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Becoming a U.S. Citizen

By Anna Smith

International students hold up American flags and certificates of completion of citizenship preparation program
International House's citizenship preparation program helps prepare candidates for naturalization.
Benefits of Naturalization

Naturalization is the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

There are many benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen, including several freedoms and opportunities.

Permanent residents (also known as green card holders) are at risk of deportation, losing their green cards, and becoming ineligible to renew their green cards, but naturalized citizens do not have to worry about these risks. They can travel freely without counting their days inside and outside of the country in order to keep track of green card requirements and restrictions.

Citizenship helps bring and keep families together.

Family reunification for U.S. citizens is generally prioritized over reunification for permanent residents. And in addition to sponsoring spouses, children under 18, and unmarried adult children, U.S. citizens can also sponsor parents, siblings, and married adult children.

Parents of children who are permanent residents also have an opportunity to place their children on an easier route to naturalization. Most children under 18 who are permanent residents automatically become citizens when their parents naturalize.

Naturalized citizens might also experience economic benefits and advantages over permanent residents. Both the employment rate and the average income are higher for naturalized citizens than for permanent residents.

Naturalized citizens are eligible for more jobs because many permanent residents improve their English knowledge and skills in the naturalization process and because most government jobs require U.S. citizenship.

Citizenship grants people the power to vote and have a voice in deciding who local, state, and federal leaders are and what policies and laws are approved. Naturalized citizens not only have the power to vote for who is in office but also have the power to run for office themselves and become elected representatives.

Who Can Become a U.S. Citizen

If a person has been a lawful permanent resident for five years—or three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen—they might be ready to apply for naturalization.

Applicants must be 18 years or older and must have lived in the state where they are applying for at least three months and must be able to prove that they have resided in the United States for at least 50% of their time as a lawful permanent resident.

They must demonstrate “good moral character” and a knowledge of U.S. history and the U.S. government as well as an ability to read, write, and speak English at an elementary level. In the naturalization process, lawful permanent residents renounce allegiance to any other country and swear allegiance to the United States only.

New U.S. citizens raise hands to take Oath of Allegiance to the United States
International House clients and other new citizens take Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

These are the basic prerequisites for naturalization for lawful permanent residents, but there are different stipulations for children and spouses of U.S. citizens or green card holders, people who are serving in the U.S. military or have a sibling in the U.S. Armed Forces, etc.

If you think you may be eligible to apply for naturalization, you can check and make sure with the USCIS Naturalization Eligibility Tool before you put any time and money into the process.

If you meet all the requirements, you might be ready to prepare for the naturalization process. This is what that process looks like.

How to Apply for Naturalization
  1. Attain and fill out Form N-400 completely. You can download the form online here:

  2. Collect the correct documents. You can find a list of the necessary document here:

  3. If you do not file online, mail your completed Form N-400, documents, and payment to the appropriate Lockbox. (Filing fee information can be found here:

  4. If you receive a letter from the USCIS regarding an appointment, go to the specified Application Support Center (ASC) to get your biometrics taken, which include fingerprints, photos, and signatures.

  5. When USCIS schedules your interview, you will receive a letter with a time and place. You will need to arrive before the scheduled time to your local USCIS office with any requested documents. At the interview, you will answer questions about your background, residence in the U.S., character, attachment to the Constitution, allegiance to the United States, and supportive evidence.

  6. During your interview, you will be tested on your knowledge of U.S. history and government as well as the English language.

  7. After the interview, you will receive a decision. If USCIS tells you that you will be granted citizenship, you will receive information on when and where your oath ceremony will be, which might immediately follow the interview. If USCIS tells you they will continue your case, you may have to come back for a second interview or provide additional documentation. If USCIS denies you citizenship, you will be notified for the reasons and will have an opportunity to appeal that decision or begin a new application.

  8. At the oath ceremony, you will return your green card, receive your Certificate of Naturalization, answer questions about what you have done since your interview, and recite the Oath of Allegiance.

  9. Once you receive your Certificate of Naturalization, you should update your Social Security record at the nearest Social Security Administration office and then apply for a U.S. passport.

A woman at a desk shows paper to a man and woman
International House lawyers and legal experts help hundreds of people apply for citizenship every year at little to no cost.
IH Is Here to Help

Those are 9 huge steps, and the entire process can be overwhelming. International House is equipped with an extensive education department and legal clinic to help people prepare and apply for naturalization.

Applying for naturalization can be expensive, and International House helps reduce those costs by offering English and citizenship preparation classes and legal services for free or at lowered costs for those who qualify.

International House has an immigration law clinic with lawyers and other legal experts who help immigrants work toward citizenship by obtaining work permits, green cards, permanent residency, and naturalization.

Through the Ginter Immigration Law Clinic, International House also helps reunite qualifying immigrant families.

In 2022, 605 new cases were opened and 334 were filed, and 99% of those cases were decided in favor of the International House clients. To discover whether you qualify for legal representation and advocacy from the Ginter Immigration Law Clinic, call (704) 333-8099.

International House also offers citizenship preparation and adult English classes to help immigrants prepare for the naturalization test.

Students in the citizenship preparation classes learn about U.S. civics and prepare for interviews. These classes meet once a week for 10 weeks. Two English classes are offered for two different topics: health and working in the U.S. These classes meet twice a week for 8 weeks.

You can find the 2023 class dates and registration forms at

If you or someone you know might be eligible for naturalization and would like to learn more about how International House can help, please contact International House by phone or email.

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