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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: APPLYING FOR U.S. CITIZENSHIP
- Eligibility & Requirements
- Cost & Fee Waiver
- Process & Timing
- Language barrier
- Legal representation
- Taxes/Debt/Child Support
- Criminal history
- Benefits of applying
ELIGIBILITY & REQUIREMENTS
Q: Do I qualify to become a U.S. citizen?
To be eligible for U.S. citizenship:
- You must be 18 years old or older;
- You must be a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) for at least 5 years, unless you meet certain active military service requirements OR if you are married to a U.S. citizen who has been a citizen for 3 or more years and you have been a Lawful Permanent Resident for at least 3 years;
- You must have been physically present in the U.S. for 30 months during the past 5 years OR if have been married to and living with a U.S. citizen spouse for 3 years, you must have been physically present in the U.S. for 18 months during the past 3 years. Note: lf you are an active military member, you don't have to meet this requirement.
- You must have continuous residency. USCIS needs to know that you have been physically living in the U.S. for a consecutive amount of time. You must show you have NOT traveled outside of the U.S. for ONE YEAR or MORE during the past 5 years or 3 years (if you are married to a U.S. citizen). lf you were outside of the U.S. for between 6 months and one year, there is a presumption that you do not have continuous residence. That presumption may be overcome by showing certain ties to the U.S. during time outside the United States. Note: lf you are an active military member, you don't have to meet this requirement.
Q: I was out of the U.S. for more than a year in the last 5 years because I had to take care of my mother who was sick. Can I still apply for naturalization?
You will not be able to apply for U.S. citizenship now. You should also consult with an attorney to make sure that your one-year trip does not raise an issue concerning whether you abandoned your residency.
Q: Can I file for naturalization before I have had my “green card” for 5 years?
Yes, you can apply for naturalization 90 days before having your green card for 5 years or 3 years if you’re married to a U.S. citizen.
Q: I am receiving public assistance. Am I ineligible for naturalization?
The public charge rule does not apply to the naturalization process. As long as you received public benefits lawfully (without using fraud, for example), it will not hurt or affect your eligibility for naturalization.
Q: My son is 15 years old and has been a permanent resident for 3 years. His father is a U.S. citizen. How can he obtain U.S. citizenship?
Your son could already be a U.S. citizen since certain people can become citizens automatically if one or both of their parents are citizens. You should consult with a reputable immigration attorney or legal services provider to confirm, as this depends on several things, including whether the child is living with the parent who is a U.S. citizen.
Q: I married a U.S. citizen. I was given a 2 year conditional permanent resident card and submitted the form to remove conditions to get the 10 year permanent resident card. When am I eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship?
You can apply for citizenship 3 years after obtaining conditional residency, even if the application to remove the conditions (I-751) is still pending, as long as you are still married to and living with the U.S. citizen spouse.
Q: I come from a mixed immigration status family. I have DACA, my dad has TPS, and my mom is undocumented. Can we apply for U.S. citizenship?
You should see if you’re eligible for Lawful Permanent Residency. You cannot apply directly for U.S. citizenship with DACA or TPS alone. However, there are people who are undocumented, or have DACA or TPS, who may be eligible for permanent residency. You should consult with a reputable immigration attorney or use Immi’s online screening tool to see if there is a path for permanent residency for you and your family.
COST & FEE WAIVER
Q: How much does it cost to apply for U.S. Citizenship?
The cost of the application is $725. That total includes $640 for the application fee and $85 for biometrics.
Q: How much is the application for elderly people?
People who are over 75 years old only need to pay the $640 application fee (not the biometrics fee).
Q: Who sets the cost for naturalization? It seems to keep going up, and many of us cannot afford it.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sets these prices. They determine the cost based on how much it costs them to provide that service. For people who cannot make the payment, you can request a fee waiver. Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver
PROCESS & TIMING
Q: How much time does it take from submitting the N-400 to taking the oath?
This depends on where you live. In Colorado, for example, the processing time for citizenship applications is 9-16 months, but lately it has taken a couple of months, and in some cases even less. You can check the estimated application processing time in your area on the USCIS website.
Q: What are biometric services?
USCIS biometric services are for taking fingerprints and photos. This is done in a separate office.
Q: What should I expect at my naturalization interview, and how can I best prepare for it?
You will need to arrive for your interview appointment at the USCIS field office, pass through security, and show your appointment letter and ID. USCIS officers will begin evaluating your English speaking ability from the moment they call you from the waiting room.
Once you are called by the USCIS officer, you will be taken to a room and placed under oath. Then the officer will begin to ask you questions. The USCIS officer will ask you all the questions on the N-400 in English, and you must answer the questions in English. Keep in mind that there needs to be consistency between your responses and your answers on the N-400 application and your ability to comprehend English. You will also be tested on your ability to read and write basic English. In addition, you will be asked U.S. history and civics questions. If you do not understand or hear the questions properly, always ask the officer to repeat the question.
Q: What happens if I fail a portion of the naturalization test?
You must correctly answer six out of ten, from a list of 100, questions. Applicants are given two opportunities to pass the naturalization test. If you fail any part of the naturalization test at your first interview, you will be retested only on the portion of the test that you failed, between 60 and 90 days from the date of your initial interview.
There are no punitive measures if you do not pass the exam; you would remain an LPR and can re-apply for naturalization in the future.
Q: I don’t speak English. Can I take the test in my native language, or can I take an interpreter with me?
There are some exemptions to the English language requirement. You are exempt if:
- You are at least 50 years old and have had your green card for at least 20 years;
- Or, you are at least 55 years old and have had your green card for at least 15 years;
- Or, if you are over 65 years old and have been a green card holder for at least 20 years, you are exempt from both the English language requirement and qualify for a simpler civics test.
In addition, people who have a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment may request a waiver of the English language requirement, the civics test, or both. In most USCIS offices, people who will not be required to speak English must bring their own interpreter.
If you do not qualify for any language exemption and want to apply for U.S. citizenship now, you can reach out to a local organization who can help with English classes to prepare for your naturalization exam.
Q: Should I include my original documents with my application or are copies okay?
You should not send your original documents to USCIS. You can use copies of the documents you need to include.
Q: My marriage certificate is in Spanish. Do I need to include a translation?
Yes, you will need to include a complete and certificated translation of any document you send that is not in English.
Q: What should I do if I can’t remember the dates and addresses of where I used to live?
Do your best to list the dates and addresses where you have lived for the past 5 years. Look on tax returns, school records, and on other documents to see if you can find that information. If you don’t have the street number, include the name of the street, city, and state, for example.
Q: Do I need a lawyer to apply for U.S. citizenship?
No, you do not need a lawyer to complete your naturalization application. However, if you have any questions or concerns about your case, you may want to consult with an immigration attorney BEFORE submitting an application.
Don’t be fooled by "notarios" or scammers. Find a reputable immigration attorney or legal services provider at iAmerica.org/legalhelp.
Q: I owe taxes to the IRS. Will that disqualify me from becoming a U.S. citizen?
If you owe taxes, you MUST show that you have a repayment plan in place with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or appropriate state or local agency. Having a payment plan does not disqualify you, but you will need to bring proof to the interview that you are in compliance and up to date with your payment plan.
Q: I have not filed taxes. Can I still apply for naturalization?
If you have NOT filed for taxes and you are not exempt from filing taxes, it’s a crime and will affect your naturalization application. Make sure you file your taxes BEFORE you submit your application and/or speak to a licensed attorney. Note: Only people whose income is above a certain amount have to file a tax return. lf you did not file taxes because your income is below that amount, you can apply for U.S. citizenship. Also note that if during the period that you have been a Lawful Permanent Resident you have filed taxes as a NONRESIDENT, this will affect your eligibility. See a licensed attorney.
Q: I paid child support until last year when I lost my job. I plan to pay child support as soon as I have a job. Can I still apply for naturalization?
USCIS can take extenuating circumstances into account when they look at the fact that you did not pay child support. Given that you previously paid child support and you only stopped paying when you lost your job, this may be an “extenuating circumstance.”
Q: I had some legal problems in court– no time in jail, but a record. The case is over 10 years old. Is that a case for refusal of U.S. citizenship?
It depends on the case. There are certain crimes, for example, some related to drugs, that do not need charges or jail time to disqualify someone from citizenship or residency. You should consult with a reputable immigration attorney or legal services provider.
Q: I was convicted of robbery ten years ago. Can I apply for naturalization?
You will need to consult with an immigration attorney to see if you are eligible for naturalization. You should get a copy of the certified record of conviction to take with you for the attorney to review.
Q: I’m on probation now for shoplifting. Can I apply for naturalization?
You will not be able to be granted naturalization if you are on probation at the time of your naturalization interview.
BENEFITS OF APPLYING
Q: Why should I apply to become a U.S. citizen?
There are many reasons why people decide to become U.S. citizens, but one of the most important is that becoming a U.S. citizen allows you to vote and influence the direction of the country. Another reason to become a U.S. citizen is because the naturalization of a parent allows a child under 18 years old who has a green card and lives with the parent to become a U.S. citizen automatically. Other reasons people naturalize are to make travel easier, make it possible to bring more family members to the U.S., be able to work in jobs that require U.S. citizenship, and live without fear of possible deportation.