In general, an individual over the age of 18 seeking to become a citizen of the United States must apply for naturalization by filing an Application for Naturalization, Form N-400. To be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must fulfill certain eligibility requirements set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). These general eligibility requirements specify that the applicant must:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder)
- Have resided in the United States for at least five years
- Have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months
- Be a person of good moral character
- Be able to speak, read, write and understand the English language
- Have knowledge of U.S. government and history
- Be willing and able to take the Oath of Allegiance Special naturalization provisions exempt certain applicants from one or more of the general requirements for naturalization.
Spouses of U.S. citizens and members of the military constitute the main categories of individuals who are exempt from some of the general requirements for naturalization.
- The majority of individuals naturalizing as spouses of U.S. citizens may do so three years after being admitted as lawful permanent residents, rather than the five years prescribed under the general provisions. (This provision applies as long as these persons are still married to their US citizen spouses.)
- Spouses of U.S. citizens stationed abroad may not be required to meet any particular residence or physical presence requirement.
- Members of the military who served honorably during certain periods of conflict may be eligible for naturalization even though they have not been admitted as lawful permanent residents and even if they are under the age of 18.
- Members of the military who served honorably for at least one year, at any time, and apply for naturalization within a certain time after their military service, are also exempt from the general residence and physical presence requirements.
In addition to these naturalization provisions, the INA also provides for the naturalization of children who are under the age of 18.
- A child under the age of 18, who is a lawful permanent resident residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen parent, may acquire U.S. citizenship.
- To obtain evidence of U.S. citizenship, an Application for Certificate of Citizenship, Form N-600, must be filed on behalf of the child. Alternatively, the child may apply for a US passport.
- There are exemptions benefiting children of active-duty members of the military stationed abroad.
Persons filing an Application for Naturalization who have submitted a complete application along with all required documents will be scheduled for an interviewed by a USCIS officer. Those applicants found qualified are scheduled for an oath ceremony. Applicants do not become U.S. citizens until they have taken the Oath.