Naturalization is the process by which one who was born outside the United States may become a U.S. citizen.  Are you a lawful permanent resident who would like to naturalize?  There are several criteria in order to be eligible.

Notice of Important Filing Dates

On December 1, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented a new civics exam and increased the number of questions for applicants to study from 100 to 128.  USCIS also increased the number of required correct answers to pass the exam from 6 out of 10 to 12 out of 20.  This new exam is known as the 2020 civics exam.  However, due to concerns of insufficient advance notice given to prospective applicants of this change, USCIS has reversed course.  Notice of this change was issued to the public on February 22, 2021 and becomes effective on March 1, 2021.

Notably, USCIS will be offering both exams for a short period of time to accommodate those who were already studying for the 2020 version.  If you filed your naturalization application on or after December 1, 2020 and before March 1, 2021, and are scheduled for an interview before April 19, 2021, you fall into this accommodation.  USCIS will provide notices to those applicants who are affected by the policy change.  You will be given a choice as to which version of the test you want to take.

Please note the following:

  • If you filed your naturalization application before December 1, 2020 or after March 1, 2021, you will be offered the 2008 naturalization exam.
  • If you filed your naturalization application on or after December 1, 2020 and before March 1, 2021, you will have a choice to take either the 2008 or the 2020 version of the civics test.

General Requirements

Certain requirements must be met before being eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. These requirements include the following:

– Being a lawful permanent resident for three, or five, years depending on which category you are applying under;

– Being at least 18 years old;

– Maintenance of physical presence requirements and continuous residency in the United States as a lawful permanent resident;

– Being of good moral character;

– Being able to speak, read and write basic English;

– Being able to pass an exam of American history, politics and civics;

– Demonstrating loyalty to the U.S. Constitution; and

– Being willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.

Minimum Requirements  Timing, Exam and English Ability

The time required as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) before becoming eligible for U.S. citizenship (USC) depends on how you acquired your residency.  If your spouse applied for you, you are eligible to apply for citizenship after being a LPR for three years. If, however, you acquired residency through another familial relationship, you are eligible to apply for USC after being a LPR for five years.

In addition to timing requirements, you must be able to pass the citizenship exam.  This exam is composed of questions about American history, civics and the structure of our government. Questions might include the name of your local legislator or representative in Congress.  There are 128 possible questions to study. However, the test itself consists of 20 questions, randomly selected from the possible 128 questions.  To pass the exam, you must answer 12 out of 20 correctly.  The questions will be asked orally.

Finally, you must be able to speak, read and write basic English.  Your language ability will be revealed at the interview as you converse with the interviewing officer and take the test.  You will be asked to read one of three sentences out loud.  You must also write one of three sentences correctly.

Please note that you must meet the timing requirement as a LPR before applying for naturalization.  The fee for this application is currently $640.  You will be given two opportunities to pass the naturalization test.  If you fail any portion of the test on your first try, you will be scheduled for a second opportunity to retest that portion between 60 and 90 days after your initial interview.

Physical Presence (Continuous Residency)

The question about physical presence and continuous residency in the United States refers to the requirement that individuals cannot abandon their lawful permanent residency. Extended absences from the United States may disrupt a resident’s continuous presence.   There are some narrow exceptions (not discussed here).

The physical presence requirements mandate that an applicant be physically present in the U.S. for thirty months within the five-year period before applying for U.S. citizenship.  The requirements also state that the spouse of a qualified U.S. citizen be physically present in the U.S. for 18 months within the three-year period before applying.

Finally, you must prove that you resided in your U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district or state where you are claiming residency within the three months before applying.

Good Moral Character/Oath of Allegiance

Good moral character is another requirement for U.S. citizenship.  Conduct that offends the accepted moral standards of the community might suggest poor moral character.  Evidence of poor moral character might be seen with certain criminal history or a history of unlawful acts.  The timing that is relevant in this consideration is the statutory period before applying for citizenship up until the time you take the oath of allegiance.

However, certain crimes or unlawful acts may make you permanently ineligible for U.S. naturalization, regardless of when they occurred.

Filing Procedures

You may file your application for U.S. citizenship online or with a paper application filed by mail.  Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, must be submitted with the correct filing fee, proof of lawful permanent residency, two passport-size photographs and marriage certificate, if applicable.  If you have a criminal history, proof of this event and the final disposition must also be submitted.

Procedure After Filing

After filing, you will receive a notice acknowledging receipt of your application and the fee (“receipt notice”).  You will subsequently receive a biometrics appointment to appear at a local application support center where you will be fingerprinted.  This is to confirm your identity and run background and criminal checks, which is a good moral character requirement.

You will then wait to receive notice of the day and time to appear for your naturalization interview and exam.  Your background checks will have been completed by that time.  Please arrive prepared for your civics exam and test of basic English writing and speaking ability.

If you pass the relevant exam on your first, or possibly second try, you can then expect to receive notice of the day and time for your oath ceremony.  Until this ceremony, you cannot claim to be a U.S. citizen.  This is true even though you already passed the exam.  You remain a lawful permanent resident up until the day you are sworn in as a U.S. citizen.


Becoming a U.S. citizen is a significant accomplishment.  The requirements are notable, namely attaining a certain level of English speaking and writing proficiency, as well as good moral character and timing.  U.S. citizenship comes with certain rights and responsibilities.  A criminal history needs to be considered and assessed to determine if you are eligible for U.S. citizenship.   In order to ensure that you meet the eligibility requirements, it would be wise to consult with an experienced immigration attorney.  We would be happy to help in this regard.



Who is Castro Law Offices, P.C.?

**Castro Law Offices, P.C. is no longer offering Immigration Law Services.** We are a premier California law firm that focuses on family law in English & Spanish. Castro Law Offices, P.C. is based in Novato, California, but is ready and able to provide legal services and advice to clients in and around Marin County including Novato, San Rafael, Greenbrae, San Anselmo, Fairfax, Sausalito, Larkspur, West Marin, Ross, Mill Valley and Corte Madera. Contact Castro Law Offices, P.C. today to schedule a confidential consultation!



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