from a large list of 128 questions from USCIS. USCIS makes all 128 questions and their answers available for you to study before your test on their website.
Do I need to be fluent in English to be a citizen?
Yes. In addition to the citizenship test, there is an English language test. In this portion of the interview, you need to prove that you can speak, read, and write in English.
The speaking portion is tested while the interview is happening. For the reading portion, you need to correctly read one of three sentences correctly. For the writing portion, you need to write one of three sentences correctly. USCIS provides study materials for the reading and writing portions.
Is there an exemption for the test or interview portion of the citizenship process?
The 50/20 exemption allows those that are 50 years old or older and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years to be exempt from the English portion of the test. The 55/15 allows the same exemption for those at least 55 years old and have been permanent residents for 15 years. With this exemption, you still need to take the civics test but can take the civics test in your native language. However, you do need to bring an interpreter with you to your interview.
The 60/20 exception gives special consideration for the civics portion to applicants at least 60 years old and have been residents for at least 20 years.
Anyone with a physical, mental, or developmental disability or impairment may be eligible to be exempt from both portions of the test. Applicants falling in this category need to file Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions.
If I fail, can I take the tests again?
If you fail any portion of the test you get two more attempts to pass those portions. The retest will occur 60 to 90 days after your initial test, and you will only have to retest the portion you failed.
Can I appeal a citizenship denial?
Ten percent of naturalization applicants are denied citizenship, but there are ways to appeal the decision and potentially have the denial revoked. To appeal a citizenship denial it is best to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.
If my citizenship was revoked, can I reapply?
If your citizenship is revoked, you can appeal the decision as denaturalization only happens as a result of a federal court ruling. An immigration attorney can help you with the court process.
How soon after I get citizenship can I sponsor a family member?
You can start the process of sponsoring a family member as soon as you’re granted citizenship.
Do I have to stay in the U.S. while I wait for my citizenship application?
While green card holders are allowed to travel, extended absences from the U.S. can hurt your application status. Make sure not to spend more than 180 days outside of the country as it can lead to a naturalization denial.
If I have to leave the U.S. for more than 180 days due to work can I still apply for citizenship?
Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes, is used for green card holders who need to leave the U.S. for an extended period of time for work purposes.
Your employer needs to fall under one of these categories in order to be eligible to file the N-470:
- U.S. government agency
- An American research institution recognized by USCIS
- An American company that engages in foreign trade or commerce
- An American company where you protect the property rights of your employer outside of the U.S.
- An international organization where the U.S. is a member
- Performing ministerial or priestly functions as part of a mission for a bona fide denomination recognized by the U.S.
Do my children automatically become citizens once I become a citizen?
If you have a child—either biological or adopted—under the age of 18 years old living in the U.S., they will automatically become U.S. citizens. However, if your child is in the U.S. and not a permanent resident then they must become one first before becoming a citizen.
In addition, stepchildren are not granted citizenship unless they are at some point adopted or their immigrant parent applies for citizenship.
For children residing outside the country, they would first need to sponsored to come to the U.S. as green card holders before being able to get citizenship.
If I’m applying for citizenship through marriage and get a divorce can I still become a citizen?
Yes. However, expect to lose some preferential options and increased scrutiny through the process. Spouses of U.S. citizens can start their naturalization process after being a green card holder for three years as opposed to the regular five years. A divorce will eliminate that shortcut.
During the interview portion, USCIS will scrutinize your marriage more to make sure it was in fact bona fide, and if they determine it was not then you can be denied citizenship.
Are there special provisions for becoming a citizen through military service?
Yes. If you served honorably in the U.S. military for at least a year you can apply for naturalization. The continuous residency requirement is waived for military personnel, and you don’t need to be a legal permanent resident when you apply for naturalization as long as you are a legal permanent resident by the day of your naturalization interview.
If my green card expired, can I still apply for citizenship?
Yes. An expired green card doesn’t mean you’re not a legal permanent resident. While you should fix that green card issue, it shouldn’t stop you from applying for naturalization.
What is the purpose of the affiliations questions in the N-400?
The affiliation’s question in the N-400 helps USCIS judge your moral character. Certain affiliations can prove good moral character or poor moral character.
What are some examples of good affiliations?
Memberships in organizations doing good for a community, PTA memberships, and volunteering for health organizations like the Red Cross can prove good moral character among other organizations providing a positive service.
What are examples of questionable affiliations?
Affiliations in any of the following organizations will lead to USCIS judging that you have poor moral character:
- Communist party
- Any totalitarian group
- Any group focused on the overthrow of the U.S. government
- Any State Department-designated terrorist organization
Do political activities in a foreign country hurt my chances of citizenship?
Yes. If you’ve been involved in any Communist, anarchist, or totalitarian activities, it is advised to wait at least 10 years since those activities before applying for citizenship.
I took part in Communist activities in my home country because it was mandatory. Do I still have to wait 10 years to naturalize?
USCIS understands that Communist and totalitarian governments mandate certain activities. IF you can prove that your membership and activities were involuntary, done without your knowledge of its effects, or were done to provide food and shelter for your family then you may be exempt from the 10-year wait. Consult with an attorney for further guidance.
I lost my Certificate of Naturalization. Can I get a replacement?
Yes. Fill out N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document to get a replacement for the certificate.
What documents prove citizenship?
The following documents prove U.S. citizenship:
- If born in the U.S., a birth certificate
- Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship
- If born abroad to citizen parents, Form FS-240, Report of Birth Abroad of United States Citizen
- An unexpired U.S. passport
How can I check the status of my citizenship application?
The best way to check on the status of your application is to use the USCIS Case Status tool. Select the N-400 form and your corresponding USCIS field office.