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Becoming a Naturalized U.S. Citizen: The Simple Process
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The ultimate goal of most foreign nationals, once they become permanent residents of the U.S., is to become a U.S. citizen. Naturalization is the process by which those foreign nationals (someone who was neither a citizen nor a national of the U.S. at the time of birth) apply for and obtain U.S. citizenship and become naturalized American citizen.

Many people hold a common perception that becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen is an extremely complicated and difficult process. But in reality the process is quite simple. While the naturalization process is relatively easy it doesn’t mean that you can take things lightly. And some foreign nationals find the process long and at times confusing. The reason for the long delays is that there are so many people who want to become U.S. citizens that all applicants must wait for their turn.

Many people do not understand what the requirements are, or why they are what they are. Let’s begin our exploration of this topic by looking at who qualifies to file for naturalization and the basic requirements or qualifications for naturalization.

Who qualifies to become a Naturalized U.S. Citizen:

Before you can begin the process for becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, you have to fall into one of the following categories:
  • You are a foreign national who has been a permanent resident of the US for five years;

  • You are a foreign national who has been a permanent resident for three years, who is currently married to a US citizen, and has been married to the same US citizen for the past three years;

  • You are a foreign national who has been a permanent resident and has served the US Armed Forces for at least three years;

  • You are a foreign national who served honorably in the US armed forces during a specified period of armed conflict. The following period have been designated under this provision:

    • World War I (November 11, 1916 – April 6, 1917)
    • World War II (September 1, 1939 – December 31, 1946)
    • Korean Conflict (June 25, 1950 – July 1, 1955)
    • Vietnam Conflict (February 28, 1961 – October 15, 1978)
    • Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (August 29, 1990 – April 11, 1991)
    • Operation Enduring Freedom (September 11, 2001 – Open)
    • Any other period which the President, by Executive Order, has designated as a period in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or were engaged in military operations involving armed conflict with hostile foreign forces;

  • You were married to a US citizen who died during a period of honorable active duty service in the US Armed Forces;

  • You served on a vessel operated by the US and have been a US permanent resident for the past five years;
  • You are an employee or an individual who is stationed or employed abroad under contract to the US Government and have been a US permanent resident for the past five years;

  • Are a person who performs ministerial or priestly functions abroad for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization with a valid presence in the US, and have been a US permanent resident for the past five years; or

  • You are spouse of a US citizen who is stationed or employed abroad, and who is one of the following:

    • A member of the US Armed Forces;
    • An employee or an individual under contract to the US Government;
    • An employee of an American institution of research recognized by the Attorney General;
    • An employee of a public international organization of which the United States is a member by law or treaty;
    • An employee of an American-owned firm or corporation engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce for the United States; or
    • A person who performs ministerial or priestly functions for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization with a valid presence in the United States.
Basic Requirements for Naturalization:

The basic requirements for naturalization are:
  1. Live in the US as a permanent resident for a specific amount of time (Continuous Residence).
  2. Be present in the US for specific time periods (Physical Presence).
  3. Spend specific amount of time in your state or USCIS district prior to filing.
  4. Behave in a legal and acceptable manner (Good Moral Character).
  5. Know English and information about US history and government (English and Civics).
  6. Understand and accept the principles of the US Constitution (Attachment to the Constitution).
These are the basic requirements for becoming a naturalized U.S. Citizen. But what do they mean? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
  1. Continuous Residence

    The immigration laws have clearly defined “continuous residence.” It means that you must live in the US as a permanent resident for a specified period of time. Most people must be permanent residents in continuous residence for five years, three years if married to a U.S. citizen, before they can begin the US naturalization process.

    For refugees, this means five years from the date they arrived in the US, which is usually the date they obtained permanent resident status. For those granted asylum status in the US, this 5 year period begins one year before they received their permanent resident status. The date on your Permanent Resident Card is the date your specific period (usually the five years) begins. If you leave the United States for a long period of time, usually six months or more, you may be deemed to “break” your continuous residence. If you are outside the US for 1 year or longer you automatically have a break in your continuous residence and the five year clock starts ticking on the date of your return, however, you will reach the “five” year mark in four years and one day because you can count the one year period preceding your return as part of the five years.

  2. Physical Presence in the United States

    As with continuous presence the immigration laws have clearly defined “physical presence.” It means the time that you have actually been present in the United States. If you are a permanent resident at least 18 years old, typically you must be physically present in the United States for at least one-half of the continuous residence period. For most permanent residents that means 30 months during the last five years before filing, or if you are filing based on marriage to a US citizen 18 months during the last three years before filing.

    Live within a state or USCIS district for at least three months before you apply.

  3. Time as a Resident in the States or USCIS District of Filing

    Prior to filing your application for becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen you must have lived in the state or USCIS district where you apply for at least three months. Students can apply for naturalization either where they go to school or where their family lives (if they depend on their parents for support).

  4. Good Moral Character

    The law requires that to be eligible for naturalization, you must be a person of good moral character for the statutory period (typically the five or three year period, however the USCIS can look back even farther). An applicant cannot be a person of good moral character and is permanently barred from naturalizing if they have ever been convicted of murder, or an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990. A person is not considered to be of “good moral character” if they commit certain acts and/or crimes during the statutory period (five years) before they apply for naturalization or if they lie during their naturalization interview.

    Behaviors that might show a lack of good moral character:

    • Drunk driving or being drunk most of the time.
    • Illegal gambling.
    • Prostitution.
    • Lying to gain immigration benefits.
    • Failing to pay court-ordered child support.
    • Committing terrorist acts.
    • Persecuting someone because of race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or social group.

    Most of these do not even require a conviction; simply engaging in the activity is sufficient for a finding that you are not a person of good moral character.

  5. Knowledge of English and Civics

    To become a naturalized United States citizen you must be able to read, write, and speak basic everyday English. You must also have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and U.S. form of government (this is also known as the “civics” portion of the interview).

    At your interview on the N-400 you will be required to pass an English test and a test of civics.

    The USCIS officer will ask you to read up to three sentences in English and to write up to three sentences in English that are dictated to you. The officer will also determine your ability to speak English during the course of the interview.

    The test of civics is to examine your knowledge of U.S. history, the constitution, and our form of government. The U.S. government has decided that if an individual understands how decisions are made and which elements of American history have contributed to making the country what it is today, he or she will be more able to make sound decisions in the public arena when voting, and voicing his/her opinion, thus making him/her a better citizen.

    Exemptions to the English and Civics requirements:

    Certain permanent residents who have lived in the US for a long length of time when they apply for US naturalization have different test requirements because of their age and the length of time they have lived in the US.

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    Age 50 or older

    Age 55 or older

    Age 65 or older

    20 years

    15 years

    20 years
    English test

    English test

    English test
    civics test in your language

    civics test in your language

    simplified civics test in your language

  6. Attachment to the Constitution:

    Upon becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen you must be willing to support and defend the United States and its Constitution. You declare your “attachment” or loyalty to the United States and the Constitution, and renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title, when you take the Oath of Allegiance. The final step in the naturalization process, and when you become a U.S. citizen, is when you take the Oath of Allegiance.
Oath of Allegiance: The Oath of Allegiance is a promise to be loyal to the United States that captured Confederate soldiers and Confederate sympathizers were forced to take to avoid being put in prison.

The Oath of Allegiance is:

"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."

In certain cases, where the applicant can show that he or she is opposed to any type of service in the armed forces based on religious teaching or belief, USCIS will permit these applicants to take a modified oath with the following phrase removed:

“. . . 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; . . .”

Naturalization Ceremonies:

If the USCIS approves your application for naturalization, you will be scheduled to attend an Oath Ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance. The ceremony can be either an administrative ceremony administered by the USCIS or a court ceremony administered by a U.S. District Court Judge.

USCIS will send you a Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony, to tell you the time and date of your ceremony. You must complete this form (it will ask you questions about your activities since your naturalization interview and examination) and bring it to your ceremony.

If you cannot go to your scheduled ceremony, you can reschedule your ceremony. To reschedule, you must return Form N-445 to your local USCIS office along with a letter explaining why you cannot attend the ceremony. When you arrive and check in at your Oath ceremony you will turn in your Permanent Resident Card to the USCIS. You will no longer need your Permanent Resident Card because you will get your Certificate of Naturalization at the end of the ceremony.

An immigration official will read each part of the Oath slowly and ask you to repeat the words. After you take the Oath, you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization. This certificate proves that you are a U.S. citizen. As noted above, you do not become a U.S. citizen until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance at a formal naturalization ceremony. The Oath of Allegiance ceremony is a public event.


Naturalization is one of the ways of obtaining U.S. Citizenship. Naturalization is a privilege extended to foreign nationals who meet the minimum requirements. You must prove your worth throughout the process, and in the end you will be granted a Certificate of Naturalization. U.S. citizenship bestows several rights and responsibilities on the new citizens. The naturalized United States citizen may now vote, serve on state and federal juries, petition to bring family members to the U.S., obtain U.S. citizenship for children born abroad, and will become eligible for many federal jobs and many more government benefits.

Overall the decision to pursue naturalization to become a U.S. citizen is one of the most important decisions that you will have to face. Given the privileges that come with being a naturalized United States citizen, it should not take you very long to reach your decision.

If you are think about becoming a naturalized U.S. Citizen or have any doubts in this matter, consult a VisaPro immigration attorney. We will be happy to guide you through the process.

The above article is brought to you by "". VisaPro’s US Immigration Lawyer Services include H-1B, K-1 Visa, K-3, L-1, Green Card, and over 100 Immigration Services.

The information in this article is not intended to be legal advice. If you have questions specific to your case, we suggest that you consult with the experienced immigration attorneys at

Visit VisaPro regularly for updates and the latest immigration news at

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