Becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States is an important step to creating a better life for you and your family, and will enable you to more fully participate in your community, and the world. Being a citizen means that it is easier to re-enter the United States after traveling outside of the country. Citizens can take longer trips outside of the United States without having their status affected.
Citizens of the United States have the ability to petition family members to enter the United States, and Green-Card-holding children of citizens have the option to become U.S. Citizens themselves. There are also numerous rights and access to resources citizens of the United States enjoy, such as the ability to vote, to run for California State and some federal public offices, to obtain federal jobs, grants, and other governmental benefits, and to obtain and travel with a U.S. Passport.
The savings of over $540 in Green Card renewal fees make becoming a citizen of the United States an important financial decision as well.
How to Apply for Citizenship
Embarking on the path to citizenship opens a variety of doors to you and your family. With preparation and guidance, you can apply for citizenship through the naturalization process in two general steps:
Step One: Determine if you meet the basic eligibility requirements to become a citizen.
In order to be eligible, you must meet certain eligibility requirements, including the following:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Be a person of good moral character.
- Have resided at least 5 years as a Lawful Permanent Resident, or 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen.
- Have 5 years living in, and physically present in, the United States without major absences out of the country.
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English (see below for language exceptions).
- Have a basic understanding of U.S. history and civics.
- Have 3 months living in San Diego County (or state or USCIS district where you will apply).
- Have a willingness to take an oath of loyalty to the United States.
- For more information about the requirements, click here.
Step Two: Seek assistance from a qualified attorney or legal service provider. Every case is different, so it is important that you seek professional help from sources you can trust. Alliance San Diego provides free services for naturalization and can help you find the assistance you need. Make an appointment today by calling (619) 363-3423.
PLEASE NOTE: The naturalization process can take at least 6 months, sometimes longer. If you are planning on becoming a citizen and registering to vote, consider the time it will take for you to finalize the process before you can participate in an election. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services can provide an estimate of how long it will take to become a citizen depending on where you live.
The naturalization process can be costly. However, you might qualify to have the fees completely waived if you meet one of the following circumstances:
- You or qualified members of your household are currently receiving a means-tested benefit. A means-tested benefit is one for which the individual’s income/resources determine eligibility and/or the benefit amount, such as food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, or Medi-Cal.
- Your household income is at or below the 150% Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time you file. Check the current poverty guidelines for this year at: Form I-912P, HHS Poverty Guidelines for Fee Waiver Requests.
- You are experiencing a financial hardship that prevents you from paying the filing fee, including unexpected medical bills or emergencies such as bankruptcy.
For more information on Fee Waivers, click here.
Proof of your receipt of a means-tested benefit can take a variety of forms. To see examples of a San Diego county award letter, and a letter confirming Supplemental Security Income, Click here: Example of Fee Waiver Evidence
Reduced Fee Waivers are available if you meet the following requirement:
- Your household income is between the 150% and 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time you file. Check the current poverty guidelines for this year at HHS Poverty Guidelines for Fee Waiver Requests.
For more information about fees, click here.
You may be exempt from the English language requirement if you are:
- Age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident (green card holder) in the United States for 20 years
- Age 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years
Note: You are still required to take the Civics test, even if you are exempt from the English language requirement.
For more information on language exceptions, click here.
Medical Disability Exemptions
You may be eligible for an exception to the English and civics naturalization requirements if you are unable to comply with these requirements because of a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment.
To request this exception, submit Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions. This form must be completed by a licensed medical or osteopathic doctor, or licensed clinical psychologist.
- Receive legal assistance to apply for naturalization.
- Information from USCIS on becoming a U.S. Citizen through Naturalization.
- Study materials from USCIS for the Naturalization Test.
- Application to become a naturalized U.S. Citizen N-400.
- Fee waiver application I-912.
- Reduced Waiver application I-942.
- Find a community college that can help you learn English and study for the interview.