What is Naturalization: A guide to benefits, eligibility, and application requirements

January 13, 2022 | Written By Virginia Jijon-Caamano in cooperation with Jackson, Landrith & Kulesz, PC

What is the definition of naturalization?

An individual's citizenship is a unique connection that the individual has to a specific nation. In the United States, naturalization is the process in which an individual becomes a citizen of the United States and is guaranteed the freedoms and rights under the United States Constitution.

The naturalization process grants an individual U.S. citizenship after completing the entire application process. To have the application approved, the individual must meet all of the United States Congress's eligibility requirements in the Immigration and Nationality Act.


What is the difference between acquiring U.S. citizenship and naturalization?

The difference between acquiring U.S. citizenship and naturalization is centered around how an individual becomes a United States citizen. When one acquires U.S. citizenship, they obtain citizenship by being born in the Unites States, by having parents born in the United States, or by being a minor living in the U.S. legally with at least one of your parents when they naturalize.

For example, suppose one of the parents of an individual already went through the naturalization process and then had their child outside the United States. In that case, that child might not have to go through the naturalization process to obtain citizenship. Instead, they might be able to acquire U.S. citizenship. For acquiring U.S. citizenship through this method, contact an immigration attorney to check the law in effect at the time of birth as well as how long the U.S. citizen parent lived in the U.S.

As mentioned, naturalization is the application process for anyone older than 18 years old. They can go through this process to obtain citizenship so long as they meet the eligibility requirements. These individuals were born outside of the United States. To start the process, the individual is must first be granted a lawful permanent residency from the USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) and live in the U.S. for a required amount of time or serve or have served in the U.S. military.


What are the benefits of naturalization?

Once an individual officially receives his or her Certificate of Naturalization, there are various benefits that were previously unavailable when only having a green card.

Voting Rights

First, with a Certificate of Citizenship, you will be able to vote in federal elections, not just have voting rights with some local municipalities. This is extremely important, as you will have a 'voice' in making decisions that impact the country as a whole with your vote.


Employment Opportunities

If you are not a United States citizen, then you are not allowed to work for the U.S. government. As a United States citizen, these job opportunities will not be available for you.


No Deportation

As a United States citizen, you will not be subject to any forcible removal from the United States. This remains true even if you are arrested or convicted of a crime.


No Immigration Forms

You will no longer have to file forms with the USCIS. This means that you will not have to pay any more filing fees, renewals for green cards, or green card replacements.


Citizenship for Children

If you are naturalized, your children will automatically obtain United States citizenship even if the child is born abroad. However, if your child is born abroad, you must notify the U.S. consulate or embassy.


Sponsoring Relatives

As a United States citizen, you can sponsor a parent, sibling, or adult child who wants to apply for lawful permanent residency in the United States.


United States Passport

With a United States passport, you can travel to over 180 countries. While traveling, you can also receive assistance from the U.S. consulates or embassies while abroad.

These are just a few of the benefits you receive once you complete the naturalization process and are considered a United States citizen.


Who is eligible for naturalization?

The USCIS provides various requirements for an individual to be eligible for naturalization. These requirements include:

  • The individual must be at least 18 years old when filing the application.
  • The individual must have been a lawful permanent resident for the last 3 or 5 years (depending on the naturalization category under which the individual is applying) or serve or have served in the U.S. military.
  • The individual has a continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S.
  • The individual must be able to speak, read, and write basic English.
  • The individual must be able to demonstrate good moral character.
  • The individual must demonstrate an understanding and knowledge of the history and government of the United States.
  • The individual must show loyalty to the principles under the United States Constitution.
  • The individual must be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.

Are there any exemptions to the naturalization requirements?

Some applicants who meet all of the eligibility requirements may be exempt from 1) the English test or 2) the Civics test to receive naturalization.

Those who are exempt from the English language test include:

  • Individuals who are 50 years old or older when applying for naturalization and have lived in the United States as a permanent resident (i.e., with a Green Card) for twenty years. This is referred to as the "50/20" exemption.
  • Individuals who are 55 years old or older when applying for naturalization and have lived in the United States as a permanent resident (i.e., with a Green Card) for 15 years. This is referred to as the "55/15" exemption.
  • Individuals with physical or developmental disabilities or mental impairment.

Those exempt from the Civics test include those who have a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment. In order to be exempt under these exceptions, you must submit Form N-648, the Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions. A licensed medical doctor, osteopathic doctor, or licensed clinical psychologist must fill out this form.


How can I apply for naturalization?

If you are eligible to apply for naturalization, you must follow these steps:

1. Gather all of the relevant documents you will need to prove that you are eligible to apply for naturalization. The USCIS has a document checklist that you should follow.

2. Fill out the online Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization.

3. Pay the filing fees through your online account.

4. You can check on the status of your application through the following link: https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do

5. Some individuals will be required to take biometrics. If so, then USCIS will send you information regarding your appointment in an appointment notice, which will include the date, time, and location of your appointment. Arrive at the site at your scheduled time to have your biometrics taken. At this appointment, your fingerprints and photograph will be taken for the USCIS to conduct a background check. This will usually happen around one month after the USCIS receives your application.

6. Once these preliminary steps described above are completed, USCIS will schedule an interview with you to complete the process. You will receive an interview notice a few weeks before the scheduled interview. This notice will contain the date, time, and location of your appointment.  You should always bring your appointment notice with you to the appointment. At the naturalization interview, the immigration officer will ask you questions about your application and background. Unless you have been granted an exemption, they will also conduct your English and civics tests. For the English test, they will ask you to read and write a few sentences in English. Finally, they will ask you ten general civics questions and you must get six of these correct to pass the test. The ten questions are chosen randomly from a list of 100 questions (and answers) available online.

7. Wait for the USCIS notice of decision. If you filed the application online, you can also receive the electronic notice in your online account. There are three potential notices of decision that you may receive:

  • Application – Granted: The USCIS approved your application.
  • Application – Continued: The USCIS needs more information, evidence, or documentation from you to continue the application. You may also get this notice of decision if you failed to provide the correct documents, failed the English exam, or failed the Civics exam for the first time.
  • Application – Denied. The USCIS denied your application if they determined the evidence establishes you are not eligible for naturalization.

8. If your application is Granted, the next step is to take the Oath of Allegiance. If you received Continued notice, then you should be sure to respond to any requests for additional evidence. If your application was denied, you should consult with an experienced immigration lawyer to discuss your potential next steps.

No matter where you are in the process, you should always consult with a knowledgeable immigration law firm to ensure you provide all of the necessary documents and fill out all forms correctly.

How much does the naturalization application cost?

The current filing fee for Form N-400 is $640. If you need to go through the biometric appointment portion of the process, there is an additional $85 fee unless you are over 75 years of age or are filing as a member of the U.S. military.

Certain low-income individuals applying for naturalization may pay a filing fee of $320 plus the additional $85 for the biometric services fee, though it might adversely affect your application.


How long does the naturalization application process usually take?

You can always check the Case Processing Times on the USCIS website, which can be found at the link here: https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/

In general, the entire processing time from when you first submit the application to when you go to the Oath of Allegiance ceremony is anywhere between 10 to 24 months.


Is there anything else I should know about naturalization?

Before you submit your application for naturalization, there are some things you should be aware of regarding naturalization.

For example, you may have to renounce your citizenship in other countries. This will depend on your home country and that country’s rules surrounding dual citizenship. While the United States does permit dual citizenship, you must use your United States passport when traveling in and out of the country and you may not work for a foreign government.

Further, when you become a United States citizen, you may be called on to serve on a jury. This does not automatically mean you will serve on a jury, though you should be prepared to serve if selected by the court and attorneys.

Finally, once you are a United States citizen, you will have to file U.S. income tax returns for the rest of your life as a U.S. citizen, no matter where you live.


If you have any questions about the naturalization process and your roles and responsibilities as a United States citizen, you should consult with an experienced immigration law firm to understand everything you need to know.

Our lawyers at Parlatore have years of experience helping our clients understand their legal rights and answering all of their immigration law questions. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn how we can help you.

Virginia Jijón-Caamaño is a partner with Parlatore Law Group and practices in the field of immigration law, helping both individual clients, as well as businesses to navigate this constantly evolving area of the law. She assists individual clients in navigating confusing immigration regulations and applications. Her practice entails organizing all types of visa submissions. Virginia works tirelessly to deconstruct complicated immigration options, opportunities, and pitfalls, to compile thoroughly documented application packages. She also handles naturalization applications, and DACA work permit renewals. For more about Virginia, click here.


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