On average, it takes anywhere from 18 months to 24 months to complete the naturalization process and become a U.S. citizen. The naturalization process has 5 general steps; beginning with filing Form N-400 and ending with taking the Oath of Allegiance. This article breaks down how long each part of the process takes, explains some things that may cause delays, and also how to avoid them. It also explains how to check your citizenship application status.
Step 1: Filing Form N-400 (14+ months)
The first step in the naturalization process is completing and filing Form N-400 (the “Application for Naturalization”). On average, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a government agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will take over 14 months to process your Form N-400 application.
USCIS receives a large number of applications for citizenship and has a lot of backlogs, which is why it will take over 14 months for USCIS to process your application. Note that exact USCIS processing times may vary based on your location. To begin the process, you’ll need to send your citizenship application and all supporting documents to USCIS. If you’re able to gather your supporting documents sooner, then USCIS will be able to review your completed application sooner, and you might have a faster case processing time.
Before submitting your application, you should be sure to double-check all answers. You must submit all application materials in English or provide a certified English translation of a non-English document. Missing or incorrect documents can delay your application process.
As you wait for USCIS to process your application, be sure to notify them if you ever move or change your mailing address. USCIS may need to contact you during this time, and you might miss some official mailings if you do not update your address with them.
Step 2: Biometrics (+0 months)
The next step is to attend your biometrics appointment. An official will take your fingerprints, photos, and signature at the biometrics appointment. Usually, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) schedules the biometrics appointment for you about one month after they receive your citizenship application. USCIS will send you an appointment letter, Form I-797C (the “Notice of Action”). This letter will state when and where your biometrics appointment will take place. USCIS uses biometrics appointments to verify your identity and conduct a background check on you with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
You must bring your appointment letter, your lawful permanent resident card (green card), and a second form of photo ID (such as a driver’s license, passport, or state ID). Be sure to bring all necessary documents with you to your biometrics appointment. Forgetting a document can result in a delayed or scheduled appointment. If this happens, you may be adding extra time to USCIS’s 14+ month processing time for your application.
Sometimes, USCIS will need you to come in for a second biometrics appointment. This can happen if there is an issue with your fingerprints at the FBI. If the FBI rejects your second set of fingerprints, you will have to get a police clearance certificate from the local police department in each area where you’ve lived for the past five years and send these certificates to the FBI.
USCIS may also send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE) at this point in the process. USCIS sends an RFE when they need additional information or materials from you. You should be sure to respond to USCIS with the appropriate materials as early as possible and by the deadline they provide.
Step 3: Citizenship Interview & Test (+4 months)
Next, you’ll need to attend your U.S. citizenship interview. The citizenship interview usually happens 14 months after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your application. USCIS will send you a letter with the date and location for your naturalization interview. This letter will also list any essential documents you must bring with you. To ensure you don’t have any issues with your interview, you should update your mailing address if you’ve recently moved to avoid missing USCIS’s interview letter, bring all necessary documents, and prepare in advance for your interview.
USCIS uses the interview to confirm information about you and make sure you have good moral character. If you cannot attend the interview on the date USCIS provided, you may request to reschedule if you write to the field office where your interview will occur. The office will then send you a new letter with a revised date and time. Be aware that, due to a high volume of wait times, rescheduling might delay your interview up to several months.
You will also need to take the U.S. citizenship test in most circumstances. Usually, this test is on the same day as your interview. To avoid retaking the test, be sure you prepare in advance for both the English language skills and civics sections of the test. If you do not pass, you’ll have to retake a portion of or both portions of the exam to continue with your citizenship application. If you must retake the exam, you will have to return to your appointment location 60 to 90 days after the initial date of your exam.
If you’re unable to attend your appointment date, you must notify USCIS in advance. Failing to notify USCIS or failing to show up to a rescheduled citizenship interview and test may cause USCIS to “pause” your application. If USCIS pauses your application process and you don’t contact them within a year, they will deny your application. You will need to file again and pay all filing fees a second time.
Step 4: Application Decision (+0 to 4 months)
If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sees no issues with your application, they will usually approve your application on the same day of your citizenship interview and test. If not, they will have 120 days from the date of your interview and test to notify you of their decision in writing.
They will send you Form N-652 (the “Notice of Examination Results”). This form will state whether they have approved, continued, or denied your application. If USCIS “continues” your application, they have chosen to place it on hold either because you did not pass your citizenship exam or did not provide the correct documents or information about yourself.
If USCIS denies your application, it’s possible to file for an appeal within 30 days of receiving your denial letter. USCIS will schedule a hearing for you within 180 days. If the USCIS officer at your hearing still denies your application and you think you still deserve approval, you can request, with a lawyer’s help, that a U.S. district court review your case.
Filing your application package correctly and adequately preparing for the citizenship interview and exam are important to make sure USCIS can approve your application as quickly as possible.
Step 5: Oath of Allegiance (+0 to 2 months)
Finally, with an approved application, you can take the last step to become a full U.S. citizen: the Oath of Allegiance. The oath ceremony usually takes place on the same day as your interview and exam. If not approved on the same day as your interview and exam, USCIS may schedule your naturalization ceremony for about two to six weeks later. USCIS will send you Form N-445 (the “Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony”) with the date, time, and location of the next available ceremony. At the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, you will receive your certificate of naturalization. As a citizen, you are now entitled to vote in U.S. elections. USCIS will provide you with information on how to register to vote.
If you cannot make the ceremony, you must return the Form N-445 to your local USCIS field office and write them a letter requesting a new date. Failing to appear more than one time for your ceremony can lead to application denial. You will not be a U.S. citizen until you take the Oath of Allegiance, so you must show up to this ceremony.
How to check the status of your citizenship application
Throughout the entire naturalization process, you’ll be able to check the status of your application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You may check online, by mail, or by phone. To check online, you should use the status tracker on the USCIS website. To check by mail, you should be sure that your mailing address is up to date with USCIS. USCIS will automatically send you all official notifications by mail. To check by phone, you should contact USCIS’s Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283. For those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have a speech impairment, you may call TTY 1-800-767-1833. On the phone, you’ll need to provide your USCIS Receipt Number, your Alien Registration Number (A-Number), your name, and your date of birth.
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