Today is the start of my journey to U.S. citizenship. I mailed my N-400 application to USCIS this morning, and will be blogging and recording each step along the way until the Naturalization Certificate arrives.
I will try to be as specific as possible, with hopefully enough details to help other DIYers. At a minimum, I would like to document the entire process so that people thinking about becoming a citizen have a live example to reference to. However, please keep in mind that your situation may be different from mine and adjustment in your application may be necessary.
First thing first, let’s check to see if I’m eligible to apply for citizenship, by going through the requirement list line by line:
- You are a lawful permanent resident (green card holder): Sure.
- You must be 18 years of age or older: I wish I had to think twice about this but yes, I met this requirement years ago! Oh well……time flies.
- You have resided in the US as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least 5 years, with no single absence from the US of more than one year. Absence of more than 6 months may restart the clock of counting Continuous Residence: Check. I did leave the U.S. several times on business and personal trips, but none exceeded three weeks, so I’m good.
- You have been physically present in the US for at least half of the last 5 years (30 months): No problem. The total time I spent outside the U.S. in the last 5 years was less than two months, so I definitedly meet this requirement.
- You have resided within a state or district for at least 3 months: Yep, been calling California home for 10 years now.
- You must be a person of good moral character: I certainly think so
- You can read, write, speak and understand basic English: No problem.
- You have a basic knowledge of US history and government: Check (Note to myself: Go over the test questions before interview just in case).
- You must show attachment to the principles of the Constitution: Done.
So, it appears that I’m indeed eligible. Now the question is when to file an application.
Note that my case is based on permanent residence through employment, but there are other ways to become an LPR and their naturalization requirments may be slightly different. For example, if you obtained your green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen, you only have to wait 3 years instead of 5 to be eligible for citizenship. Also, members and veterans of the U.S. armed forces, as well as their dependents, may be eligible for citizenship and may even qualify for expedited processing.
When to file?
You can apply for naturalization at any time as long as you meet the requirements at the time of filing. But if you want to become a citizen as soon as possible, you need to figure out the earliest date you can submit your N-400. USCIS will reject your application if you file too early.
You may submit Form N-400 up to 90 calendar days before your 5th (or 3rd if marriage-based) anniversary of becoming a permanent resident. For example, if your green card says “August 1, 2007,” you meet the 5-year permanent residence requirement on “August 1, 2012.” The earliest date you can apply for naturalization would then be May 3, 2012.
I’ve built a date calculator that can be used for this purpose. All you have to do is to select your anniversary date, and subtract 90 days (not 3 months) from it to get your early filing date.
The USCIS considers an application “filed” when they receive the package, and they don’t go by postmarks. So if you are in an absolute hurry, and want to make sure your application is received on exactly May 3rd as in the example above, you can actually mail it on the 2nd if you choose Next-Day courier service. If you use regular mail you have no control over when your application will be delivered, so the risk of filing too early would be higher. If possible, give it a few days of cushion just to be safe.
The Form N-400 is fairly straightforward. It took me less than half an hour from start to finish. One thing that helped was my habbit of scanning all immigration related documents, making it easy to search for information. My scanned old passport, for example, allowed me to quickly figure out the exact dates I was outside the country.
USCIS has the form, instructions, eligibility worksheet, and document checklist on their website for free download.
Form N-400 requires the following information, and some of them , if applicable to you, may need extra time to gather:
- Part 1: Your Name and A-Number, including opportunity to change your legal name
- Part 2: Your Eligibility
- Part 3: Personal Information: SSN, DOB, Date of Becoming Permanent Resident, Current citizenship, Marital Status, Waiver Requests, etc.
- Part 4: Address and Phone Number
- Part 5: Information for Criminal Records Search: Gender, Height, Race, etc.
- Part 6, Residence and Employment History for the Last Five Years
- Part 7: Time Outside the U.S. including Exact Dates for Each Trip
- Part 8: Marital History (including Current Spouse’s Marital History)
- Part 9: Information about Your Children
- Part 10: Long List of Yes/No Questions
- Part 11, Your Signature
- Part 12: Signature of Person Who Prepared the Form for You
- Part 13: Signature at Interview (Don’t Sign Yet!)
- Part 14: Signature for Oath of Allegiance (Don’t Sign Yet!)
My naturalization application package included only five items:
- Form N-400
- Copy of both sides of my green card
- Personal Check for Payment of $680 ( = $595 + $85)
- Two Passport-Style Photos
- Form G-1145 for Electronic Notification (Optional)
The photo requirements for naturalization are the same as other immigration related applications. You can get them at any place that offers passport photo services, such as the Post Office, Costco, CVS, or even online. However, it is also quite easy to do it yourself with a digital camera and an inkjet printer.
I did mine at home: Stood against a white wall, made sure the lighting was good to avoid shadows, used a tripod, and took a bunch of pictures. Then I simply picked the best (looking) one and used the State Department’s online photo tool to crop it. Finally I printed two photos on glossy media using an all-in-one printer. The hardest task was actually cutting out the 2″x2″ photo and I used a precision knife and a metal ruler to do the job (and it worked out just fine). My camera is a DSLR, but even point-and-shoot cameras in recent years should have sufficient resolution and image quality for this purpose. Cell phone cameras shouldn’t be used, however. The State Department has a resource center offering extensive information on passport photos, including the photo tool I just mentioned.
After all the work, the photos you submitted are probably useless. USCIS will most likely take your photo during your biometric appointment and use the digital image instead. But since they still require actual photos, we’ll have to submit them.
Good enough for now. I’ll update whenever there is a status change.
Entire N-400 Citizenship Application Process:
- Step 1: Application (this post)
- Step 2: Acceptance
- Step 3: Fingerprinting
- Step 4: Interview
- Step 5: Oath Ceremony