The American Dream has been prominent in the minds of people around the world since the 1930s. The idea that in the land of the free and home of the brave a better life is possible, is a powerful one.
Yet how long does it take to become an American citizen? If you’re itching to move to the States, this question can bring a lot of foreboding with it.
The sad answer is that it can often take a long time to become a citizen once you’ve got a green card. In this guide, we’re going to take a look at the US citizenship process and layout your pathway to citizenship.
Ready to learn more? Then keep reading!
What You Need to Have to Get US Citizenship
Before we look at how long it takes to become a US citizen, we should look at what you need to become a citizen in the first place. In most cases, you’ll need to have the following prerequisites before you can start applying for citizenship:
- A green card
- Over the age of 18
- You must have lived in the US continuously for five years, three if you’ve married a US citizen
- You must have lived in your current state for three months
For most people, there’s no way to apply for citizenship if you don’t meet these criteria. While there is some flexibility in the system for special cases, these are largely mandatory.
Filing a Citizenship Application
Now you need to file your citizenship application. This is a form called the N-400. Filling in the form is quite easy and you’ll need to send a variety of other supporting evidence to the USCIS with the form, including:
- Two identical passport-style photos
- A photocopy of both the front and back of your green card
- If you’re married, you’ll need to include a copy of your marriage certificate
- Various military forms if you have served in the armed forces
The processing time for the N-400 can be between 8-12 months and could take longer due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Your First Appointment: Biometrics
Around 3-5 weeks after you’ve sent in the form, you’ll be asked to schedule a biometrics appointment. While this may sound worrying, it’s nothing to be scared about.
At this appointment, the USCIS will take photos of you and take a copy of your fingerprints. They will also ask for a copy of your signature.
This is to ensure that you have not committed any criminal acts while on US soil. The FBI handles this processing.
Once you have given the government your biometric data, it is good for 15 months. If you do not progress your application within this time, you will need to schedule another biometrics appointment.
The processing takes around 5-10 months.
A Citizenship Interview
Now that your biometric checks have come back and your N-400 has been processed, it’s time for the first big, real event of the citizenship process: your interview. A lot of people get very stressed about this but it isn’t like a job interview.
Your interviewer is there to check your reasons for wanting to become a citizen and to learn about your background, as well as making sure you’ve not been trafficked. It’s very important that you only tell the truth and that you don’t embellish anything. There is no wrong answer and you aren’t going to get into trouble, so try to relax.
The interviewer will ask you a wide range of questions. Let’s take a look at some of the types of questions they’ll ask.
The interviewer will want to know the names of your relatives as well as the names and places of birth of any children that you have. They may also ask about your children’s birthdays.
The interviewer will ask where you work and about your work history. They will also want to know about any training or education that you have received.
The interviewer will ask you a series of ethical questions. For instance, whether you intend to obey the laws of the United States and whether you are happy to take the Oath of Allegiance.
After the interview, you’ll need to take a test that assesses your English language and civics skills. You will have to take an English test regardless of your circumstances unless you’ve been in the US for many years. This applies to immigrants from English-speaking countries, too.
During the English test, you will have to demonstrate that you can read and write in English.
The civics test will pose you questions based on the US government system and American history. We would recommend that you practice before you take the test, as you need to answer six of the ten questions correctly.
You will usually be able to get the results of your test immediately after you have finished it.
Your Naturalization Ceremony
Congratulations! You’ve completed every step of the citizenship application process and now it’s time to become a citizen. At the ceremony, you will take the Oath of Allegiance and swap your green card for a brand new document, the Certificate of Naturalization.
Now you’re a US citizen and you can vote, run for office, and get a US passport!
How Long Does it Take to Become An American Citizen in Total?
So we’ve shown you the pathway to American citizenship, but how long does it take to become an American citizen in total? You can expect the process to take around a year from the time that you apply but it could be slightly faster or slower depending on the circumstances.
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