Form N-400: Your Guide To the Application for Naturalization
What to Know About Naturalization?
If you’ve been a permanent resident of the U.S. for years, you’ve had some time to think about U.S. citizenship. Once you decide that you’re ready to take the next big step of becoming a naturalized United States citizen, there’s plenty of paperwork to prepare.
The citizenship application process might feel a little intimidating, but it’s not as overwhelming as it seems. Stay calm, and start your research on the eligibility requirements.
The naturalization process begins when an eligible lawful permanent resident files their N-400 application with USCIS. After paying a filing fee to the Department of Homeland Security, you’ll follow a series of steps until you reach the goal of becoming a naturalized United States citizen with all the required supporting documents. Here’s what you should know.
Is Naturalization the Same as Citizenship?
Naturalization is almost the same status as United States citizenship. When someone is born in the United States , with a few exceptions, they’re automatically a citizen. When you’re born outside of the United States and you immigrate to the country, you’re able to become a citizen through naturalization.
Naturalization is citizenship through choice. It’s assumed that people born in America will have a basic knowledge of the English language, United States history, and U.S. civics through the school system. Naturalized citizens are expected to learn this information independently, and they must pass a quiz to prove their knowledge.
There aren’t many differences between the rights and privileges of a born citizen and a naturalized citizen. That means they can enlist in the military, work for a government agency, and do almost anything else a citizen can do.
One of the only differences is that a naturalized citizen isn’t eligible to run for president of the United States.
Do You Need to Become a Naturalized Citizen?
You don’t need to become a naturalized citizen to remain in the United States. If you remain in good standing with your green card, you can keep your permanent resident status indefinitely.
Many permanent residents choose to become naturalized citizens because they want the rights and privileges that citizens receive. Although permanent residents enjoy a wide variety of benefits, a citizenship title affords a bit more security.
Naturalized citizens are treated the same way that United States citizens by birth are treated. They can participate in American political society by voting in elections and running for most elected offices, and they’re typically immune to deportation.
How Long Do You Need to Have a Green Card Before You Can Apply for Naturalization?
You can apply for citizenship if you entered the United States on an immigrant visa or were approved for an adjustment of status, meaning you’ve received your green card. You must be a green card holder for 5 years (3 years if married to a U.S. citizen). Your green card must be in good standing to apply for citizenship.
You cannot apply for citizenship with a conditional green card, like an investor green card. If your green card has conditions, you need to satisfy the conditions of your immigration and file to have the conditions removed. You may apply for citizenship if your petition to remove conditions on residence is pending with USCIS.
Permanent residents of the United States can apply for naturalization, but there are different requirements for how long you must be a green card holder before you can apply for naturalization.
What Are the Naturalization Requirements?
You must be at least 18 years of age and meet the permanent resident requirements to apply for naturalization. In addition to the permanent resident requirements, you’ll need to prove a few important criteria about your intentions.
You Have To Live in the United States Exclusively
You have to have lived at the same address in the state or territory you’re filing from for the past three months in order to file for naturalization.
There are requirements for how long you’ve stayed in the United States. If you’re filing after holding your permanent resident card for five years, you need to have lived in the United States for at least 30 months during that time. If you’re filing as a spouse of a U.S. citizen, you need to have lived in the U.S. for at least 18 months out of the past three years.
You can’t just prove that you’ve stayed in the United States for that period of time. You need to be able to prove that the United States was your home for that period of time.
If you spent the rest of that time period in a different country where you rented or bought property and established a significant presence, that may be viewed as abandoning your permanent resident status.
If you intend to apply for citizenship, it’s best to significantly limit your travel outside of the country until after you’ve been granted citizenship. You cannot have any absences of a year or more during the last five years (three if filing based on marriage to a U.S. citizen). Absences of more than six months, but less than a year, can also be an issue.
You Have to Have “Good Moral Character” and a Clean Record
“Good moral character” is a formal way of saying that you don’t engage in criminal behavior and that you don’t associate with anyone who engages in criminal behavior. If you work with people or socially engage with people who are known criminals, this reflects on your moral character.
However, criminal activity is not the only activity that impacts good moral character. Failing to pay your taxes, not supporting dependents, being an alcoholic, engaging in illegal gambling, etc. can all lead to a finding that you lack good moral character.
If you have a criminal history or if you’ve been arrested in the United States prior to filing your application for naturalization, your application may be denied. It is important to have an experienced immigration attorney review your criminal history with you before applying for naturalization. Some criminal convictions will not only lead to denial of an application for naturalization, but can lead to you being placed in removal proceedings.
You Must Have a Basic Knowledge of English and U.S. History
An important part of becoming a naturalized citizen is passing a citizenship test. The test will include ten questions about United States history and government. Sample questions are posted online for you to study. You have to answer 6 out of the 10 questions correctly in order to pass the civics exam portion of the naturalization process.
You’ll also be tested for basic English proficiency. You must be able to read, write, and comprehend the English language on a basic level. You don’t need to be perfectly fluent in English. The person interviewing you just wants to know that your English skills are strong enough for you to work with the public in the United States and that you know how to get help if something is wrong.
You Need To Take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States
You’ll be asked to recite an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. You might be more comfortable if you read the oath ahead of time and familiarize yourself with what it means.
In essence, the oath says you pledge your allegiance exclusively to the United States and that you won’t do anything to harm the country.
What Is the N-400 Form?
The N-400 form is the Application for Naturalization. This form is the first step in the process of becoming a citizen. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will review your application and schedule you for an interview where you will be given the tests and questioned about your eligibility to become a citizen.
USCIS regularly updates all of its immigration forms. Before you start to fill out your form, make sure you have the current version. USCIS updates forms on their website when they make changes. Always obtain your forms directly from USCIS and use them immediately.
Form N-400 Instructions
The N-400 form is currently 20 pages long and is divided into 18 sections. It seems very long, but it’s intended for all situations. You’ll see questions that don’t apply to your situation. You can simply type or write “N/A” (not applicable) in those spaces. You only need to answer questions and provide information relevant to your case.
Answer every question honestly. It’s important to be as thorough as possible. If USCIS believes you lied in any way, they’ll deny your application. They may not know the difference between a lie and an honest misunderstanding. If you’re worried that you might make a mistake, speak to a compassionate and detail-oriented lawyer before you fill out your form.
The first section of the N-400form is about your eligibility. All you need to do is select the right category.
This section of the Form asks for personal information about you, like your full name, date of birth, and social security number. It will also ask you information about your past, like which countries you hold citizenship to.
In the personal information section, you’ll be able to disclose any reasons why you may not be able to take the English or civics test. Medical exemptions can be made for people with disorders that affect learning or speech. You’ll need to submit Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions if this applies to you.
Section 3 is where you can request disability accommodations during the naturalization process. If you don’t have a disability, you can write “N/A” where questions don’t apply to you.
Section 4 is about contact information. All you need to do is tell USCIS how they can reach you.
Section 5 asks for your residential address history. You’ll list every address you’ve lived at for the past five years.
Section 6 will ask about your parents. If you have at least one parent who is a United States citizen, you may not need to fill out form N-400. You may already be a U.S. citizen directly through your parent.
Section 7 is going to ask you what your ethnicity is, how tall you are, what color your eyes are, and what you weigh. These are identity verification questions that help to match you with your application. USCIS uses this biographic information to research applicants.
This section covers your educational background and employment history for the past five years. Write down every school you attended or job you worked during this time period. If you were unemployed, include this time.
This section is about trips outside of the country. If you traveled after you received your green card, list the dates of the trips, where you went, and how long you were gone. This proves your residency requirement.
Section 10 is about marital history. It will ask you questions about your spouse and former spouses. This section will be easy to complete if you received your green card through marrying a U.S. citizen and you stay married to that citizen. You may need to provide a photocopy of your marriage certificate for this step.
Some people are worried they won’t get approved if they got divorced before they applied for naturalization. If your marriage or divorce situation is complicated, it’s best to get the advice of a lawyer before you apply for naturalization.
This section is about any children you are the parent of. It includes adult children, children you have put up for adoption, children who live in other countries, and children who have passed away. It also includes your spouse’s children, even if you haven’t adopted them. For the purpose of this section, you’re considered their step-parent.
Section 12 is about the “good moral character” requirement for becoming a United States citizen. You need to be able to truthfully answer “no” to all of these questions. If there’s a question you need to answer with “yes,” speak to a knowledgeable immigration attorney before you file your naturalization paperwork.
Answering “yes” to any of the questions may make you ineligible for citizenship, so it’s important to understand what the questions mean and if they truly apply to you.
In this section, you’re verifying that you understood all of the questions and answered them honestly. If there’s anything you aren’t sure about, don’t complete the form. Ask an immigration attorney for help. If you are sure, you have to sign the form.
Do not forget to sign the form. If you accidentally forget to include your signature, USCIS will immediately reject your form and you’ll need to start all over again.
Section 14 only applies to people who have used an interpreter to fill out the form. This section is intended for people who qualify for the disability waiver mentioned in section 2 or those who qualify for an English language exemption due to age and length of residence.
If you don’t have a disability or qualify for an English Language exemtion and you used an interpreter, your English skills are probably not developed enough to pass the exam portion of the naturalization process. You might want to wait to apply until you’ve improved your fluency.
Section 15 is for your lawyer if you used a lawyer to help you fill out the form. They’ll handle this part.
Sections 16 – 18
Don’t fill out sections 16 to 18. These sections will be filled out at your naturalization interview. During the interview, you’ll sign the document and take the oath. Section 17 only applies to people who have royal titles. If you’re currently a princess or a viscount, you need to renounce your title to become a citizen of the United States.
How Long Does It Take to Process an N-400 Form?
It can take up to 12 months to process an N-400 form, but some people wait even longer. You can check the current local processing time on the USCIS website. These long wait times are the reason why it’s very important to get everything right the first time. If your application is denied, you need to start from the beginning. You may have to wait another year or more.
Be as thorough as possible when you fill out your document. Use a reliable form of payment for your application fee to avoid your payment method being declined.
What Happens After an N-400 Form is Accepted for Processing?
You may be scheduled for a biometrics appointment. Not all applicants need to be fingerprinted. USCIS can often, but not always, reuse previously captured biometrics.
You will eventually be scheduled for a citizenship interview and exam. You will be notified of the appointment through your online account or mailing address. Your interview will usually be scheduled several months after your application was accepted for processing. Use your wait time to study U.S. history, U.S. government, and the English language.
What Happens After an N-400 Form is Approved?
After your N-400 form is approved, you’ll be contacted with information about your oath ceremony.
You May Benefit From an Immigration Lawyer’s Help
Waiting times for processing are long, and they’re even longer if your form gets sent back to you. Working with an attorney to complete your N-400 form will reduce the chances that your application will be sent back or rejected.
The Cohen, Tucker & Ades team are compassionate and caring immigration lawyers prepared to offer advice whenever you need. We’ve spent the past 40 years helping people just like you immigrate to the United States. If you need a law firm’s help to complete your immigration application or naturalization application, contact us today.