How Long Does the U.S. Citizenship Process Take?

The actual citizenship application process can take from 6 months to as much as a year, or longer, even if you are already a permanent resident.

The process of becoming a U.S. citizen usually takes months, but can take years to complete. Times vary by person and location. How long it will take for you, depends mostly on what step of the process you are currently in. There are six essential requirements that must be met for you to apply for citizenship.

Video — Things You MUST Know About the U. S. Naturalization process

If you can satisfy all 6 of these requirements, you might be eligible to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Naturalization is the name of the process for becoming a U.S. citizen. When you have accurately and completely organized your application for naturalization, you will send it to the appropriate United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office or service center based on where you live. It is not uncommon for the different offices and centers to have different processing times.

The time you must wait between filing your application and the day of your naturalization interview may seem to take an especially long time. It might help if you understand more about what is happening during this time. Your first indicator that things are going according to plan is receiving the certified mail receipt that you sent with your application. This receipt is a green postcard. If you don’t get it back within 14 days, check with the postal service to be certain your application wasn’t lost in the mail. Next, you will want to look for the official receipt notice from the USCIS, confirming the entry of your application into their system. Then check your bank records for the cashed application fee check. Keep a copy of the cashed check because, along with your case number, it could be useful in tracking your case in the system if your application becomes lost.

Once USCIS enters your application into the system, your file will go to your local USCIS District Office. Most likely, you won’t even know when this happens and it is hard to get an answer from the District Office. However, you will receive a notice to attend a biometrics appointment where you will be fingerprinted (not everyone is required to be fingerprinted). Those fingerprints will then be used by the FBI to perform a background check. When this is completed, you should receive a notification about your citizenship interview. At your interview, a USCIS immigration officer you will ask you some questions related to your application, and will administer the civics and English test.

If everything goes well at your citizenship interview, and you pass your tests, you will be given a time and date to participate in a citizenship ceremony. You will have to wait, typically between 1 and 180 days, to be able to attend this ceremony. Your wait time will depend on the state where you live. If many people are applying at the same time all at the same location as you, you will have to wait longer than usual. At the citizenship ceremony, you will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and officially become a citizen of the U.S. complete with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

N-400, Application for Naturalization Timeline

As noted earlier, the timeline for the processing of Form N-400 can vary greatly among different applicants. There is, however, a somewhat consistent range of time for each step of the process. If everything is running on schedule at the USCIS office and you have completed your form precisely as directed, you can expect for your application to follow this general timeline:

  • Receipt of Application 2 to 3 weeks after filing- USCIS will confirm the receipt of your properly filled out Form N-400 by sending you a receipt notice (Form I-797C). Keep this letter for future reference.
  • Appointment Notice for Biometrics 3 to 5 weeks after filing- The next correspondence you should receive will include details about your biometrics appointment. All applicants are subject to background checks, even though applicants 75-years of age or older do not have to be fingerprinted.
  • Your Biometrics Appointment 5 to 8 weeks after filing- Also called the biometrics screening, your biometrics appointment should only last about 30 minutes- or less. At this appointment, USCIS will fingerprint and photograph you, as well as obtain your signature. You will need to bring a photo ID with you, such as a passport, driver’s license, military, or state-issued ID card.
  • Appointment Notice for Your Naturalization Interview 3 to 5 months after filing- Following your biometrics appointment, the next notice you receive from USCIS will let you know the date, time, and location of your naturalization interview. Make every effort to attend the scheduled appointment, as rescheduling could set your naturalization process back several months.
  • Your Naturalization Interview 4 to 6 months after filing- This is your big day! Everything you’ve worked so hard for comes down to this interview. Make the most of it by dressing professionally and being prepared. By now, you have been studying and perfecting your English skills and knowledge of American government (unless you qualified for an exception). Hopefully, you will pass all parts of your interview easily and the officer will approve you for naturalization at the conclusion of the interview. You will then be notified of the date, time, and location of your oath ceremony. If the officer cannot make an immediate determination, your application will be continued until such time as a decision can be made. Alternatively, the USCIS may deny your application if they find that you are not eligible for naturalization.
  • Notice of Oath Ceremony 1 to 4 weeks following your interview- If you were approved for naturalization, you will receive Form N-455, informing you of the details of your oath ceremony. You will need to answer a few questions on this form and take it with you to the oath ceremony.
  • Your Oath of Allegiance Ceremony 5 to 8 months after filing- The oath administered by either USCIS at an administrative ceremony, or by a judge in a judicial ceremony, will make you an official citizen of the United States. Once you have taken the Oath of Allegiance, you will surrender your green card and be given a Certificate of Naturalization.

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Tips for Keeping Your Naturalization Process on Track

While you are waiting, it’s important to remember that you are dealing with an over-worked government organization trying to process as many as 6 million other forms just like yours, so you must be patient and let the process run its course. There are, however, plenty of things you can do to help prevent delays in your application process.

Some of those include:

  • Before submitting your application, double check for errors. Rushing through an application is a sure way to miss important steps or make critical mistakes. It only takes a small error to make extra work for yourself or the immigration officer processing your request. This will most likely cause a delay on your path to becoming a U.S. citizen, or even worse, it could cause your application to be denied entirely.
  • Before mailing your application, make sure you are sending it to the proper address. Where you live makes a difference in the USCIS address you should use.
  • Keep all of your contact information updated with the immigration officer handling your application and your attorney- if you have one. If either of them cannot get in touch with you, they won’t be able to let you know if additional items are needed for processing, or if you have reached the next important step in your naturalization process. This could cause significant delays.
  • Make sure you attend all your scheduled appointments. Missing appointments, like for fingerprinting, not only will cause delays in your application process, but could cause your application to be denied or result in your attempt at naturalization being ended entirely. If you fail to attend your scheduled interview, your case will be “administratively closed.” You will have to make a timely request to have it reopened.

Checking the Progress of Your Application

Thanks to the Internet, you rarely have to just wonder what’s going on with your application. There are so many new ways to regularly check the status of your application at your convenience. You can even sign up for email or text message alerts whenever your application moves to the next stage of the process. The USCIS has also included features that allow you to reschedule interviews online. Use these features to keep tabs on the progress of your application by visiting the USCIS website and creating an account. Once you have created an account, checking the status of your application is as easy as entering your receipt number on the USCIS website.

To help reduce the number if unnecessary inquiries, USCIS wants you to know that if, during the past 60 days, any of the following statements are true for you, they are actively processing your case:

  • You have received a notice from the USCIS about your case.
  • You have responded to their request for evidence.
  • You have received an update about your case status online (USCIS online account).

If at any time, you believe your case is taking longer than the typical processing times, you can make Case Inquiry. You can do this at the USCIS website, as well. You will need your Receipt Number, A-Number (if you have one), the date you filed your application, and the type of application or petition you filed.

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