The immigration process can be difficult to navigate. Learn what steps to take when preparing for your personal interview, naturalization test and medical exam.
For many applicants, the immigration process is overwhelming and difficult to navigate. By taking the following steps to prepare, you can improve your chances of successfully achieving U.S. citizenship.
Verify Your Eligibility
Before beginning the formal immigration application process, verify your eligibility. Applicants must meet the following requirements to become a U.S. citizen.
- Be 18 years or older at the time of application
- Maintain a legal permanent residency for three to five consecutive years, depending on the application category
- Maintain a physical presence in the United States
- Be able to speak, read and write basic English
- Demonstrate a solid moral character
- Know and understand U.S. government and history basics
- Show loyalty to principles inherent in the U.S. Constitution
- Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance
Exceptions and special provisions may be available for individuals who’ve served in the U.S. military and other special circumstances. If you still aren’t sure if you’re eligible for citizenship, the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) supplies a naturalization eligibility worksheet.
Explore Your Options
There are numerous pathways available to individuals who wish to become U.S. citizens. The following situations may provide a road to permanent U.S. residency:
- Receiving a permanent job offer
- Being granted asylum
- Refugee status
- Having parents who are U.S. citizens
- Being a widow or widower of a U.S. citizen
- Having family members who are U.S. citizens
- Intercountry adoption
- Service in the U.S. military
The USCIS’s Explore My Options page provides applicants with a simple way to determine the appropriate path to immigration for each circumstance and offers instructions on how to proceed.
Before filling out the downloadable Form N-400 Application for Naturalization, read through the instructions and gather the requested documents. Depending on your immigration category, you may be required to provide the following items:
- Permanent Resident Card or Green Card
- Marriage certificate
- Documentation of spouse’s citizenship
- Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service
- Official military orders or discharge orders
- Request for attorney accompaniment
- Passport photos
Prepare for the Medical Exam
After you file the paperwork and pay any applicable fees, you’ll be contacted to schedule a medical examination from a list of approved physicians. This exam, which is designed to safeguard the health of the U.S. population, typically includes a physical and psychological assessment, vaccines and a screening for tuberculosis.
Before your medical exam, make sure you have the following items:
- Government-issued photo ID
- Vaccination records
- List of the prescription medications you currently take
- Documentation of treatment for tuberculosis, syphilis or alcohol or drug abuse if applicable
USCIS may also require information regarding psychiatric hospitalizations or details about any history of harmful or violent behavior toward people or animals, as applicable. Be prepared to provide information regarding special education or supervision requirements if you or a family member has a learning disability.
Prepare for the Interview
The immigration process typically includes an interview with a USCIS representative to determine whether any conditions surrounding your background or present circumstances could preclude immigration approval. Because the tone of the interview can vary significantly, depending on the interviewer’s personality, preparation can be challenging, but there are steps you can take to make the process easier:
- Gather your documentation, including copies of submitted forms and original documents, such as passports, visas and birth certificates. For green card marriages, documentation may also include letters, photographs, bank statements and your marriage certificate.
- Review your documents and forms before the interview to make sure you can clearly respond to any questions about the information.
- Study for the accompanying naturalization test, which includes a civics component and a spoken and written English component. Test preparation materials are available for free online.
- Practice answering sensitive questions. If you know that something on your application may raise suspicion, be ready to talk about it in a truthful, calm way, and make sure all family members are on the same page. It’s important to remember that you should never lie to or argue with an immigration official.
- Know what to expect. A friend or family member who has been through the process can answer questions or help you prepare.
- Find an interpreter to translate if you find it difficult to communicate in English.
- Wear conservative, comfortable clothing. Although there’s no specific dress code, dressing appropriately can create a good impression with your interviewer.
- Set your alarm to make sure you’re on time. If you miss an appointment, rescheduling can be difficult and may lead to lengthy delays.
Hire an Immigration Lawyer
Although an immigration lawyer isn’t required when filing for citizenship, these legal professionals can provide several important benefits. They know what permits you’ll need at all stages and can maneuver easily through the system. More importantly, an immigration attorney provides essential direction throughout the process and can help you avoid mistakes that can result in your application’s denial.
Reasons You May Not Be Accepted
No matter how prepared an applicant is, it’s possible to be denied naturalization. U.S. citizenship may be denied for the following reasons:
- Drug trafficking
- Money laundering
Failure to Attend Appointments
- Issues with drug abuse or addiction
- Failure to provide proof of required immunizations
- The presence of communicable or quarantinable diseases that have public health significance
- Physical or mental disorders that may lead to harmful behaviors
Regardless of the reason for denial, applicants who feel they were disqualified in error may file an appeal. Appeals must typically be filed within 30 days of denial. Your appeal should include a motion to reopen the case, along with a clear reason why.