Student writer Corina Tampubolon breaks down the process of becoming a citizen in the United States.
In light of Citizenship Day on Sept. 17, what’s the exact process of becoming a citizen? The naturalization process has been a dream and a struggle for many. Although the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency leads us to believe the process is a simple as following the procedure, the statistics say otherwise.
First, what is the procedure?
The USCIS states that a person must meet the naturalization eligibility requirement. These requirements are as simple as being over 18, having “good morals”, reading and writing basic English and “[demonstrating] an attachment to the principal and ideals of the US constitution.”
However, there are other requirements that can cause difficulties for applicants, such as having had permanent residency, otherwise known as a “green card,” for at least five years or three if married to a U.S. citizen.
Once the eligibility requirements are met, the paperwork begins. The potential citizen must file an N-400 form that costs $640. Additionally, some applicants may be required to have their biometrics taken, which is an addition $85. This makes the total cost $725.
Next comes the interview, english test and civics test. Although some can be exempt from the tests, it is part of the naturalization requirements.
The interview is a very important step as the interviewer will decide whether to accept or deny your file and rescheduling it may add several months of waiting for the procedure. During the interview, the officer will ask questions regarding the submitted N-400 form while evaluating the level of English.
If all of this done successfully, the last step is to take the oath of allegiance. The process is then over, and the person is a true U.S. citizen.
However, to reach this point for some will take more than just a couple of months. In 2016 to 2017, there was a spike in the backlog of one million applicants for two years in a row despite the lack of a new surge of applicants during this period. In 2018, the US citizenship processing time took an average of a little over 10 months. Moreover, rejection rates have slowly started to increase from 10.3% in 2016 to 10.9% in 2018.
Another important aspect to the application process is the location. Potential citizens must apply in the state that they have lived in the past three months. This means that certain states will have more citizenship applications and therefore a slower process time than others.
Boundless, a company that aids in immigration through low-cost immigration lawyers, states that the worst three government offices to apply include Saint Paul, Minnesota; Miami, Florida and Houston, Texas. In fact, Saint Paul has a maximum wait time of two years. This, with the added requirement of having a five-year permanent residence status, means that for some people they must wait up to seven years to receive or to be denied citizenship.
The naturalization process includes many hidden difficulties that are not mentioned on the USCIS site. This includes the wait time for each paperwork needed and the fact that many cities do not have a government office to deal with immigration, which can force people to travel over 150 miles for their interviews.
Luckily, there are services like Boundless to help people navigate through the confusing process of naturalization. However, most legal help for those wanting guidance can cost up to thousands of dollars, leaving others left to figure out the process on their own, which can be very confusing.