Generally, every immigrant who enters the United States first entered the country on an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. After entering the country, many immigrants apply to become a lawful permanent resident for reasons like work or marriage.
While permanent residency allows someone to stay in the country permanently, it does not offer certain benefits like the right to vote or to hold public office. As a result, many permanent residents eventually apply to become U.S. citizens.
Citizenship is not granted automatically, however. And many individuals do choose to remain permanent residents forever. But for those who seek U.S. citizenship, the process typically follows four general steps:
Meet eligibility requirements for citizenship. To be eligible for citizenship, you need to be a permanent resident, be at least 18 years old, and have lived in the United States for a certain period of time (typically three or five years). During that time, you must have been physically present in the United States for at least half of that time, and not have established a home outside the country.
Apply for naturalization. Assuming you meet the eligibility requirements, you still must apply for naturalization to become a citizen. Generally, you must complete Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, include photographs with your application, get fingerprinted, and submit other documents.
Interview and take the citizenship test. After your application and fingerprints are processed, the next step is to interview with an immigration official and take the citizenship test. At the interview, you will be asked questions about your application and background. If the interview goes well, you will then take an English and civics test. The civics test can be challenging and will require some studying.
Swear allegiance. The final step to becoming a U.S. citizen is taking an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.