What is Naturalization?
Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to an immigrant in the United States after they have satisfied the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act. This process begins with the green card holder filing a Form N-400 (“Application for Naturalization”), along with supporting documentation.
With naturalization being one of two ways of obtaining citizenship in the United States, the other way is acquisition of citizenship—which is when a person is granted U.S. citizenship because they were either born in the U.S. or were born to parents who are U.S. citizens. The key difference between these two processes is that acquisition of citizenship is based on the person’s relationship with U.S. citizens, while naturalization establishes a set of requirements for the person, part of which assumes the applicant has been a green card holder.
Applying for your Certification of Naturalization (the end result of the naturalization process) is exciting, but it is also a stressful and confusing process. It is critical for those reading this article to understand that if the naturalization process goes wrong, it has the potential to not only get your naturalization denied, but depending on the circumstance, it may have as a consequence, the revocation of the green card. To avoid experimentation and making costly mistakes, you may consider consulting an immigration attorney to assist you. An experienced immigration attorney will help you better understand your options and give you the upper hand in your case.
This ultimate guide will also include everything you need to help navigate the naturalization journey including requirements, benefits, step-by-step processes, and more.
Who Can Apply for Naturalization and When
Eligibility is dependent on a number of factors, including how long you have had your green card, how long you have physically resided within the U.S., and whether or not you have served in the U.S. military. For your convenience, we have provided a brief summary of the most common groups of applicants and when they can apply for naturalization:
Green Card Holders With No Special Circumstances
Green card holders with no special circumstances can apply for naturalization at least five years after getting their green card, provided they have physically lived in the U.S. for at least 30 months (2.5 years) out of those five years (or 60 months).
Green Card Holders Married to a U.S. Citizen Spouse
Green card holders that have been married to a U.S. citizen spouse for at least three years and have lived with the same spouse for that entire time can apply for naturalization at least three years after getting their green card, provided they have physically lived in the U.S. for at least 18 months (1.5 years) out of those three years. The U.S. citizen spouse must also have been a U.S. citizen for at least three years.
Widow or Widower of a U.S. Citizen Who Died While Honorably Serving in the U.S. Military
As long as the widow or widower is a green card holder at the time of the naturalization interview, they may apply at any time provided they were living with the U.S. citizen spouse at the time of their death. They do not need to have held a green card for a certain amount of time or have physically lived in the U.S. for a certain amount of time prior to applying.
Green Card Holders in the U.S. Military
Green card holders that have served in the U.S. military for less than one year during peacetime can apply for naturalization five years after getting their green card, provided they have physically lived in the U.S. for at least 30 months (2.5 years) out of those five years. Honorable service within the five-year period counts towards the required time.
Green card holders that have served in the U.S. military for at least one year during peacetime can apply while in active duty or within six months of honorably separating from the military. They do not need to have held a green card for a certain amount of time or have physically lived in the U.S. for a certain amount of time prior to applying. If they are applying six months after honorably separating from the military, they can apply for naturalization five years after getting their green card provided they have physically lived in the U.S. for at least 30 months (2.5 years) out of those five years. Honorable service within the five-year period counts towards the required time.
Those that have served in the U.S. military for any period during wartime can apply at any time without having to wait. The applicant or their military spouse must have been physically present in the U.S. when they were enlisted, re-enlisted, had their service extended, or were inducted into the military. They do not need to have held a green card for a certain amount of time or have physically lived in the U.S. for a certain amount of time prior to applying.
Eligibility Requirements for Naturalization
If you are unsure whether you meet a certain requirement, reach out to an immigration lawyer for assistance. Here are the basic requirements you must meet to be able to successfully complete and submit a Form N-400 (“Application for Naturalization”):
Minimum Age Requirement
You must be at least 18 years of age to be eligible for naturalization unless you are applying based on a period of wartime military service. In such a case, you may be of any age to apply.
Lawful Permanent Residence Requirement
At your naturalization interview, USCIS may ask about how you became a permanent resident. Many take naturalization lightly and do not give it the requisite attention it needs. This was noted previously, but it is worth repeating, you have to use special care in the process of naturalization because USCIS has the power to not only deny your naturalization application but depending on the circumstance, revoke your green card and refer you to immigration court to begin removal proceedings.
Continuous Presence Requirement
To satisfy this requirement, you should be able to prove that you have not been absent from the country for a period between 6 months to 1 year. Seek naturalization immigration law counsel if this applies. You are allowed to leave the U.S., but be sure to return within six months every time. You may demonstrate that you did not disrupt your continuity of residence by preparing evidence of the following:
- Your immediate family remained in the U.S.
- You maintained your employment in the U.S.
- You kept your home in the U.S. (ex. Landlord statements, lease agreements, utility bills, property tax bills with a physical location, etc.)
- You did not seek employment outside of the U.S.
- Your children, if any, remained enrolled in a U.S. school
If you were absent from the U.S. for over 1 year, USCIS will view this absence as a break in a continuity of residence. Consequently, you may not be able to provide evidence and your application will be denied. If you do take an extended trip abroad, your chance of success in overcoming the presumed break of continuous residence is dependent on the following factors:
- The discretion of the USCIS officer looking over your application
- Your reason for not returning to the U.S. sooner
- How long you were outside of the U.S.
If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you must show only 3 years of continuous residence. Note that receiving a reentry permit will not preserve your continuity of residence. If you need to leave the U.S. for a certain period of time and wish to preserve your continuity of residence, consider reviewing your eligibility for a N-470 (“Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes”). Note that you may submit your application for naturalization as early as 90 days before you finish waiting the required 3 or 5 years.
Residency in the “States” also includes the following territories: The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, The U.S. Virgin Islands, and The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The “current physical address” you indicate on your application must be the place where you have indeed established residency, and you must notify USCIS of your new address within 10 days of relocation if you move after filing N-400.
State of Residence Requirement
You must reside in the same state you apply for naturalization in. Additionally, you must have resided in this state for at least 3 months prior to your application. If you are married to a U.S. citizen and are applying for naturalization early, then you must prove that you have resided in a state for at least months prior to your naturalization interview.
Physical Presence Requirement
You must prove your physical presence in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for at least 30 months over the last 5 years. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you will only need to show that you have been married and living with your spouse for at least 3 years since becoming a lawful permanent resident. Note that when you are traveling abroad, USCIS counts both of the days that you physically leave and return to the U.S. as days that you were physically present in the United States. While this requirement is similar to the “continuity of residence” requirement, it is relatively more straightforward.
Good Moral Character Requirement
You must prove that you have possessed good moral character throughout the 5-year period prior to your application. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you will only need to show that you have a good moral character for the previous 3-year period prior to your application.
USCIS will look into any prior convictions, drinking habits, tax payment history, immigration history, background checks and many other relevant factors. You must not be guilty of certain types of crimes such as murder, illegal gambling, prostitution, alien smuggling, polygamy, intentional lying during the application process for immigration benefits, and so on. Parking tickets by contrast are not criminal convictions. Good moral character is defined on a case-by-case basis.
Part 11 of the application for naturalization is one of the longest parts of the whole form and it is absolutely crucial that each question is answered honestly. If you are in doubt about any of the questions, your immigration status may suffer serious consequences. We highly recommend contacting an experienced immigration lawyer to represent you.
Two-Part Naturalization Test Requirement
You will be required to take a 10-question test, and you must answer at least 6 out of the 10 questions correctly to pass. One part of the naturalization test is a language test that proves your understanding of the English language (reading, writing, speaking, comprehension). The other part is a civics test that assesses your basic understanding of the U.S. government, as well as U.S. history. USCIS provides study resources, practice tests, and study tips for the civics test on their website.
Certain applicants may be able to receive accommodations or may be exempt from taking the two-part naturalization test based on their age, any physical, mental, or developmental disabilities, or their service in the military. Check USCIS’s website to see if you are exempt or able to be accommodated.
Oath of Allegiance Requirement
After being approved by USCIS, you will be required to attend a ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance and receive your Certificate of Naturalization. By taking the Oath of Allegiance, you promise to:
- Support and defend the U.S. Constitution as well as the laws of the U.S.
- Renounce your allegiance with other nations or sovereigns where you have previously held titles or citizenship
- Provide military or civilian service when the government calls upon you to do so
What are the Benefits of Naturalization?
After receiving your Certificate of Naturalization, you will have access to a number of advantages that are not available to green card holders. Some of these many advantages include:
You can vote in any U.S. election, including federal elections. Non-citizens do not get to enjoy this privilege, as they are only able to vote in certain local elections.
Eligibility to Run for Elected Office
As U.S. citizenship is required for federal office positions and most positions in public office, you become eligible to run for office.
No More Deportation or Loss of Status
You will no longer be at risk of deportation to your former country of citizenship or at risk of losing your status even if you are convicted of a crime, arrested, or spend an extended amount of time outside of the United States. You will have just as much right as any other American to work and remain in the country. Only in rare cases, such as a fraudulent initial application, can a naturalized citizen be stripped of their citizenship and deported.
No More Immigration Paperwork
You will no longer need to file any more immigration paperwork. This means you do not need to renew your green card or notify USCIS every time you move. You are also not required to carry any proof of status on your person on a daily basis.
Ability to Travel with a U.S. Passport
As a naturalized U.S. citizen, you are entitled to receive a U.S. passport. The U.S. passport is one of the most advantageous passports in the world. You will have the freedom to travel the globe with no government restrictions on the duration or frequency of your trips. You will also be able to travel to over 180 destinations without a visa, as well as be able to contact the local U.S. embassy or consulate during an emergency.
Automatic Citizenship Granted to Children
Even if you have children that were born abroad, they will automatically be granted U.S. citizenship with your naturalization as long as they are unmarried, under the age of 18, and under your legal and physical custody. Make sure to notify the U.S. embassy or consulate if you have a child that is born outside of the country.
Ability to Sponsor Relatives from Abroad
As a naturalized U.S. citizen, you are able to apply for a green card and sponsor your family members who are seeking lawful permanent residence in the United States.
Access to Federal Benefits
After receiving your Certificate of Naturalization, you will have full access to certain government benefit programs that are only made available to U.S. citizens, such as federal college aid.
New Job Opportunities
You will be able to apply for jobs and be hired to work for the U.S. government. As a federal employee, you may be paid more and may have more benefits than private-sector workers. This may include government jobs that may require a security clearance, etc.
Is Naturalization Right for Me?
As a green card holder, you may be wondering if becoming a naturalized citizen of the U.S. is the right decision for you. If you plan to permanently reside in the United States, then the short answer is yes. However, the answer might be more complicated to others as there are rules that deter some green card holders from naturalizing. Read on to learn more about the benefits and rules to see if naturalization is right for you.
Applying for naturalization with a criminal history will jeopardize your immigration status. A requirement for U.S. citizenship is that you possess good moral character, and convictions will make this difficult to prove. Certain crimes such as murder and aggravated felony (if convicted after November 29, 1990) will automatically bar you from citizenship and USCIS will likely have you deported. Note that any involvement or usage of marijuana can violate the principles of good moral character, regardless of whether or not it is legalized in your state of residence. If you have a problematic past record, you must consult an immigration lawyer before you file N-400.
Depending on your home country’s regulations on dual citizenship, you may need to renounce your citizenship in your home country once you are naturalized. Because of this, some green card holders will forgo applying for U.S. citizenship as they strongly identify with their native country.
No matter where you live, you must file U.S. income tax returns for life as a U.S. citizen. This means that even if you move abroad, you are still required to file U.S. income tax returns. Note that any income that typically exceeds a yearly limit of over $100,000 will generally be taxed. This amount changes every year, so please check with your CPA.
You may be summoned to a jury in a legal proceeding. It is mandatory that you show up when you are summoned, though the judge and attorneys will select who will actually serve on the jury. Different courts have their rules about individuals exempt from jury duty based on their age, disability, or if they hold a position in public office. First responders such as professional fire and police department workers and those actively serving in the military are exempt from jury duty.
Any male who has resided in the U.S. or received their green card between the ages of 18 and 26 must register with the Selective Service System. Selective Service is a program maintained by the government that keeps information on those who may be able to be drafted into the military. Those with different immigration statuses (not a green card) or who are over 26 years old are not required to register with the Selective Service System.
If you as an adult male fall under the eligible age range, it is important that you register prior to applying for naturalization. If you have not registered, this may cause issues. You may register for Selective Service at your local post office or online. Once you are registered, you will receive a “registration acknowledgment card” in the mail to prove your registration.
There is also a chance that your information was to Selective Service when you applied for your green card, but that your registration was not completed by either USCIS or Selective Service. You can request a “status information letter” to see if you are registered, required to register, or exempt from registering.
If you are between the ages of 26 and 31 and did not register with Selective Service before turning 26, you will be unable to register. You must be able to convince USCIS of your situation. Your exemption should be proven through a copy of “your status information letter” from Selective Service. If you intentionally did not register, your naturalization application may be denied. If you are applying after turning 31 (or 29, if married to a U.S. citizen), USCIS may overlook that you did not register for Selective Service.
Also known as the Application for Naturalization, the primary purpose of Form N-400 is to collect biographical information to determine if you meet all eligibility requirements for naturalization. N-400 has 18 parts and must be completed and filed with USCIS in order to begin the process of naturalization.
Costs for Naturalization
Currently, the filing fee for the N-400 is $640.00. There is an additional fee of $85.00 for biometrics, for a total of $725.00. Applicants that have served in the U.S. military do not need to pay the filing fee or the biometrics fee. Applicants aged 75 and older do not need to pay the biometrics fee. Regardless of what action USCIS takes on your application, these fees are non-refundable.
You can file online or in a paper application. If you file Form N-400 online, you can pay your fee online. If you mail in your Form N-400, you can pay with a check, money order, or with credit card by submitting Form G-1450.
If You Can’t Afford the Filing Fee
If you are unable to afford the application filing fee due to income reasons, you can apply for a fee reduction or a fee waiver if your total annual household income equals between 150% and 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time you are filing.
For a fee reduction, you must submit Form I-942 (“Request for Reduced Fee”) with Form N-400 (“Application for Naturalization”), along with the reduced amount of the fees and the supporting documentation. If Form I-942 is submitted after filing Form N-400, USCIS will reject your request for a fee reduction. Note that the fee reduction only applies to the Application for Naturalization, not the biometrics fee. Assuming you are eligible for a fee reduction and have submitted everything together, you will only need to pay 50% of the application filing fee and will need to pay a total cost of $405.00 (including the biometrics fee). If you are 75 years old or older; your exemption from paying the biometrics fee totals this process to $320.00.
For a fee waiver, submit a Form I-912 (“Request for Fee Waiver”) with your Form N-400 (“Application for Naturalization”), along with the supporting documentation.
Documents Required for Naturalization
Every case is unique and the devil is in the details. Those details make the difference between becoming a U.S. citizen and your case being denied and sometimes your green card being revoked. It is often critical to make sure that you have an attorney review your case. Your case may require specific documents depending on the facts of your particular situation. Here is a general list of the basic documents you might need to include with your N-400:
- Two identical, passport-style photos taken within 30 days of filing (2 inches by 2 inches) with your Alien Registration Number written lightly on the back of each print
- A front and back copy of your green card (Form I-551)
- A copy of your driver’s license or valid state-issued identification
- A copy of your marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Documents proving a legal name change (if the name on your green card is different from your current legal name)
- Filing fee payment (if applicable)
- Fee reduction (Form I-942) or waiver (Form I-912) application (if applicable)
- Form N-426, “Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service” or Form N-426, “Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service” (if applying based on your or your spouse’s U.S. military service)
- Proof of any medical disability you have (if filing Form N-648, “Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions”)
- Records of criminal history (if applicable) [caution here: do not send anything before talking to an immigration attorney]
We recommend that you make a copy of your completed Form N-400 and review your answers prior to your naturalization interview. Your USCIS interviewer based part of the interview on your answers indicated on Form N-400 and the documentation you submitted.
How to Apply for Naturalization
Before starting the naturalization process, make sure you have reviewed the requirements and that you are eligible for U.S. citizenship before proceeding. Here is a quick outline of the process:
Step 1. File Form N-400
Step 2. Attend Biometrics Appointment
Step 3. Attend Citizenship Interview and Test
Step 4. Receive Final Decision from USCIS
Step 5. Oath of Allegiance Ceremony
Step 1. File Form N-400
Filing Form N-400 (“Application for Naturalization”) and paying the filing fee is the first step in beginning the naturalization process. If you want to be ahead in the application process, you can submit N-400 as early as 90 days prior to reaching your three or five-year wait period as a green card holder provided you have satisfied all other requirements. You can either file online by creating an online account with USCIS, or by mailing both your application and supporting documents to the appropriate USCIS office. By having an online account, you will be able to:
- Pay the N-400 filing fee online
- Check your case status
- Receive accurate notifications and updates on your case
- View a personalized estimation of your case completion
- Manage your contact information
- Respond to any requests for evidence
Make sure you correctly file the initial form as the filing fee is non-refundable. Review the required documents before you submit. Note that if you are applying for naturalization based on military service, from abroad, or with a fee reduction or waiver, you may need to mail your application.
Once USCIS has received your application, they will mail you your receipt notice with a serial number within a few weeks after filing. The serial number can be used to check your case status and processing time. If you submitted an incomplete application, USCIS may send you a Request for Evidence or even reject your application altogether.
Step 2. Attend Biometrics Appointment
You will receive a notice in the mail to attend a biometrics appointment that includes a time, date, and location. The appointment will usually take place about a month after USCIS receives your application. Make sure to bring your green card, an additional form of state-issued identification, and the appointment notice from USCIS with you.
When you attend the biometrics appointment, you will undergo digital fingerprinting, digital signing, and photographs. The purpose of this process is to check you for any criminal records, as well as to make sure they can confirm your identity.
Sometimes, a second biometrics appointment may be required. This is especially true if your digital fingerprints were faulty, your background check is questionable, or if you did not properly submit the necessary documents with your N-400. A request for more information can be concerning depending on the circumstance and require you to supply the additional documents as soon as possible.
Step 3. Attend Citizenship Interview and Test
After USCIS has received all documentation and the FBI has completed a background check from your biometrics appointment, you will be required to attend your citizenship interview and take a civics test. This will usually take several months after your biometrics appointment at the nearest USCIS office. Be sure to attend your interview 30 minutes early as you will need to be processed into the office. If you fail to attend or if you reschedule the interview, your application will be delayed. Depending on your circumstances, you may also be asked to bring certain documents to your naturalization interview. Some of these documents might include:
- Your green card
- Your driver’s license or valid state-issued identification
- Valid and/or expired passports
- USCIS-issued travel documents (such as Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record”)
- Original copies of your marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Original copies of other records that confirm the history of your and your spouse’s bonafide marital status such as divorce papers, annulments, and death certificates from past marriages (if applicable)
- Copies of your federal income tax returns for the past 5 filing years (or past 3 filing years if applying based on marriage to a U.S. citizen).
- Proof of an authentic marriage for the past 3 years prior to filing
- Proof of parental rights over your children (if applicable)
- Documents proving a legal name change (if the name on your green card is different from your current legal name)
- Proof that you maintained continuous residence in the U.S.
At your interview, a USCIS officer will place you under oath and ask you various questions about your submitted N-400 to verify that the information is correct. These questions will be about:
- Your background
- The documents you submitted
- Your character
- Your residence
- Your allegiance to the U.S.
You will also be required to take an English proficiency test and a civics test.
Step 4. Receive Final Decision from USCIS
After completing your interview and test, USCIS will make one of three decisions on your application: granted, continued, or denied.
If your application is granted, that means USCIS has officially approved your naturalization.
If your application is continued, that means USCIS has placed your application on hold and will require more time to process. One reason for this hold could be because you did not pass your citizenship test. If you failed your citizenship test, you will be scheduled for a second interview to retake this exam, in which case a second fail will constitute a denial of your application.
Another reason for this decision could be that you failed to submit proper documentation, in which case USCIS will send a Request for Evidence which may need to be fulfilled within 30 days.
If your application is denied, then USCIS has determined that you do not qualify for naturalization based on submitted evidence. If you feel that the decision was made erroneously, you have the right to request a hearing and later file an appeal. You will receive a letter explaining why the USCIS denied your application.
Step 5. Oath of Allegiance Ceremony
If all goes well, USCIS will inform you of the Oath Ceremony you have to attend for your Naturalization. This is where you receive your Certificate of Naturalization, declaring you a U.S. citizen. You can take this certificate and get yourself a passport. The way USCIS conducts the Oath Ceremonies is either immediately after the naturalization interview (a more recent development) or they send you Form N-445 (“Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony”) within one to four weeks after your citizenship interview. If the oath is scheduled on a different day than the naturalization interview, USCIS will notify you of a scheduled date, time, and place for your ceremony. While no additional preparation for the ceremony is necessary, you should dress appropriately (no jeans, shorts, T-shirts, or flip flops) and prepare to bring the following documents:
- Your green card (to be returned to USCIS in exchange for the Certificate of Naturalization)
- Form N-445 (“Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony”)
- An additional form of government-issued identification
- USCIS-requested documents, such as travel documents
You should plan to show up half an hour in advance as a USCIS officer will need to confirm your eligibility and collect your paperwork. At the ceremony, you will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, return your permanent resident card, and be provided a Certificate of Naturalization.
When you receive your Certificate of Naturalization, double-check to make sure that all of the information on your certificate is correct. If the information is incorrect, inform a USCIS officer before you leave the ceremony. This certificate is proof of your U.S. citizenship. Note that you may need to renounce your citizenship in your home country depending on your home country’s regulations if you are naturalized in the United States.
Congratulations! You are free to exercise your privileges as a United States citizen. We recommend that you apply for your U.S. passport, update your Social Security record, and register to vote after receiving your certificate.
Naturalization Tracking and Processing Time
To track the status of your application, sign in to your USCIS account for accurate updates. The time it takes for your application to process will vary depending on your jurisdiction. You can refer to your jurisdiction’s specific processing time on USCIS's website. The Form N-400 itself can take from 3 months to 14.5 months on average to process, depending on the field office in charge of your naturalization immigration case.
From filing N-400 to attending your ceremony, the total amount of time it takes to complete the naturalization process can be from as little as 3 months to almost 24 months. Here are some more general timeframes:
- Form N-400 Processing ≈ 4-14.5 months
- Biometrics Appointment ≈ 1-3 months
- Naturalization Interview and Test ≈ 4-24 months
- Receiving Final Decision on Application ≈ 0-2 months post interview
- Oath of Allegiance Ceremony ≈ 0-1.5 months post interview
Request for Evidence (RFE)
About 20% of applicants will receive at least one Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS. An RFE will delay your application and in most cases, it may cause a denial if not responded to or submitted properly. Contact an attorney for this. RFEs will typically be issued if you have not filed things properly, forgotten to include a certain document or if USCIS is requesting new documentation on the basis of any prior immigration filings, arrests etc. If you receive an RFE, responding quickly is critical to avoid any more delays and make sure USCIS receives your response before the provided deadline. The deadline on the RFE begins the moment the letter is printed, not the date that you receive the letter. Failure to supply a timely RFE will result in your application being denied. Note that responding quickly should not be in lieu of doing it properly.
Denial of Your Naturalization Application
The best way to avoid being denied naturalization is to have an attorney who files properly and remains diligent throughout the entire application process. Under new regulations, your application can be denied without an RFE for a simple error such as a failure to include a certain document. If your application is denied, the best course of action is to contact an attorney and strategically determine what needs to be done based on the outcome of your case.
Appealing the Denial
If you feel that this decision was a mistake on USCIS’s part, you have the right to appeal the denial. To start the appeal process, file Form N-336 (“Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings”) within 30 days of the date your application was denied. Within 180 days of submitting N-336, you may be scheduled for a hearing with an immigration officer who will re-evaluate the decision. At this hearing, you may also be required to take the English proficiency and civics tests again regardless of whether or not you have already taken and passed these tests.
If the immigration officer simply upholds the decision without prudence, you can file a complaint in federal court. USCIS does not hold authority over the federal judge, which means the federal judge can make a decision based on their own judgment.
Refiling the Application
Refiling will make more sense if you have missed the 30-day deadline for filing the appeal, if you have documentation that will take longer than 180 days to obtain, or if you failed the tests at your naturalization interview. Other potential reasons for denial such as a lack of good moral character or a failure to maintain continuous residence can also be proven over time and be positively reflected in your new application.
Make sure you do not submit a new application that is identical to your initial application with no changes in your circumstances as it will be denied for the same reason. See an attorney beforehand to avoid issues.
Applying for naturalization with a questionable background or past record is risky. Here is a general list of red flags (aside from a criminal history that permanently bars applicants from obtaining U.S. citizenship) that will alarm USCIS:
- You made a trip outside of the U.S. for longer than six months
- You moved to another country after getting your green card
- You are at risk of being deported or you have been deported
- Failed to file taxes or you owe taxes
- You misrepresented or committed fraud to receive your green card
- You misrepresented or committed fraud to receive public benefits
- You left the U.S. for 30 days or more while receiving public benefits
- You helped someone enter the U.S. illegally
- You haven’t supported your children or you owe child support
- You have been charged with domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect
- You have contradictory or inconsistent information on your application
- You registered to vote in the U.S. when you weren’t eligible to do so
- As a male between the ages of 18 and 26, you did not register for Selective Service
- You were previously a member of the Communist Party or a similar totalitarian party
- You provided support to a group that attacked others or attempted to sabotage another country’s government
- Participation in illegal vice activities such as prostitution and gambling
- Conviction of a crime related to illegal drugs
- You were criminally convicted and are on probation or parole
- You illegally use or abuse drugs
- You were detained for 180 days or more in jail or prison
Avoiding a Denial
Aside from filing N-400 with great care, exercise the following precautions to prevent USCIS from denying your application:
- Avoid criminal activity altogether
- Ensure that your application is completely truthful and that nothing is omitted
- As a male between the ages of 18 and 26, register for Selective Service if you are eligible to do so
- Pay your taxes on time. If you are unable to do so, work with the tax authorities to prove to USCIS that you are making an effort
- Keep up with child support payments
U.S. Income Tax Filing
Part of the documentation you need to submit with your citizenship application is evidence of your tax history. Note that the way you file your taxes could be a reason for denial. Your tax history is a testament to your good moral character requirement, so it is crucial that you pay your taxes on time and file them properly. If you failed to file or pay, you can work with Internal Revenue Services (IRS) to resolve these issues and be in better standing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Am I permitted to travel during the naturalization process?
A. Yes, you are permitted to travel without any legal restriction once your N-400 application has been submitted. Just make sure to come back for the biometrics and the interview appointments. If you miss any of those, you could have exception processing issues that could delay or worse, have your case denied. You must have a valid green card when traveling.
Q. Can I still apply for naturalization if I am divorced from the person who sponsored my green card?
A. Yes, you can still apply for naturalization. But, proceed with great caution! You will still need to be a permanent resident for five years before you are eligible. You may also be asked to show evidence of your marriage during your citizenship interview.
Q. What if my green card is about to expire while my application is processing?
A. You will need to renew your green card. Even though you are in the process of naturalization, you are still required to have valid proof of lawful permanent residence.
Q. Can I legally change my name while my application is processing?
A. Yes, you can legally change your name after filing N-400. If you do so, make sure to provide all the relevant documents regarding your name change and to mention the change at your citizenship interview. You can in fact also request a name change in the application for citizenship itself.
Q. How often does USCIS make changes to the questions that appear on the civics test?
A. Not often. However, keep in mind that answers may be different with recent elections or appointments. USCIS does update their study materials which can help you pass the civics test.
Q. What if I cannot attend my citizenship interview and test?
A. Your application will be denied. This is a very formal process. It demands the requisite respect. As such, USCIS expects you to show up for the interview. If you cannot, it is highly recommended that you work with the appointments scheduled by USCIS to avoid delays in your application. However, if you anticipate not being able to show up, send a letter to USCIS as soon as possible that both explains why you cannot attend and requests a new appointment. Your case will be closed if you fail to attend without prior notice.
Q. If I fail my naturalization test, when can I retake it?
A. You will be retested on the portion you failed within 60-90 days of your first interview. If you fail twice, the denial is final and you have to reapply.
Q. Can I delay taking the Oath of Allegiance?
A. While it is recommended that you work with the appointments scheduled by USCIS to avoid delays, you can delay the Oath if you are unable to attend the ceremony. Return Form N-445 (“Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony”) back to your local office and enclose a letter that explains why you cannot attend the ceremony. Keep a copy of the initial notice and your letter. You will be sent a new Form N-445 with a rescheduled Oath of Allegiance ceremony.