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Becoming a United States Citizen: The Naturalization Process

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The Naturalization Process


            Citizenship is “the common thread that connects all Americans.”[1] Naturalization is the process by which an immigrant voluntarily becomes a United States citizen.[2] During the last decade, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has naturalized more than 7.4 million people with the top countries of origin being Mexico, India, Philippines, China, and Cuba.[3] Between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017, the immigrants’ rights group the National Partnership for New Americans found that more than one million U.S. residents with green cards applied to become citizens, and in fiscal year 2017, 222,000 residents of California alone applied for citizenship.[4]

            Why seek naturalization? Naturalization allows an immigrant to become a full member of American society. It provides political and civil rights, and the ability to participate fully in the democratic process. Rights gained by a naturalized citizen include the right to vote, sit on a jury, travel with a U.S. passport, live in the U.S. without fear of deportation and hold some public offices whose eligibility is not otherwise restricted.[5] Citizenship may also provide economic benefits, including access to government job opportunities that are not open to noncitizens. Additionally, some employers may treat citizenship as a signal of integration into American society or otherwise discriminate against noncitizens when hiring.[6]

            The process to become a U.S. citizen includes:

·         Determining eligibility to become a U.S. citizen;

·         Preparing and submitting a Form N-400 (the Application for Naturalization);

·         Attending a biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment;

·         Completing the interview and taking English and civics tests; and

·         Taking the oath of allegiance to the United States.

We will elaborate on eligibility, preparation and submission of the Form N-400, the interview process and the oath of allegiance.

            The eligibility requirements for naturalization are exhaustive. The applicant must:

·         Be 18 years of age at the time of filing;

·         Be a permanent resident of the United States for at least five years;

·         Live within the state where he claims residence for at least 3 months prior to filing;

·         Demonstrate physical presence and continuous residence within the United States for a required period of time;

·         Demonstrate good moral character;

·         Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution;

·         Demonstrate a basic knowledge of English and U.S. history and government

            Once eligible, the prospective citizen will need to prepare and then submit a Form N-400, which is the application for naturalization. The Form N-400 is a 20-page application with 18 different parts.[7] Some portions that must be filled out include name, gender, contact information, country of birth, and date that lawful permanent residence began. The most in-depth portion of Form N-400 is Part 12, which is a series of 50 “Yes/No” questions asking the applicant if she’s ever had issues with alcohol, spent time in prison, gambled illegally, sold or smuggled illegal drugs or been involved with acts of genocide, torture, or terrorism, among other things.[8] If she answers “Yes” to any of these questions, she will need to include written explanations for her answers.

            After submitting the Form N-400, an applicant will receive notice for a naturalization interview. The interview will be held at the USCIS office that serves the region in which the applicant lives, and it may take approximately 20 minutes.[9] During the interview, a USCIS Officer will ask questions about an applicant's Form N-400 and background. The citizenship interview allows the USCIS to not only delve into the substance of the applicant’s application, but also assesses her ability to speak, read, and write English. By asking questions regarding the application, the USCIS officer is testing the applicant’s English language and communication capabilities.

The English test has three components: reading, writing, and speaking. The civics test covers important U.S. history and government topics. The USCIS officer will ask the applicant up to ten civics questions. There are 100 potential civics questions on national symbols, U.S. history, and political issues such as political parties, voting procedures, and the Constitution.[10] To pass the U.S. citizenship test, an applicant must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly.[11] If the applicant fails the test, she may retake it within ninety days, but if she fails it again, her application for naturalization will be denied and she must re-apply.[12]

            If approved for citizenship, the applicant will then be provided a notice for an oath and swearing-in ceremony at which a judge will officially make her a U.S. citizen, and she’ll receive a certificate showing her new status. At the swearing-in ceremony, she will take an oath of allegiance. The oath promises to uphold and protect the country and the foundational ideas underpinning the United States.[13] The Oath’s language is the following[14]:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.


Over the past year, there has been a crush of permanent residents wanting to start the naturalization process, demonstrating the growth in citizenship applications across the United States. One news outlet reported that in Arizona, naturalization applications jumped 48 percent over the past three years, to more than 19,000 last year.[15] The growing caseload has led to a jaw-dropping backlog, with 13,680 pending cases in Arizona, with one case typically taking around nine months to complete.[16] Though it can be a time-consuming process, the advantages of being naturalized usually outweigh the drawbacks, as it grants a permanent resident the ability to proudly call herself a citizen of the United States.


[6] Madeleine Sumption and Sarah Flamm, “The Economic Value of Citizenship for Immigrants in the United States,” Migration Policy Institute, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/citizenship-premium.pdf.

[9] 8 C.F.R. § 312.2(c) (2010).

[12] Stella Elias, “Testing Citizenship,” 96 B.U.L. Rev. 2093, (2016).

[14] Oath of Allegiance, 8 C.F.R. § 337.1 (2016).

[16] Id.