Naturalization is the process by which a foreign citizen becomes a U.S. citizen. Unless a person is a U.S. citizen by birth, they will have to obtain citizenship by becoming naturalized. Only persons who hold a permanent visa (green card) can apply for naturalization. 

Naturalization can sometimes be a lengthy and complicated process. The applicant needs to submit various forms, as well as documents which prove they are eligible. 

In order to help you understand the process, the following are some of the more frequently asked naturalization questions and their answers. 

When Is a Person a U.S. citizen by Birth?

A person is a U.S. citizen by birth if they are born within the boundaries of the United States. This includes birth in a U.S. territory such as Guam, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands. Also, persons born abroad may be U.S. citizens at birth if both of their parents are U.S. citizens at the time of birth, and at least one of the parents lived in the U.S. at some point during their life. Finally, in some cases a person may be a U.S. citizen by birth if one of their parents is a U.S. citizen (subject to additional requirements).

How Does a Foreign Citizen Become a Naturalized U.S. Citizen?

An immigrant may apply for naturalization after they have received their permanent resident card and acquired lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. Five years after receiving their green card, the person may apply for naturalization using Form N-400, “Application for Naturalization”. The applicant needs to be at least 18 years old, and must fulfill various eligibility requirements (such as residing in the U.S. for a specified period of time).

Where Do I Submit My Naturalization Application?

You may submit your completed “Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) to the proper U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) center. You should also submit any documents and any other additional information that has been requested of you. Be sure to make a copy of your application and all documents to keep for your records. Note: Do NOT send original documents with the application unless an original is required. 

When Does My Time as a “Lawful Permanent Resident” (LPR) Begin?

Your time as an LPR begins on the date that you were granted LPR status.  This is indicated on your Permanent Resident Card (previously known as “Alien Registration Card”).

How Long Does It Take to Become a Naturalized U.S. Citizen?

The times and dates may vary for each individual applicant, but usually the process takes around 5-7 years. This is because each person must wait 5 years from the date that they receive LPR status before they can file for naturalization process. Once the application has been filed, it can take any where from 1-2 years to complete the actual naturalization filing process, including interviews, tests, etc.

If I Had a Conviction Expunged from My Criminal Record, Do I Need to Indicate This on My Naturalization Application?

Yes. Even if your record has been cleared, you still need to indicate all arrests, convictions, and crimes which you may have committed that did not lead to arrest or conviction. This includes even minor crimes. Failure to inform immigration authorities about your criminal record can result in your application being denied (even if your record was previously cleared).

If I Have Completed the Naturalization Process, When Do I Become a U.S. Citizen?

A person becomes a U.S. citizen on the date that they take the “Oath of Allegiance” to the United States. This usually takes place through a formal ceremony, and the date will be recorded on your Certificate of Naturalization

What If the USCIS Has Denied My Application for Naturalization?

If your application has been denied, it is not the end the process for you. You may be eligible to have your application reviewed by immigration authorities. If you receive a denial letter from USCIS, the letter should contain instructions on how to have your previous application reviewed. This is usually done by filing Form N-336, “Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings”. However, a review may not be available in all cases.

Is It Possible to Reapply for Naturalization if my Application Was Denied?

In some cases, it is possible to reapply for naturalization if your application was denied. You will need to submit an entirely new Form N-400, and pay the application fees again. Instructions for reapplication will be contained in the denial letter issued by USCSIS. If you were denied naturalization because you failed the civics or English test, you may reapply as soon as you wish. However, you should reapply only when you feel that you have gained competency in English and civics so that you will pass the test. 

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Questions about Naturalization?

If you seek to apply for naturalization, it may be worth your while to contact an immigration lawyer. An experienced lawyer can help answer any questions you might have regarding the naturalization process, or any other area of immigration law. Also, if you have any disputes or legal issues regarding the naturalization process, a lawyer can help clarify the issue according to immigration laws and policies.