The next step is getting your green card. A green card gives you permanent resident status and allows you to work and live in the United States while you go through the process of becoming a citizen. Your green card in itself is quite a complicated undertaking, and many people cannot get their green card because they fail to meet the criteria. There are several different ways to qualify for a green card, from having a family member sponsor you to having a job in the US. If you have established that you do qualify for a green card under one of the various criteria, you must fill out Form I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status and submit the completed form to the US Citizen and Immigration Services. It is crucial that you make sure to include all supporting documents and fill out the form completely and accurately, since if you make a mistake the form will be returned to you and you will need to start all over again.
Once you have made that application, you must wait for anywhere from 7 months to ten years before actually getting the card. The length of time it takes to process your request is tied to the route you chose to apply through. A journalist applying to work in the US through their foreign news agency will likely be approved much faster than someone coming in who is sponsored by family and who is not a skilled worker. Some categories have yearly caps as well as a long waiting list, so if the cap for the year is reached before your application is processed, you must wait until the next year. Fortunately, you are allowed to apply for a work permit so that you can work and support yourself while you wait for your green card to be approved. Once you receive it, your green card is valid for a maximum of ten years.
Once you’ve gotten your green card, you must live in the United States for five years before you can apply for naturalization. You will need to make that application more than six months before your green card is due to expire or you will have to go through the process of renewing your green card before applying. If you meet all the eligibility requirements, you can fill out Form N-400 Application for Naturalization and submit it with all the required documents and 2 professionally taken passport photos. Always be sure to keep a copy of the form for yourself so that you can review it just before your naturalization interview.
The next step is that you will be called in for the naturalization interview. In this interview, the immigration officer will go over your application in detail with you and ask for any documents that you are required to submit. As you are answering the interview questions, the immigration officer is not only listening to your answer, they are also evaluating your English skills. When the Form N-400 portion of the interview is done, you will have to pass your civics test. This is a test to determine whether you have studied the information about the United States and know it well enough to answer six out of a possible ten questions correctly. You will also have to read one of a possible three questions aloud correctly, and write one out of three possible sentences correctly in English.
When you are studying for your naturalization interview, the website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services is an invaluable resource, as they have all the information you need to know on the test, as well as downloadable flashcards, vocabulary lists, and self-test opportunities. You can read several different information booklets that will give you all the information you need to know to pass the test. There is a booklet titled “Learn About the United States” that will tell you all the answers to the questions on the test, and a pocket study guide that will help you to learn all the necessary information. There is even an informative video that shows how the interview might go and what will be required of you, and another one that will teach you about the whole process of becoming a US citizen. You can either download the booklets etc. or pick up paper copies from an Immigration office near you.
If English is not your native language, it can be very difficult to learn all the necessary information on your own. Many communities offer evening classes (some communities offer free classes, some do not) on passing your naturalization interview. You can learn everything from reading and writing English to the history of the United States, how the government works, and who the current government leaders are. These classes can be invaluable, as they cover all the material that is on the naturalization test, and you have a great resource in your teacher if you have questions or concerns. You will be asked to complete homework assignments that will help to prepare you to pass the written part of the test, and to practice spoken English so that you will be able to get through the interview and communicate well. In most communities the classes are free, and in many you may take the course more than once if you feel you need to.
Even if you are taking evening classes, you will also want to put in some time studying on your own. Maybe you can take your study materials with you to work and go over a few flash cards or a few civics questions during your break time. If you know other people going through the same process, you can quiz each other or set up study groups so that you can all get together and learn the material. You could ask your family members to help by quizzing you at home – remember, there are 100 possible questions on the civics portion of the test, and you have to know the answers to all of them, since you can’t know beforehand which ten questions you will be asked.
One of the best ways to learn to write English is to write it. In order to pass the written part of your exam, you need to make sure that you can write legibly, so that the examiner can clearly read what you have written. The only way for that to happen is to practice. Every chance you get to write something down, do it. If it doesn’t look clear enough to you, rewrite it until it is. When you are actually taking the test, try not to let your nerves get the better of you, write slowly and carefully, and make sure that you don’t skip any of the words in the sentence.
Likewise, when you are reading the sentences aloud, make sure that you read slowly and clearly and don’t skip any words or add any words. Say only what is on the paper, as exactly as you can. This is usually the least stressful part of the exam, and most people do quite well on it.
If things don’t go well and you fail some aspect of your English test or your civics test, don’t give up. You will be able to retake the tests between 60 and 90 days from the date you failed them. During this time, you really need to make sure to study, to go over the information with someone whose English skills are good so that they can tell you where you are making mistakes, and make sure you know the answers to all 100 civics questions. If you make the effort, chances are you will do better the second time around.
The very last step is taking your oath of citizenship. Once that is done, you are officially a US citizen.