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Citizenship: Answers to Common Questions

Immigration Laws & Rights

This article addresses when and how someone can apply to become a U.S. citizen.

This article provides answers to common questions about gaining U.S. Citizenship: specifically, when and how someone can apply to become a U.S. citizen. This article was written by American Gateways. 

When can I apply for U.S. citizenship?

In general, you may qualify for naturalization (citizenship) if you are at least 18 years old and have been a permanent resident for at least five years (or three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen) and meet all other eligibility requirements. To determine when you became a permanent resident, look at your green card for the “Resident Since” date.  

Many things can affect your eligibility for citizenship, especially arrests, even if they resulted in a dismissal. Please consult an immigration attorney to determine if you are eligible to apply for citizenship.

What is the process for applying for U.S. citizenship?

Please follow the instructions at the link below, regarding the process of applying for U.S. citizenship and fees: 


You can find a fee calculator here.

What kinds of tests do I have to take to become a U.S. citizen?

In order to become a U.S. citizen, you generally have to pass an English language exam and a civics exam. The English language entails conducting the citizenship interview in English and a brief reading and writing test in which you will be asked to read and write a few sentences. Here are study materials for the English test.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) began using digital tablets to administer the English reading and writing tests during interviews. USCIS will be able to continue using the paper process on a case-by-case basis. 

The civics exam involves answering questions about U.S. government, history, and geography. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued a list of 100 questions that you should study. Of those 100 questions, you will be verbally asked 10 questions on the actual exam, but you do not know which 10 you will be asked. Therefore, you must study all 100 questions to have the best chance at passing the exam. You must answer 6 of the 10 questions correctly to pass the civics exam.

Can I become a U.S. citizen if I don’t speak English?

Generally, you must pass the English language exam to become a U.S. citizen. 

However, you may qualify for the English language exemption depending on your age and the length of time that you have been a lawful permanent resident at the time of filing.

  • You are exempt from the English language requirement but still required to take the civics test in your native language if you are 50 years of age or older at the timing of filing your application and have lived in the U.S. as a  lawful permanent resident (green card holder) for at least 20 years.
  • You are exempt from the English language requirement but still required to take the civics test in your native language if you are  55 years of age or older at the time of filing your application and your have lived in the U.S. as as green card holder for at least 15 years.
  • If you are 65 years of age or older and have lived in the U.S. as a green card holder for 20 or more years, you may be eligible to take the civics test in the language of your choice and special consideration to study 20 of the 100 civics test questions.

If my parent is a U.S. citizen, am I automatically a U.S. citizen too?

Possibly, but it depends on many factors. There are two general ways to obtain citizenship through U.S. citizen parents:

  • At birth
  • After birth but before the age of 18.

The laws in effect at the time of birth determines whether someone born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen parent (or parents) is a U.S. citizen at birth. In general, these laws require that at least one parent was a U.S. citizen, and the U.S. citizen parent had lived in the United States for a period of time.

This is a very complicated area of law, so please consult an immigration attorney if you believe you may have acquired or derived U.S. citizenship from one or both of your U.S. citizen parents.

What are the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen?

There are many benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen. Some of the main ones include: voting, eligibility for certain public benefits and financial aid for students, no restrictions on travel, and absolute protection from deportation (unless your citizenship was obtained fraudulently).

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