How Long Does it Take to Become a U.S. Citizen After You Apply?


For many immigrants, becoming a U.S. citizen is an important goal. While the process of becoming a U.S. citizen is the same for every immigrant, the pathway is not the same. U.S. Immigration law allows individuals to obtain green cards and become permanent residents of the U.S. upon satisfying certain requirements.

In most cases, an individual becomes a permanent resident after residing in the U.S. for a certain period and obtaining a work permit. Depending on the situation, this period may be as short as two years or longer. Once a person becomes a permanent legal resident, they are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is a privilege granted by the government and a huge undertaking. The length of time it takes for an application to either be approved or denied is dependent on the correct filing of Form N-400, the number of applications USCIS receives, and the USCIS office you file with.

In small towns like Grand Rapids, for instance, it would only take an average time of 12-18 months to receive a decision on your application. However, you should speak with an immigration attorney in Grand Rapids specializing in immigration law to guide your application process.

Here are the steps for you to apply for U.S. citizenship.

1.  Application for naturalization


The first thing you must do to apply for U.S. citizenship is to obtain Form N-400. It is this form that you will use in applying for naturalization. This form should be filled in correctly and accurately to avoid delays in the process. Make sure you send all necessary supporting documents, such as USCIS forms in the format acceptable to the U.S. government.

If a document is in a language other than English, a translated version should be made available. The earlier you send in your form N-400, the sooner your application will be reviewed. Provided there are no other factors to slow down the process, the processing time for an N-400 application typically takes between 6-10 months.

2.  Going for your biometrics appointment


The biometrics appointment is a process whereby your fingerprint, photos, and signature are captured at a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved center. This data is used for identity verification before it is forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a background check.

This background check further solidifies your eligibility, as your fingerprints will be used to run checks for criminal records or to ascertain that you are of good moral character. In addition to showing up at the local USCIS office, which is usually the place of appointment, you are expected to provide other documents as well. These documents include the following:

  • An appointment notice
  • Permanent resident card
  • Your passport from your home country
  • Further documentation indicated in your appointment notice
  • Other applicable IDs like state-issued IDs, a driver’s license, etc.

This appointment usually comes 5-8 weeks after your N-400 application has been approved.

3.  Attending your citizenship interview and exam

The interview and exam are the final steps before you can receive a decision from the USCIS. After the completion of the biometrics appointment, you will receive a new appointment notice for your exam and interview. This notice will state the location, time, and date of this exercise. The date can be rescheduled if you will not be available on the assigned date.

The exam assesses your proficiency in the English language, your knowledge of civics, and U.S. history. Most times, the interview is held on the same day as the exam. You must make sure you take with you all the necessary documents that are listed in your appointment notice to avoid any delay or having to reschedule your appointment.

Should you not pass the exam and interview stage, you will be asked to return on another appointment between the next 60-90 days to retake the exam. Hence, it is important to prepare adequately for both aspects of this stage.

4.  Waiting time for a decision by USCIS


The wait time for a USCIS decision varies. Your naturalization application could be approved on the same day as your interview if you do well. This is provided that all documents have been properly filed and accurately filled. However, if this is not the case, a decision will be sent to you at your mailing address in writing within four months after your interview.

This decision could be either an approval of your application, a continuation of your application, or a denial of application success. When your application is continued, it could be an indication of an error in one of the steps.

It could be that a document was filled out incorrectly or is missing, or you may not have passed the citizenship exam and hence, are awaiting the revised exam date. Where your application is denied, you will have up to 30 days to file an appeal if you believe you are eligible for citizenship and all your documents were accurately completed.

5.  Taking the Oath of Allegiance

Following a successful application and approval by USCIS, you will take an Oath of Allegiance and subsequently be issued a certificate of naturalization. This Oath of Allegiance is taken at a ceremony which you will be notified of through a letter called the “Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony”. This notice also includes the location, time, and date of the ceremony.

Showing up at this ceremony is critical as your entire application can be denied if you miss the ceremony. Until the Oath of Allegiance is taken, you are not yet a U.S. citizen; hence, you must reschedule the ceremony ahead of time if, for any reason, you will not be available for it.

Final words

The requirements for naturalization are complex and vary depending on the type of visa that a person holds. For example, a person who receives an H1-B visa can only apply for citizenship five years after they obtain their green card. People who enter the country on an EB-1A visa can file for citizenship after three years.

Those who enter on an F-1 student visa can file for citizenship after two years. If you become a permanent resident of the U.S., you may be eligible for citizenship after six years. However, your status can change if you commit certain crimes or are a national security threat.

Becoming a citizen is an important decision that should not be taken lightly. Before deciding to apply for citizenship, be sure to consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can advise you on your options and help you through the naturalization process.