All you need to know about form N-400
Form N-400 is the way legal permanent residents start their process to become an American citizen. This is also called application for naturalization and like any other immigration benefit, you can apply for it if you meet some requirements.
Through this process you stop being an immigrant or someone with a permit to stay in the country and become an American citizen.
The basics of the N-400 form
We’re going to guide you through some of the most common doubts and steps you need to take into consideration when in the process to become an American Citizen.
Who can file the naturalization form?
Green Card holders over the age of 18 can apply for citizenship if:
- They’ve been legal permanent residents for at least 5 years (or 3 years if they married an American citizen)
- They can demonstrate their continuous permanent residence in the US for at least 5 years.
- They can prove they’ve been physically present in the US for 30 months.
- They can demonstrate they have lived at least 3 months in the state they’re applying.
- They can read, write and speak basic English.
- They know the fundamentals of U.S. history and principles of the US government.
- They’re willing to take a loyalty oath.
Other ways to obtain U.S citizenship
Although that is the most common way to apply for naturalization, there are some other ways to obtain your U.S citizenship, those are:
Citizenship through parents
If you were born outside the United States, there are two ways in which you can obtain your U.S. citizenship. You could get it at birth (acquisition) or it can be derived from your parents before you turn 18.
You can also obtain a derived citizenship if your parents acquired their U.S citizen status before you turned 18. Normally, if you meet certain requirements, your U.S. citizenship is automatically granted.
To obtain a derivative citizenship by operation of law, a child born outside the United States must fulfill the following conditions:
- At least one parent of the child is a citizen of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization.
- The child is under the age of eighteen years.
- The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence.
For example, José’s mother is a United States citizen by birth and his father is a legal permanent resident in the United States. José was born in Mexico City on May 5, 2010 and is only ten years old. He entered the United States as a lawful permanent resident on November 1, 2011 and has kept continuous residence in the United States in the legal and physical custody of both his parents. Hence, José can claim citizenship by operation of law.
The same applies to a child born outside the United States to two alien parents, or one alien parent and one U.S. citizen parent who subsequently lost U.S. citizenship, the child acquires citizenship if:
The child’s parent(s) meet one of the following conditions:
- Both parents naturalize;
- One surviving parent naturalizes if the other parent is deceased;
- One parent naturalizes who has legal custody of the child if there is a legal separation of the parents; or
- The child’s mother naturalizes if the child was born out of wedlock and paternity has not been established by legitimation.
- The child is under 18 years of age when his or her parent(s) naturalize; and
- The child is residing in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence at the time the parent(s) naturalized or thereafter begins to reside permanently in the United States.
Rosario entered the United States a lawful permanent resident on June 2, 1969. Later that year, her mother naturalized citizen of the United States on August 6,1969. Rosario was born on January 30, 1957 and was only 8 years old when she entered the United States.
For example, Rosario was never legitimated by her biological father and never met him. Her mother had legal and physical custody of her during all her childhood years. As such, Rosario meets all the requirements to automatically become a US citizen.
Naturalization through military service
Legal permanent residents serving in the military may find a faster path to become a U.S citizen. If you have had an honorary service for at least one year during peacetime you may apply for your citizenship through Form N-400.
In order to apply for naturalization through military service you must:
- Have served honorably, during a period of peacetime, in the U.S. armed forces for a period or periods totaling one year;
- Have submitted a completed Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service.
- Be a lawful permanent resident at the time of your naturalization interview;
- Meet certain residence and physical presence requirements;
- Demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak English;
- Demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and government;
- Demonstrate good moral character for at least five years before filing your N-400 through the day you naturalize; and
- Demonstrate an attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
For example, Omar has served in the U.S armed forces for a period of two years now, already has a Certification of Military Service and is very fluent in english. However, 4 years ago, Omar was convicted for shoplifting. This conviction will impede him to prove his good moral character and his petition will most likely be denied.
Omar could wait one more year, so he can prove 5 years of good moral character, and improve his chances of getting naturalized.
It’s important to note that although military service can mean you have to wait less time in order to apply for naturalization, you still have to comply with all other requirements.
Citizenship through marriage
Marrying a U.S Citizen can also help you apply for naturalization in a shorter period. Since you only have to prove you’ve been a legal permanent resident for 3 years prior to your application.
However, keep in mind that you’ll need to provide documentation to prove the authenticity of your marriage, and will have to prove your knowledge in english, U.S history and civics, as well as your good moral character just as anybody else. You can find all the requirements in USCIS page.
Where to get Form N-400
You can get you N-400 form in USCIS official site and either fill it in digitally by creating an account or print it and fill it by hand. In certain cases, such as when you apply from abroad you can only complete the process by mail.
If you decide to complete your form physically, where you need to send it depends on the area where you reside, as well as the delivery service you choose. You can check USCIS site to find the lists of addresses where you should send your N-400 form.
How to fill it
Once you take a look at the N-400 form, you might find that perhaps, it is not as easy as you imagined and finding out the right way to answer each question can take a lot of time.
There are plenty of ways to find reliable information and professional help. Of course, one of the most common alternatives people find is to look for an immigration lawyer, and it may be the best alternative if you are in a very particular situation.
However, if you’ve checked the eligibility list before and haven’t had any encounters with immigration officers or judges in the United States. There are some other options available for just a fraction of the fees an immigration lawyer charges.
One of the fastest alternatives is to turn to an online self-service tool, which lets you answer some simple questions and translates your information to the form. What could take you many days to answer, typically takes just one hour. You just need to gather your documents and you’ll be on your way.
Forms and documents you’ll need to prepare to send Form N-400
Of course you’ll need to prove your information is truthful by providing some records. If you’re filing online, you’ll have to scan them and upload the digital copies with your form and if you’re mailing it, just attach a copy of the following documents:
- A copy or scan of your Green Card (permanent resident card)
- A check or money order for the application fee.
- If you aren’t currently in the United States, 2 identical color photographs with your name and Alien Registration Number written in pencil in the back.
Under some particular circumstances, applicants may need to share some additional supporting documents, such as:
- Proof or your current marital status (marriage certificate, divorce papers, annulment certificates, and/or death certificates)
- Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service (Form N-426) if you’re applying based on your military service.
Some useful advice and additional documents
Besides the basic requirements you need to check and everyone talks about when guiding you through the naturalization process. There are some other things that you should keep in mind:
Double-check your tax history
Perhaps one of the most important steps before filing your N-400 form is to prepare and check your tax history for the past 5 years. Although the tax returns are not required in every case it is strongly suggested that you bring copies to your appointment. Especially if your have travelled outside the US for a period of 6 months or longer.
If you are not sure where to obtain your tax transcript, you can visit the IRS website and select Order a Return or Account transcript in the tools section.
Now, if you are aware that you are overdue with your taxes, you should bring an additional signed agreement from the IRS office stating that you have filed a tax return and arranged to pay the tax that you owe, or documentation from the IRS office showing the current status of your repayment program.
Of course it is always better to avoid these extra steps by paying overdue taxes before filing the N-400 form, however, we know that’s not always possible and advice you to gather the documents mentioned above.
Remember your tax history is highly related to the determination of your good moral character, and will be review carefully if you have met all your obligations.
Your trips outside the united states
If for any reason, during the last five years, you had trips that lasted more than 6 months and less than a year, you should also be prepared with the following evidence:
- Evidence that you did not terminate your employment in the United States or worked overseas
- Evidence that your immediate family remained in the United States or that you had full access to your place of residence in the United States.
Some of the documents that may support those claims are tax return transcripts listing tax information relevant to your absence, rent or mortgage payments and pay statements, bank and credit card statements showing regular transactions, a photocopy of your entry and exit stamps on your passport, etc.
One of the most common questions when going through any immigration process is how long response times may take. However, there’s not an established answer for everyone.
Every case has its own characteristics and there are a lot of different factors that interfere with the response times USCIS may take. Such as external political factors and the handling time of your field office.
In general, the average time it takes to complete the whole process and obtain your citizenship is of about 14 months, but a lot of times it takes longer than that.
It’s important to understand that getting your citizenship is a process that takes many steps and each one of these has its own processing time.
The processing of your N-400 form alone can take about 10 months and having your form accepted is just the first step in the process.
After that you should wait for your biometrics appointment and your citizenship interview and exam. Although waiting times may seem long, think of them as a good opportunity to really prepare yourself for the English and civics exam.
You will not be notified of the decision right after the interview as the time it takes to receive a decision can vary between 1 and 4 months. If the resolution is positive you’ll take the Oath of Allegiance and receive your certificate in about a month or month and a half.
However, it is important to note that this depends a lot on your specific case and processing times of your field office so these times should not be taken as the minimum amount of time.