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How Long is the Process to Become a U.S. Citizen?

Becoming a United States citizen is something that many immigrants that come to the United States to build a better life dream of for years. For many, actually becoming a United States citizen can seem out of reach because of strict requirements.

In many cases, the fees associated with actually becoming a naturalized United States citizen can be very high for immigrants struggling to pay bills and care for their families. However, the promise of building a better life for themselves and their children is often enough to overcome these struggles.

The actual naturalization process can take a considerable amount of time as well. In fact, many people seeking citizenship in the United States really don’t know how long they’ll be waiting after they pay their fees and apply.

Application Process

The application process can be a little confusing for some people applying to become United States citizens, and it’s important that you take the time to accurately fill out the application. Once you file your application, it will need to be processed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office (USCIS).

Depending on where you live and apply for citizenship, processing of your completed application can take between five months to over two years. Typically, areas with a larger immigrant population will take longer to process applications – cities like Los Angeles and New York are among the highest.

While applications can take more than two years to process, the USCIS does work diligently to process them, and will generally respond to inquiries about your application status.

Interview, Testing and Fingerprint Process

After your completed application is approved by the USCIS, you’ll need to be interviewed for citizenship. This is usually done fairly quickly after your application is approved, so it’s hard to relate an actual time frame. After your initial interview, you’ll be fingerprinted and tested on basic English, U.S. history and U.S. laws.

If your application took five months to process, you’ll generally have your interview, testing and fingerprinting completed within six months, though it can take longer based on where you live and how busy the USCIS office in your area is. Applications that take more time to process may result in longer wait times between application approval and interviews.

Swearing-In Ceremony

Once your interview and testing has been completed and you are approved for citizenship, you will need to report for a swearing-in ceremony to make your status as a citizen of the United States official. Swearing-in ceremonies usually take place between 1 and 180 days after your interview is conducted, though it could take up to two years. You will not be deported or penalized for remaining in the country between your interview and swearing-in ceremony, though you will not technically be a naturalized citizen of the United States during this period.

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Military

Individuals who have served in the military may have their applications fast-tracked because of their service to the United States, and these time-frames may not be applicable. While military applications are often approved faster than non-military applications, approval can take up to two years in some cases.

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Students

While students that have been in the United States for more than five years with a green card, or who were brought to the United States before their 16th birthday may apply for naturalization, wait times are similar to standard wait times. Applications being processed under the Dream Act of 2009 may take up to two years or more to process.

Newlyweds

An individual that married a United States citizen will first need to obtain a green card before they are allowed to become a naturalized citizen in the United States. Once the individual has had their green card for at least five years, they will be allowed to apply for naturalization through the standard process.

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