Realizing the dream of American citizenship is long, complex process requiring years of waiting, completing numerous forms and interviews as well as lots of patience. You can enter the U.S. on a number of visas or obtain conditional residency while awaiting your permanent residence.
"Continuous residence" means that you have not left the United States for a long period of time. If you leave the United States for too long, you may interrupt your continuous residence. You must have been been a Permanent Resident for the past 5 years without leaving the United States for trips of 6 months or longer.
Physical Presence in the United States
"Physical presence" means that you have actually been in the United States. Most applicants must be physically present in the United States for a certain number of months to be eligible for naturalization. Applicants with no special circumstances, must have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months.
Time as a Resident in a USCIS District or State
Most people must live in the USCIS district or State in which they are applying for at least 3 months before applying. A district is a geographical area defined by USCIS and served by one of the USCIS "District Offices." Students may apply for naturalization either where they go to school or where their family lives (if they are still financially dependent on their parents). Applicants with no special circumstances, must have spent at least 3 months in a USCIS District or State.
Good Moral Character
To be eligible for naturalization you must be a person of good moral character. The USCIS will make a determination on your moral character based upon the laws Congress has passed. Committing certain crimes may cause you to be ineligible for naturalization (USCIS calls these "bars" to naturalization). You cannot establish that you are a person of good moral character if you have been convicted of murder, at any time, or of any other aggravated felony, if you were convicted on or after November 29, 1990. Lying. If you do not tell the truth during your interview, the USCIS will deny your application for lacking good moral character. If the USCIS grants you naturalization and you are later found to have lied during your interview, your citizenship may be taken away. For more information or examples of things that might demonstrate a lack of good moral character reference the USCIS: Guide to Naturalization.
English & Civics Knowledge
According to the law, applicants must demonstrate: "An understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak...simple words and phrases...in ordinary usage in the English language...." A knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, and of the principles and form of government, of the United States...." This means that to be eligible for naturalization, you must be able to read, write, and speak basic English. You must also have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government (also known as "civics"). Certain applicants, because of age and time as a permanent resident may qualify for an exemption for English testing.
Attachment to the Constitition
All applicants for naturalization must be willing to support and defend the United States and our Constitution. You declare your "attachment" to the United States and our Constitution when you take the Oath of Allegiance. In fact, it is not until you take the Oath of Allegiance that you actually become a U.S. citizen. Please refer to page 28 of the USCIS: Guide to Naturalization for more information and the Oath of Allegiance.
Complete an "Application for Naturalization" (Form N-400) form with 3 passport-style photographs. Send your application, passport-style photographs, documents, and fee (DO NOT SEND CASH) to the Regional Service Center where the applicant is permanently residing. Keep a copy of everything you send to USCIS.
Upon receipt of your application, you will receive an appointment letter from USCIS with instructions. Go to the fingerprinting location and get your fingerprints taken. Mail additional documents if the USCIS requests them and wait for the USCIS to schedule your interview.
Interview & Testing
You will receive an appointment for your interview. Go to your local USCIS office at the specified time and bring state-issued identification, your Permanent Resident Card, and any additional documents specific to your case. Answer questions about your application and background and then take the English and civics tests. You will have a waiting period of 6-9 months to receive your case status.
Take the Oath
Upon approval of your case, you will will receive a ceremony date. Check in at the ceremony, return your Permanent Resident Card, and answer questions about what you have done since your interview. Raise your right hand and take the Oath of Allegiance to become an official American citizen. You will receive your Certificate of Naturalization as proof of citizenship. As an American citizen you may apply for a U.S. passport, register to vote, and begin to participate more fully in life of your adopted country.