Learn How to Become a Citizen of the United States
What Is the Difference Between a Green Card and Citizenship?
Are you a green card holder ready to pursue full U.S. citizenship? Unfortunately, it is difficult to apply for citizenship, even with a five-year legal residency. That is why you need an experienced attorney to help you along the way to become a U.S. citizen.
While both green cards and citizenship allow a person to reside in the United States, the two are not the same. You must understand the benefits and rights of each status.
U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence
A green card, also known as a lawful permanent residence, is a status reserved for those who legally immigrated to the United States. A person who hopes to become a U.S. citizen must first obtain a green card by:
- Being petitioned by a U.S. citizen (spouse, close family member, or employer)
- Receiving refugee status of asylum
- Winning the diversity visa lottery
- Other avenues for special immigrants
Green card holders must wait several years and go through a process called naturalization before becoming citizens. Lawful residents have some rights:
- Having a photo ID (green card), which allows a person to travel and reside in the U.S.
- Can live and work permanently
- Can petition for other family members to become lawful residents
However, they do not qualify for a lot of government aid and benefits. Additionally, if a green card holder leaves the States for an extended period, that person may not be allowed to return with her or his green card status.
Green card holders strive to obtain their citizenship because it allows them to qualify for full rights and benefits, including the right to vote in elections. Once a person becomes a citizen, he or she cannot be deported, and that individual has a much easier time helping family members enter the States through petitioning.
Who Is Eligible to Apply for Citizenship?
If a person has a green card, that does not automatically make her or him eligible to apply for citizenship. A green card holder must meet several requirements before applying for full citizenship, which includes:
- You have been a legal permanent resident for at least five years, with some exceptions.
- Are at least 18 years of age.
- Have lived in the United States for five years continuously before your application.
- You have lived in the state where you apply for at least three months.
- You can pass a test on U.S. history and government unless you have a medical disability that prevents you from doing so.
- Can speak, read and write in English, except for people with medical disabilities that prevent them from doing so, or long-term residents over a specified age.
- You have good moral character.
- You can swear that you believe in the U.S. Constitution and will be loyal.
There are some exceptions to the requirement of residing in the country for at least five years. If you are a refugee or a spouse of a U.S. citizen or U.S. military personnel, you may not have to wait five years to apply.
The Process for Applying for Citizenship
The process for completing the U.S. citizenship application is time-consuming and complicated. It is often not a comfortable journey and can often lead to heartbreak, which is why you should consult with an attorney along the way. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect:
Step 1: Submit the Naturalization Application
If you feel ready and qualified to become a citizen through naturalization, your first step is completing and submitting the naturalization application. You can download this application, also known as Form N-400, for free download on the USCIS website.
When you submit your naturalization application, you must also include:
- Fee payment of $725, which covers basic fees and fingerprinting costs
- Cover letter explaining what you included and any special requests (optional)
- Photocopy of your green card (front and back)
- If seeking citizenship through your spouse, include evidence of your marital status
- If living overseas while applying, include two color photos with your name and A-number written on the back
- Any other relevant documents
Make sure you make a complete copy of your application and all accompanying documents before sending it to USCIS.
Step 2: Biometrics Appointment
You complete all fingerprinting requirements at your biometrics appointment. You receive your appointment time and location following your submission of the naturalization application.
Step 3: Prepare for Your Naturalization Interview
Following your biometrics appointment, you have several months before your interview. Take this time to prepare thoroughly so you can feel confident going in. You must showcase your ability to speak, read and write in English. You must complete a test on U.S. history and government unless you qualify for a waiver based on age or disability.
If you have not mastered the ability to speak, read or write in English, it is a good idea to attend classes leading up to the interview. You should also use a study book that contains the pool of 100 questions on history and government to prepare for the test.
Step 4: Attend Your Naturalization Interview
During your interview, expect the USCIS officer to ask you questions regarding your application to ensure your eligibility and to test your ability to speak English. You must also write a sentence in English. The officer then asks you a series of 10 questions from the pool of 100 that you studied. However, if you answer the first six correctly, you pass the test.
Step 5: Swearing-in Ceremony
If you receive approval following the interview, the next step is the swearing-in ceremony, where you become a U.S. citizen.
Step 6: Contact an Attorney
If you did not receive approval because of failing the written or history/government test, you must reschedule for another interview within 90 days. If you were denied citizenship for some other reason, contact an attorney who specializes in citizenship cases.
Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer
Are you on the path toward turning your green card into citizenship through naturalization? If so, consult with an attorney along the way. The citizen application process is long and grueling, and you need someone who understands citizenship on your side.
Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!