Becoming a Citizen through Naturalization

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Being a U.S. citizen gives you many rights and protections. This article goes over the process of applying for citizenship after being a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR, or green card holder).

Being Eligible to Apply

To be eligible to apply for citizenship, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Be an LPR
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a person of good moral character
  • Have physical presence and continuous residence in the U.S. for a certain amount of time
  • Have basic knowledge of U.S. civics (some exceptions apply)
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English (some exceptions apply)
  • Pay the $725 fee or qualify for a full or partial fee waiver
  • Be ready to take the U.S. Oath of Allegiance

Generally, you must have been an LPR for at least five years before you can apply to become a citizen. If you are an LPR married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply to become a citizen after three years of LPR status and marriage to your U.S. citizen spouse that you live with. To learn more about citizenship through marriage, read Naturalization for Spouses of U.S. Citizens on the USCIS website.

There is no requirement to become a U.S. citizen if you are an LPR. LPRs can remain LPRs indefinitely. While there are benefits to becoming a citizen, that does not mean that this is appropriate for everyone. For some, applying for citizenship could result in being sent to deportation proceedings based on their prior immigration history or criminal conduct. If you have questions about whether becoming a citizen is right for you, speak with an experienced immigration lawyer. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find immigration lawyers and a legal services office near you. 

If you have served honorably in the U.S. military, and have been an LPR for at least three years, you may be able to apply to be a citizen. To learn more about immigration benefits for members of the U.S. armed forces, read Military on the USCIS website.

U.S. Civics Test

One of the requirements for naturalization is a basic knowledge of U.S. civics (government and history). You will meet with a USCIS officer who will ask you up to 10 questions about U.S. civics. The officer can choose from any of 100 civics questions provided by the USCIS. You must be able to answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly.

You do not have to meet the basic U.S. government knowledge requirement if you have a mental or physical impairment that affects your ability to learn and remember this knowledge. The impairment must have lasted for at least 12 months or be expected to last at least that long. ​The impairment must be “medically determinable,” meaning it must be diagnosed based on clinical or laboratory techniques. Being elderly or unable to read alone will not qualify as an impairment.​

If you believe your impairment should exempt you from the basic knowledge requirement, complete and submit Form N-648​, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions. Submit the form with the naturalization application.​ A licensed medical professional must complete the form.

English Test

As part of the naturalization process you must take an English test. The English test has three parts: reading, writing, and speaking. Your ability to speak English will be determined by a USCIS officer during the entire interview. For the reading portion, you must read one out of three sentences correctly. For the writing test, you must write one out of three sentences correctly. Several study tools are available to help you prepare. USCIS has study materials for the English Test that include the specific words that you will need to be able to read and write.

Depending on your age and time as a permanent resident, you may be exempt from the English Test. You may be exempt if one of these is true on the date you submit your application to USCIS:

  • You are at least 55 years old and have been an LPR for at least 15 years;
  • You are at least 50 years old and have been an LPR for at least 20 years; or
  • You have a physical or mental impairment (review the U.S. Civics Test section above to learn more about the impairment exception).

If you are exempt from the English test, you may have the interview and civics test in the language of your choice. You must bring your own interpreter, though. USCIS will not pay for an interpreter for you. 

The Naturalization Process

Apply to Become a Citizen

To apply to become a U.S. citizen, the first step is to complete and file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. You can use the Do-It-Yourself Naturalization Screening and Application provided by Citizenshipworks to see if you qualify to apply for citizenship, and to complete your application if you qualify. If you would like help completing the application, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center or one of the organizations listed in the Community Services section on the right side of this page may be able to help you for free. If you do not have access to a computer and printer, you can find those at a Self-Help Center near you by looking at the ride side of this page. Remember to select your county at the top of the page so that you can see the organizations and Self-Help Centers in your area. 

You will need to submit a filing fee and biometric fee (fingerprints) with you application. If your income is less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, you may qualify for a partial or full fee waiver. To apply for a partial fee waiver, you need to complete Form I-942 and submit it to USCIS. To apply for a full fee waiver, you can submit Form I-912. You can find out what the current fees are on the Filing Fee section of the USCIS Application for Naturalization page.

After you submit your application, USCIS will send you a notice for a biometrics appointment. At this short appointment, your fingerprints will be taken and sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) so it can run a criminal background check. Show up to the location at the time and day stated on your notice.

Attend the Interview

USCIS will schedule an interview with you after your background checks are complete. The interview is where you will take the English and U.S. civics tests. You will also go through the rest of the submitted application. To learn more about the interview, go to USCIS Naturalization Interview page.

After the interview, USCIS will send you a written notice about your application. USCIS can grant, continue, or deny your application. If it grants your application, you will need to take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony before you are officially a citizen.

If your application is continued, that means you may need to submit more information to USCIS. Your application can also be continued if you fail the civics or English test.

Your application will be denied if evidence in your record shows you are not eligible to become a citizen. You can be denied for several reasons. Some examples of why you can be denied are:

  • Failure to demonstrate good moral character, which includes criminal and non-criminal conduct
  • Failure to meet the presence requirements
  • USCIS believes you lied or committed fraud at some point in the past and this has not been waived

Your application can also be denied if you fail the civics and/or English test a second time.

Appeal a Denial

If you believe USCIS made a mistake in denying your application, you can request a hearing. You will need to submit N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings. Instructions and information about fees can be found on the USCIS page. However, you may want to talk to an immigration lawyer before you request a hearing. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find immigration lawyers and legal services in your area.