So you've applied to trade your Green Card for a Certificate of Citizenship - CONGRATULATIONS! We're thrilled that you've taken this exciting step toward finding freedom and opportunity in the U.S.
But what's next? If you're like most immigrants, you're probably anxious to know what happens after filing your Form N-400.
How long do most applications take?
How long is too long to wait for a reply from USCIS?
What does the notice you received from USCIS mean?
We'll answer all of these questions, and more, in this article.
The average processing time for citizenship (naturalization) applications is 8 months as of May 31, 2020. However, that's just how long it takes USCIS to process Form N-400. The entire naturalization process has several steps and takes an average of 15 months. This article explains all of the stages of the Citizenship by Naturalization application process and includes a detailed breakdown of how long each stage should take.
The steps in the Citizenship filing process are roughly the same for everybody. However, the amount of time USCIS takes to process your N-400 can vary significantly based on
- How many cases USCIS is currently handling,
- The USCIS office where you filed,
- and whether or not your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization was filled and filed correctly.
In case you don't have time to read the whole article, here's a summary of how long each step of the naturalization process takes on average:
- Step 1. USCIS processes your Application for Naturalization (Form N-400): 8 months (average)
- Step 2. Attend your biometrics appointment: +0 months (happens while USCIS processes your N-400)
- Step 3. Attend your citizenship interview and exam: + 4 months
- Step 4. USCIS decides on your application: +0–4
- Step 5. You take the Oath of Allegiance and receive your Certificate of Naturalization: +0–1.5 months
- Total time: 12 months (1 year) to 17.5 months (1.5 years)
These wait and processing times are averages and estimates. They do not include any possible delays. We'll discuss how delays can impact your application in more detail below.
Your naturalization process may be shorter, depending on where you live. That's because some U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices process applications much faster than others.
Getting your application right the first time is the best way to make sure that you can go from a lawful permanent resident to a Citizen as fast as possible. And it's really easy to make mistakes! Not only do you have to meet the eligibility requirements to become a Citizen, but you also have to fill out your naturalization application perfectly. Did you know that leaving a single question that doesn't apply to you blank on your N-400 can cause USCIS to reject your entire application? We’re not kidding - USCIS is that strict!
That's why we built an expert system to help you prepare your N-400 right the first time. You can use it to prepare your Naturalization paperwork for free.
Step 1. USCIS processes your Application for Naturalization - (6-10 months after you file Firm N-400)
The first step of the Citizenship process takes 6-10 months. It can be faster or slower, depending on where you live. The processing time for an N-400 application is the time from when you send it to when you attend your oath ceremony.
Sending your U.S. citizenship application and supporting documents to USCIS starts the process. The faster you prepare Form N-400 and collect your supporting documents, the faster you can send your application to USCIS. The sooner you send your application to USCIS, the sooner they can review your application.
It's essential to make sure that your application is complete. That means that all of your answers are correct, and your supporting documents are in the format and order the U.S. government prefers. You need to get a certified English translation of any documents that are in a language other than English. Extra steps like this can make your application take longer, so make sure that you account for them when planning how long your Naturalization application should take. Forgetting documents or making mistakes on your forms will slow the Naturalization process down.
If you correctly filed your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, USCIS will respond by sending you a letter. This letter (called a Form I-797c, Notice of Action) confirms that they have your application. You should receive Form I-797c 2-3 weeks after you file Form N-400.
If you did not file Form N-400 correctly, or if you forgot to pay your filing fee, USCIS might send you a Form I-797c to reject your petition. USCIS may also send you a Request for Evidence asking you to send them additional supporting documents. Either notice will delay your application, so it's crucial to prepare the N-400 and supporting documents correctly the first time.
Save any I-797c notices that you receive. They contain your 10-digit receipt number. You can use this number to check your case status. If you haven't received a Notice of Action within two months of filing, you should make a case inquiry.
IMPORTANT: You need to notify USCIS every time that you move or change your mailing address. If you don't, you may miss important notices.
ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare and file your application for Citizenship by Naturalization correctly the first time with our simple web app. We'll review your forms for free, and provide you with detailed filing instructions.
Step 2. Attend your biometrics appointment - (5-8 weeks after you file Form N-400)
Next, you will receive a biometrics appointment notice from USCIS. This notice will assign you a biometrics appointment date, time, and location. Your biometrics appointment location will usually be the USCIS Application Support Center that is closest to you. You should receive this notice 3-5 weeks after you file Form N-400.
"Biometrics" is the official term for your fingerprints, photos, and signature. USCIS uses these to verify your identity. USCIS also sends your fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct a background check to make sure that you have good moral character.
It's essential to bring all of the required documents to your biometrics appointment. If you don't, you may have to come back for a second appointment, which will delay your application.
The documents you need for the biometrics appointment are your
- Appointment Letter,
- Passport or national photo identification issued by your country
- Driver's license (if you have one)
- Military photo identification (if you have one)
- State-issued photo identification card (if you have one)
- Anything else that USCIS tells you to bring in their notice
USCIS may request a second biometrics appointment, even if you bring the correct documents the first time. For example, if the FBI rejects your fingerprints. If something like that happens, USCIS will send you another biometrics appointment letter.
If the FBI rejects your second set of biometrics, you'll need to get police clearance certificates. You'll need one clearance certificate from every place where you've lived in the past five years. It can take a while to get police certificates, so you should start gathering them as soon as the FBI rejects your biometrics.
While USCIS and the FBI are processing your biometrics, you may receive a "Request for Evidence" (RFE) from USCIS. RFE's are USCIS 's way of telling you that they need additional information from you. The additional documents USCIS needs could be court or police records. USCIS might also need other could also be other documents from this checklist. If you get an RFE from USCIS, send the requested documents ASAP. Any delays will make your application take longer.
ImmigrationHelp.org makes it easy to complete your Naturalization right the first time so you can avoid common problems.
Step 3. Attend your Citizenship interview and exam - (12-14 months after you file Form N-400)
Attend the Interview
After you complete your biometrics appointment, USCIS will send you another appointment notice. This notice is an invitation to your naturalization interview and exam. It will include the date, time, and location of your interview. You should receive this notice 4-8 months after you file your N-400. USCIS will only send this notice once, so make sure that you update your mailing address if you've moved since you filed your application.
The citizenship interview is usually about 14 months after you file Form N-400. You can reschedule the interview and exam if you absolutely can't make it on the scheduled date. However, rescheduling may add several months to the naturalization process. It's best to go to the date, time, and location USCIS initially schedules for you.
If you absolutely must reschedule, you can do so by writing a letter to the office where your interview is to take place. The office will then send you another letter with a new date and time. If you don't notify USCIS before your scheduled appointment, they will pause ("administratively close") your application. If you don't contact USCIS within a year after they pause the process, they will deny your application. That means you will have to start the entire application over and pay the fees again.
This video from USCIS is a great overview of what to expect at the Naturalization Interview and Test.
If you haven't been preparing for the interview and exam already, now is an excellent time to start. USCIS provides excellent resources to prepare you for the interview and exam on its website. With a little preparation, you should have no trouble.
Take the exam
The Citizenship exam has two parts: an English test and a Civics test. The first tests your grasp of the English language, and the second tests your understanding of how the American government works and of U.S. history. You will usually take it on the same day as your Naturalization interview.
If you pass the exam, you'll move on to the next step of the naturalization process - the Oath of loyalty. You may even be able to take the Oath and become a citizen the same day!
If you don't pass the exam, you'll need to retake the part that you failed to move on to the Oath of Allegiance. You'll have to wait 60-90 days to retake the exam, so make sure that you prepare well for both parts of the exam (English language skills and civics) to pass the first time.
ImmigrationHelp.org is with you until the finish line! We'll help you respond to government questions and prepare for your citizenship interview and exam. You can prepare your Citizenship application for free using our simple web app.
Step 4. USCIS decides on your application - (12-16 months after you file form N-400)
If your interview goes well, you pass the exam, and USCIS doesn't need any additional documents, they may approve your application on the same day as your citizenship interview and exam. Otherwise, USCIS will send you their decision in writing within 120 days of your interview and exam. Their decision will come on a Form N-652, "Notice of Examination Results."
One of three things will happen at this point:
1. USCIS will approve your application, and you can move on to Step 5 below.
2. USCIS will "continue" your application. "Continuing" means that they are placing your application on hold for one of these reasons:
- You didn't pass part of your citizenship exam. If this happens, you'll need to return for a second interview and retake the part of the exam that you didn't pass. Make sure that you prepare well for your second exam. If you do not pass the exam a second time, USCIS will deny your application.
- You didn't provide all of the documents or information that USCIS needed tp approve your application. If this happens, USCIS will send you a Form N-14, explaining what else you need to provide to them. You will have 30 days to respond to Form N-14. If you do not fulfill this request within 30 days, USCIS may send you a denial of your application.
3. USCIS will deny your application. If this happens, USCIS will send you a letter explaining why the denial of your application and what options you have now. If you believe USCIS made a mistake, you can file an appeal within 30 days of receiving the denial letter. USCIS will schedule a hearing within 180 days of receiving your appeal. If the USCIS officer at your appeal denies your application, you have one more option. You can request to have a U.S. district court review your case. It's best to get your application right the first time so that you can avoid the headaches of rescheduling and appeals. You can do this by:
- Making sure that you are well-prepared for the citizenship interview and exam and
- Providing all of the information that USCIS needs when (or before) they ask for it.
ImmigrationHelp.org can help you stay on top of the application and interview process for free.
Step 5. You take the Oath of Allegiance and receive your Certificate of Naturalization! - (12-17.5 months after you file form N-400)
Congratulations, you have made it so far!
After you complete your citizenship interview and pass the exam, there is only one more step to become a U.S. citizen. Once you take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony, you can ditch your Green Card, because you’ll be a full U.S citizen!
A U.S. government official will administer the Oath at a formal ceremony.
If USCIS approved your application at the interview, the Oath of Allegiance ceremony might even occur on the same day as your interview and exam!
Otherwise, USCIS will schedule the Oath ceremony for 2-6 weeks after you pass your exam. They'll send you the date, time, and location of your Oath ceremony on Form N-445, "Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony" 1-4 weeks after passing your exam. You'll receive your Certificate of Naturalization at this location after you take the Oath. You can often even register to vote there the same day!
If you can't make it to your Oath of Allegiance ceremony, you'll need to send the notice with a letter requesting a new date and explaining why you can't make it. Do not skip the ceremony without notifying the USCIS office where your Oath ceremony is scheduled! If you don't appear more than once for your naturalization ceremony, USCIS may deny your application.
Tip: Check your Certificate of Naturalization for errors before you leave the ceremony site. It is way easier to fix these errors now than it will be later!
Step 6. Start getting the benefits of being a U.S. Citizen
Congratulations on making it this far! It's been a long journey, but you've crossed the finish line. Now you can enjoy all of the privileges of being a U.S. citizen!
There are a few things you will want to do ASAP after you get your Certificate of Naturalization:
- Update your Social Security record so that you are eligible for Medicare and Social Security Benefits. Updating your Social Security record takes about 10 days.
- Apply for a U.S. passport so that you can travel to and from the United States with ease. Applying for a passport takes 2–6 weeks.
- Register to vote so that you have a say in who governs your new country! Registering to vote takes 2-4 weeks, depending on where you live.
Immigrationhelp.org can guide you through the entire naturalization process for free with our simple web app.
Why are USCIS processing times so random?
U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the government agency that processes Citizenship by Naturalization applications. USCIS receives tons of applications every year, so it uses field offices all over the United States to process local applications as quickly as possible. When you apply for Citizenship, USCIS assigns your application to the field office closest to your ZIP code.
Every USCIS field office receives a different number of applications. This difference means that some offices take longer than others. USCIS publishes the processing times for every field office online and updates these times monthly.
The USCIS processing time tool shows times as a range between two numbers. For example, the processing time for Form N400 at the Boston, MA field office is 10.5-14.5 months as of 8/28/2020. The first number is "the time it takes to complete 50% of cases (the median)," and the second number is how long it takes the center to complete 93% of cases.
The "national average processing time" in this guide is the first number in the range (the median) averaged across all USCIS field offices in the U.S. This average resets every September.
The backlog of pending U.S. citizenship applications has doubled over the last four years, and wait times have been steadily rising. Things have gotten even worse due to Covid-19 and the Trump administration. Some cases now take 20+ months. It is more important than ever to apply for Citizenship as soon as you are eligible.
ImmigrationHelp.org makes it easy and free to prepare your Citizenship application with our simple web app.