Citizenship is a fundamental right and carries with it specific legal benefits. The IRC helps refugees and immigrants navigate the path to U.S. citizenship, which includes a lengthy naturalization process.
The new citizen can leave and reenter the country without limitation, vote in elections, serve on juries and hold certain government jobs.
Exploring the Path to U.S. Citizenship
Citizenship comes with privileges and responsibilities that all U.S. citizens should understand, honor and respect. Citizens are eligible to vote, serve on a jury and have access to certain benefits such as a U.S. passport and visa-free travel to many countries.
In the United States, most people earn citizenship through naturalization. This process allows a non-citizen to become a citizen by following a step-by-step process that involves checking eligibility, filling out Form N-400 and submitting photographs. Once the application has been processed, you will receive a notice for a naturalization interview and test. The interview is conducted by a USCIS officer and tests your English and civics knowledge.
Those who served in the military can also become citizens through naturalization. However, the requirements are different based on whether you served during peacetime or in a time of hostility.
The first step in the naturalization process is to apply by filling out USCIS Form N-400. You should submit it along with a copy of your green card, photos and the appropriate fee (which may be reduced or waived depending on your circumstances).
The second requirement is to prove that you have continuously maintained US residence for five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen). You must also have physically lived in the state (or USCIS district) for at least 30 months prior to filing.
If you have a break in your residency due to military service, work or school abroad, you can still meet this requirement if you can demonstrate that you kept close ties to your previous residence.
Lastly, you must be of the age of majority at the time you take your citizenship oath. For some applicants, this means registering for Selective Service before you turn 26.
Citizenship Test and Interview
Once you have submitted your completed application and biometrics, USCIS will schedule an interview at one of its offices. The interview is a required part of the citizenship process and will include an English reading, English writing, and U.S. civics test.
The interview will also be a chance for the officer to review your completed application and verify that you have provided all necessary documentation. The officer will also ask you questions about the United States and its history. The test and interview are both administered in English.
If you fail the citizenship test on your first attempt, you will have a second opportunity to take it within 90 days. If you fail the test a third time, your citizenship application will be denied. You can appeal the denial and request a hearing by filing Form N-336.
After your interview, USCIS will provide you with a notice with the results of your citizenship exam and citizenship interview. Your application may be approved at that time, or it could be continued because USCIS needs more information or documentation from you or you did not pass the citizenship test (or a portion of it).
If your application is continued, USCIS will review any new records or clarification you submit and will reexamine you on any portions of the test you failed.
Documentary Requirements for U.S. Citizenship
A citizen’s application requires a variety of paperwork that serves to support the answers submitted on Form N-400. These documents include primary and secondary citizenship evidence such as, but not limited to:
A valid U.S. passport (unless the document is a “limited” passport issued for a shorter time period such as one year). Passports must have been issued before applying for naturalization.
Proof of permanent resident status. Depending on your situation, this may be a conditional green card or a more traditional one that you have held for a certain number of years. This proof must be provided for a specific number of years – conditional green card holders need to show physical presence for two and half years while more traditional green card holders need to prove physical residence for three years.
Two photographs. Each photo must be clearly showing your face and must have a white background. These should be photocopies on 8.5” x 11” standard paper and must be legible.
The first step in the citizenship application process is filing Form N-400. You can do this online or by mail, and it must be accompanied by supporting documentation.
After receiving your N-400, USCIS will review and approve or reject it. If approved, USCIS will issue a Form I-797C with a receipt number that allows you to track your case.
A few months after you receive your I-797C, USCIS will schedule your interview. It’s important to attend your scheduled interview as failure to do so can add significant delay to the process. You should also bring all requested documents (including any specified in an RFE) to the interview.
During your interview, you’ll be asked questions and required to take two citizenship tests: an English test and a civics test. You’ll also be asked to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States.
Many green card holders consider becoming a US citizen to gain more benefits and responsibilities. For example, only citizens can vote in federal elections and have a say in how the country is run. Only citizens can hold government jobs, serve on juries and receive financial aid grants and scholarships that are available only to US citizens.
Citizens are also eligible for certain social security programs, including unemployment insurance and help for families with young children. Citizens can leave and reenter the United States without restrictions. And they are not subject to deportation unless they commit crimes or violate immigration laws.
The one-time cost of citizenship is typically less than the annual renewal fee for a green card. Citizens have more flexibility when traveling overseas and can obtain visas for their immediate family members. Such as brothers and sisters, much more quickly than green card holders can.
They can enter the United States more easily without waiting in long lines. And are not subject to the same level of scrutiny as noncitizens. Citizens also earn higher wages and enjoy lower interest rates when borrowing money. They can legally pass property in their wills to spouses and children and avoid estate taxes.
Understanding the Rights and Responsibilities
While it’s important to appreciate the benefits of citizenship. It’s also crucial for students to understand the civic responsibility that comes with U.S. citizenship.
Some of these responsibilities include voting, serving on a jury, paying income. And other taxes honestly, and obeying federal, state, and local laws. Citizens must respect the rights, opinions, and beliefs of others. And participate in the democratic process by supporting causes and political campaigns they believe in.
Citizenship allows people to vote in all U.S. elections, including those for the president and vice president. Which only citizens can run for. It also makes people eligible for jobs with the federal government. Where the pay and benefits are typically better than private-sector employment.
Those who pursue naturalization must pledge loyalty to the United States. And give up their allegiance to any other country, as well as take an oath of citizenship. This can be difficult for some applicants, particularly if they don’t speak fluent English and have limited formal education.