The Naturalization Process by Margaret Wong
A central issue in the current immigration reform debate is the pathway to citizenship. Many people unfamiliar with the world of immigration may not be fully aware of what the current
pathway to citizenship, or the process of naturalization, actually involves. Over the last 10 years
more than 6.6 million people went through this process and became citizens of our nation.
What are the requirements for naturalization?
To be eligible for US citizenship requires meeting the criteria laid out in the Immigration and
Nationality Act, 1952. The two most important criteria are that you must be at least 18 years of
age and already be a lawful permanent resident, more often referred to as having a green card.
You must have resided in the country for at least five years as a permanent resident, although for
those who received their green card as the spouse of a US citizen the requirement is only three
years. Additionally, you must have been physically present in the United States for at least 30
months prior to making the application.
Are there other requirements?
Yes. There are other personal requirements that are tested through the process including that you
are a person of good moral character, that you are able to speak, read, write and understand the
English language, and that you have a knowledge of U.S. government and history.
How does the government determine that you meet these requirements?
An interview with a USCIS officer is scheduled and you are tested to ensure you are eligible.
The Naturalization Test consists of four parts, a speaking test, a reading test, a writing test, and a
civics test. The speaking test is conducted throughout the interview as the officer determines the
ability to speak English. In the reading test, the applicant must read aloud one out of three
sentences correctly. In the writing test, must write one out of three sentences correctly.
Do you have to know American history?
Yes. This is tested in the civics test. A general knowledge of US history, politics, and
government is required. A pre-set list of 100 questions that can be asked by the officer are
provided before the test and can be studied in preparation.
How long does the process take?
The Cleveland office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is
processing these applications quickly and generally the process takes about 3 months once the
application is submitted. Within two weeks the applicant should receive notice about a
fingerprinting appointment and following that an interview is usually scheduled about two weeks
to a month later. Once the interview is conducted and approval granted, the applicant will receive
notice of their Oath Ceremony. Here they will swear allegiance to the United States and become
How do you apply and is there a fee?
The form is the N-400 and is relatively straight forward and is available online at the USCIS
website. Once filled out, you submit the signed form and a copy, front and back, of your green
card to the address provided on the website. The fee for the application is $680, including the
cost of the fingerprinting.