Naturalization & Citizenship

There are two ways for a person to become a U.S. citizen. One is by operation of law, generally requiring no action by the individual entitled to citizenship. Examples are birth in the United States or birth abroad to U.S. citizens or nationals.


  • The applicant for Naturalization must be lawfully admitted for Permanent Residence (INA §318, 8 USC §1429). Lawfully admitted for permanent residence means the status of having been lawfully accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws, such as not having changed. Thus, it is not enough to have been accorded permanent residence status. One must have been lawfully entitled to it.
  • The applicant must be 18 years of age at the time of filing of application for Naturalization (INA §334(b), 8 USC §1445(b)0. There are two exceptions: Persons who served in the military honorably during designated periods may naturalize regardless of age; Also, minors with at least one citizen parent may be naturalized on the application of the parent.

  • The applicant must have satisfied certain residency requirements. (see below)
  • The applicant must be a person of good moral character (INA §§316(a)(3), 101(f); 8 USC §§1427(a)(3), 1101(f)).
  • Literacy and knowledge of history and government requirements. (see below).

By law, a person may file a naturalization application three months early. Thus a person can file an application for naturalization four years and nine months after the grant of permanent residency. However, the five-year requirement must be fulfilled before the grant of citizenship.

Residence in the United States must be (a) subsequent to lawful admission for permanent residence, and (b) for a period of five years immediately preceding the filing of the application for naturalization.


Residency in the United States must be maintained from the time of filing of the application until the time of admission to citizenship.


There is no longer a requirement that a person intend to reside in the United States after acquiring citizenship


What is Residence?

Residence is defined as the place of general abode which means one’s principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent.


A person must reside within the state or within the USCIS district where the application will be filed for at least three months immediately preceding the filing of the application.


If an application is filed early, the person must reside in the state or district for the three months immediately preceding the examination (interview). If the person maintains residences in more than one state, the regulations provide that the applicant is considered a resident of the state from which the annual federal income tax returns have been and are being filed.



How long must a person be physically present in the United States?

It should be noted that residence is not the equivalent of physical presence. Absences from the United States may or may not keep an individual from naturalizing.

A person must be physically present in the United States for at least half of the required residence time preceding the date of filing the application (30 months out of the five years, or 18 months out of three years if based upon a marriage to a U.S. citizen).



Applicants are tested on their ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language. The standard is elementary reading, writing, and speaking ability.


  • Exceptions to the Literacy Requirements

Persons physically unable to comply due to permanent disability are exempt from the literacy requirement. The disability must be such that the applicant is unable to learn to speak, read, or write (blindness, deafness, etc), and not merely because of advanced age or limited intelligence.Applicants must submit an attestation from a licensed medical doctor, osteopath, or licensed clinical psychologist with their N-400 applications to support their level of disability. Applicants are not required to use a designated civil surgeon and the individual must be experienced in the area of the applicant’s disability.


  • Knowledge of History and Government of the United States (INA #312(2), 8USC §1423(2)

Applicants are required to pass an oral history and government examination, even if exempt from the requirement of speaking English. The optional standardized testing program was terminated as of August 30th 1998. Applicants passing the test before that date may still be permitted to rely on their passing score in the discretion of the USCIS examiner.In accordance with this congressional directive, USCIS has created a list of only 25 questions on U.S. history and government from which applicants over age 65 with 20 years permanent residence are to be examined. Applicants must correctly answer six of 10 questions from the list.


(1) An alien who is physically unable to comply with this requirement.

(2) An alien who is over 65 and has been a permanent resident for over 20 years can receive special consideration concerning the civics requirement.



Second Opportunity

An applicant is to be given a second opportunity to pass the test(s) within 90 days after the first examination. The applicant may request an extension of that date for good cause; however, by granting such a request, the Service relieves itself of the mandate to render a decision on the application within 120 days of the initial interview.



Before 1990, the courts had sole authority to naturalize. An applicant filed a petition with the USCIS, which then made a recommendation to the relevant court. USCIS has no position to deny naturalization, and the court has de novo review.  The Immigration Act of 1990 conferred the sole authority to naturalize on the Attorney General.


Now an applicant files a single application with USCIS. USCIS conducts the examination and administers the oath of allegiance.


The following steps constitute the procedure:


  • Filing the Application

The correct application must be filed, with complete answers.  The application fee must also accompany the application.


  • Interview
    At the naturalization interview, the USCIS examiner reviews the application, makes any necessary changes or correction, and evaluates the applicant’s eligibility for naturalization, including whether he or she falls under any of the classes that are ineligible for naturalization. The examiner also tests the applicant’s English knowledge as well as his or her knowledge of U.S. government history. For male applicants, USCIS may request evidence of Selective Service registration.
  • Court Jurisdiction

Under the 1991 changes, USCIS has authority to naturalize applicants. However, courts that wish to may have exclusive jurisdiction to administer the oath of allegiance for 45 days after the application is approved by USCIS. The court must request such jurisdiction. If the court does not administer the oath in the 45-day period, the applicant may choose between USCIS and court administration of the oath.




  • Administrative and Judicial Review

The examining officer must make a decision within 120 days of the interview (although many USCIS officers request that the applicant sign a waiver of this requirement). If the naturalization examiner denies an application, the applicant may appeal to another USCIS officer in the same office. The officer will have 180 days from the date of filing the appeal to make a decision. If the application is again denied, or if no decision is made within 180 days, the applicant may seek de novo review in federal district court. An applicant may also seek review in federal court if USCIS does not make a decision on the application within 120 days after the interview.


  • Failure to Appear at the Final Hearing/Reopening of Proceedings 

The USCIS may, on its own motion, reopen and deny the naturalization applications of those who fail to appear for the final hearing (i.e., the oath ceremony). The USCIS may also reopen any case where it has evidence that naturalization was procured by fraud, misrepresentation, concealment, or mistake. The reopening must take place within two years of the grant of citizenship.