Citizenship

Naturalization is the process to become a U.S. citizen if you were born outside of the United States. If you meet certain requirements, you may become a U.S. citizen either at birth or after birth.

Certain criminal convictions in the five years prior to the application will bar naturalization, but even if the applicant fears that a conviction will ruin his or her application, all convictions must still be disclosed. It is far worse to have U.S. immigration authorities discover a falsehood than to disclose the issue.

Age

An applicant for naturalization must be at least eighteen years old. Elderly applicants who are also longtime permanent residents may qualify to waive the English language and civics test requirements.

Residency and Physical Presence

An applicant must be a U.S. legal permanent resident. Permanent Residents may apply for naturalization after five (5) years. Spouses may naturalize after three (3) years. 

At the time of application, a naturalization applicant must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the previous five years. You may apply ninety days before.

However, if the applicant was absent for more than six months but less than one year, the applicant may still be eligible if he or she can show that the absence was not an abandonment of resident status.

Good Moral Character

A naturalization applicant must show good moral character during the five-year period prior to application (three years if married to a U.S. citizen or one year for certain military exceptions). Murder convictions are a permanent obstacle to naturalization, as are aggravated felony convictions on or after November 29, 1990.

Certain criminal convictions in the five years prior to the application will bar naturalization, but even if the applicant fears that a conviction will ruin his or her application, all convictions must still be disclosed. It is far worse to have U.S. immigration authorities discover a falsehood than to disclose the issue.

English Language Skills

Applicants must be able to read, write, speak, and understand English words in ordinary use. Some applicants may be exempt because of age or mental condition.

Applicants for citizenship must demonstrate their English language proficiency. An applicant doesn’t need to be entirely fluent, but should understand English well enough to read, write, and speak effectively.

  • Speaking English – There is no separate test for the ability to speak English. As the officer verifies the information on the application, such as the individual’s address, they will assess the applicant’s ability to understand and speak English.
  • Reading English – The applicant may be asked to read aloud certain parts of the application for citizenship. The oath is a common text officers ask to have read to them.
  • Writing English – The officer will ask the applicant to write one or two simple sentences.

US Government and History Knowledge - Civics Test

An applicant for naturalization must demonstrate knowledge of the fundamentals of U.S. history and certain principles of U.S. government. Applicants are exempt if they have a medically recognizable physical or mental impairment that affects their ability to learn or understand these topics.

The actual civics test is NOT a multiple choice test. During the naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will ask you up to 10 questions from the list of 100 questions in English. You must answer correctly 6 of the 10 questions to pass the civics test.

The civics test for immigration covers basic U.S. history and government. Applicants will be asked some questions, usually around 10, and must provide responses. The immigration service provides a list of all the possible questions along with their answers.

USCIS Study Tools

Those with a documented disability may receive a waiver of either or both of the tests, depending on the disability. Also, older applicants may be eligible to waive or reduce the testing requirements.

  • Applicants 50 or older who have resided in the U.S. lawfully for 20 years are not subject to the English language requirement.
  • Applicants 55 or older who have resided in the U.S. lawfully for 15 years are not subject to the English language requirement.
  • Applicants 65 or older who have resided in the U.S. lawfully for 20 years receive special consideration with regard to the civics requirement.

Forms are available to certify your medical disability and the application itself has space to request accommodation for other disabilities that may impact your application process.If you are concerned about your ability to pass either of the tests or wish to request a waiver or other accommodation, you should seek the assistance of an attorney.

Oath of Allegiance

U.S. citizenship is conferred after the oath of allegiance is taken. A modified oath may be available in certain instances, such as religious opposition to oaths.

Considering U.S. Citizenship? Seek Professional Legal Help

Successfully naturalizing in the United States requires a thorough understanding of the steps involved, and careful preparation at each stage. If you or a loved one are considering becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization, an experienced immigration lawyer can guide you through each step of the process and protect your legal rights. Contact a local immigration law attorney today for some peace of mind.

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