The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world, accounting for around one-fifth of the world’s immigrants. The popularity of this diverse nation makes gaining citizenship quite competitive.
Applicants need to be organized, patient, and prepared for the long process ahead. That’s why we’ve put together our 7 crucial tips to help you gain American citizenship.
1. Know Your Path to Citizenship
There are a few different ways to gain citizenship in the United States. The main ones are:
- Citizenship through birth
- Citizenship through acquisition
- Citizenship through derivation
- Citizenship through naturalization
Citizenship through birth is self-explanatory. Any person born within the US, or its territories, is granted US citizenship at birth.
Citizenship through acquisition is a similar circumstance. Any child whose parents are US citizens has the right to US citizenship. The child’s subsequent children can also acquire citizenship at birth.
Citizenship through derivation relates to the naturalization process. When a person gains citizenship through naturalization, provided their children are permanent residents, they will also gain citizenship.
Don’t worry if none of the above apply to your circumstances. By far the most common path to citizenship is through naturalization. Naturalization is the term used to describe the process someone not born in America goes through to become an American citizen.
2. Know Your Eligibility
If you know you need to gain citizenship through naturalization, it’s not as simple as knowing the path to choose. You’ll also need to know your eligibility for naturalization. There are three main ways to be eligible for naturalization.
The first is if you’ve lived in the US as a permanent resident for 5 years. Alternatively, if you’ve lived in the US as a permanent resident for 3 years whilst married to a US citizen you will also be eligible.
You can also be eligible for US citizenship through qualifying service in the US armed forces.
A lesser-known option is through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, also known as the green card lottery. This program allocates a certain amount of diversity visas to immigrants from under-represented countries. Find out more about the USA Green Card DV lottery application and whether you’re eligible.
One of the requirements for gaining citizenship to the US is to be of “good moral character”. It’s quite a vague term, but what it boils down to is you need to avoid having a criminal record for between 3 to 5 years before applying. So behave!
If you have a previous criminal record, don’t panic. For most minor crimes, provided they happened outside of the 3 to 5-year window, they shouldn’t affect your application.
For more severe crimes, however, this may affect your application. For example, a murder charge will mean you will never gain citizenship to the US.
4. Learn the Constitution
You don’t need to memorize the constitution, but it’s good to be familiar with it! You’re expected to be attached to the principles of the nation and the constitution is the foundation upon which these principles are built.
This means if you’ve been involved with certain extremist groups, you’ll struggle to gain citizenship. Fascism, communism, and anarchism all go against the constitution. Even if you get a green card, if you become involved with groups aligned with these views within 5 years you can lose your citizenship.
5. Practice Your English
A huge part of the naturalization process is ensuring that applicants have a good enough grasp of the English language. This isn’t to alienate people, but to ensure they can successfully integrate into their new community.
So speaking English at a good level is vital to your application. It’s a tricky language at the best of times, so the more you practice the better your grasp will be.
We recommend taking English lessons, of course, but there are lots of other ways you can become more familiar with the language.
Reading in English is a great way to improve your language skills. Better yet, if you can read American news and get up to date with current events to show your commitment and interest in the nation you want to be a part of!
Similarly, you should speak English often too. This can be difficult if you don’t know anyone else who speaks the language well. But there are many free online communities where you can be matched up with other learners and help each other.
Listening to English will also help you improve your skills. This could be through listening to podcasts or watching TV. All of these will help you learn different colloquialisms that you might not learn in formal lessons.
Colloquialisms and slang shouldn’t be on the language test for citizenship, but they’ll definitely help you when you live here!
As well as language, you’ll also be tested on your knowledge of US history and government. An immigration officer will test your knowledge of these during an oral civics test with 20 random questions chosen from a list of 128.
You can find the full 128 questions you could be asked on the US citizenship and immigration services website.
These questions range from questions about current government figures to questions about American historical figures like Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.
You don’t have to stick your nose into a book to learn this. There are a whole host of great, free documentaries available on video streaming sites you can watch.
7. Be Patient
We mentioned this in the introduction, but naturalization is a long process. It can take anywhere from 6 months to a year or more from start to end. A lot of this is waiting around to hear back about your application, so be patient!
Don’t get stressed out or worry about the length of time. Make good use of it by studying for your interview and practicing your English.
The US is one of the greatest nations for immigrants, as proven by the sheer amount of people who want to live there! The process for American citizenship can take a while, but as long as you study, there’s no reason you can’t pass the exams and become a US citizen.
We’ve got more helpful articles on citizenship tests on our blog, just use the search function to find them.