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What Is Naturalization

Naturalization is the legal process whereby citizens of one country become citizens of a different country. The process varies by country. In the U.S., immigrants who qualify must file an application, have an interview, and pass tests in English and civics. They must also take an oath of loyalty to the United States. Naturalized U.S. citizens have all of the rights as people born in the United States.

Eligibility for Naturalization in the United States

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) administers the naturalization process as set governed by the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. The Act allows people from all nations equal access to naturalization, but not all individuals will qualify to become U.S. citizens. To be eligible for naturalization, you must meet these basic criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have lawful permanent U.S. resident status
  • Have lived in the U.S. for at least five years; three years if married to a U.S. citizen
  • Be of good moral character

Good moral character generally means you have not been involved in criminal activity within the last five years and have never been convicted of murder or aggravated felony.

To gain citizenship, you must pass two tests:

  • English test: You will need to be able to read, write and speak the English language.
  • Civics test: You will need to know basic U.S. history and understand the principles of the U.S. government and how it works.

Exceptions to Naturalization Requirements

Under certain circumstances, the USCIS will waive the five-year residency requirement or the English test:

  • Applicants with a good reason for spending a lot of time in another country may request to have the residency requirement waived.
  • Anyone who has served honorably in any branch of the U.S. armed forces does not need to meet the residency requirement.
  • People over age 65 who have been lawful permanent residents for more than 20 years may not be required to take the English test.

An experienced immigration attorney can help you prepare your citizenship application and advise if your case qualifies for an exception.

The Naturalization Ceremony

If you have passed all the requirements for naturalization, the USCIS has approved your application, and you have passed the required tests, the final step is the naturalization ceremony where you take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. You must renounce allegiance to any other country, pledge to defend the Constitution and support the laws of the United States.

Some people forgo naturalization because the procedure can be complicated and confusing. If you plan to stay in the U.S. for the rest of your life, though, naturalization has many benefits, including the right to vote.