Legal permanent residents (green card holders) living in California may be able to naturalize to become U.S. citizens. Naturalized citizens enjoy the same rights and privileges as U.S.-born citizens. The naturalization process requires
- filling out the N-400 form,
- attending an interview,
- passing the citizenship test, and
- taking the citizenship oath.
Aliens may qualify for naturalization after having a green card for five years (or three years if they are a spouse of a U.S. citizen). To naturalize in California, green card holders must have resided in-state for no less than three months.
In this article, our California naturalization and citizenship lawyers answer frequently-asked questions about eligibility, application processes, time frames, and fees for attaining U.S. citizenship in California.
- 1. Can I be a naturalized U.S. citizen?
- 2. When can I be naturalized in the U.S.?
- 3. How long do I have to live in California to get naturalized in California?
- 4. How do I become a U.S. citizen in California?
- 5. How long does it take to get naturalized?
- 6. How much does it cost to naturalize?
- 7. When do I take the naturalization oath in California?
- 8. Can I naturalize if I have a criminal record?
Naturalization is the process by which foreigners gain United States citizenship. Typically, aliens may qualify for naturalization in any of the following four circumstances.
- Lawful permanent residence (LPR): Foreigners who have had green cards for five years may be eligible for naturalization.
- Wedlock: Foreigners who are married to American citizens may apply for naturalization after having a green card for three years.
- Armed Forces: Foreign members of the military and their families may be able to become American citizens after one year of service.
- Birthright: Children born overseas to U.S. citizens are automatically U.S. citizens.
The usual order of events for immigrating to the U.S. involves first getting a visa, then securing a green card, and finally completing the naturalization application.1
Once a foreigner gets a green card, he/she may petition for naturalization in either:
- Three (3) years, if he/she is married to a U.S. citizen, or
- Five (5) years if he/she is not married to a U.S. citizen.
Note that military service members can usually naturalize after one (1) year.2
In order to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in California. you must have resided in the state for at least three (3) months.3
First, the legal permanent resident completes and submits the N-400 Form with the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). Afterwards, the foreigner will get instructions about giving fingerprints, attending an interview, and taking the naturalization exam.
The naturalization exam tests English language proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking. There is also a civics test portion of the exam where the USCIS asks ten (10) questions. A passing score is six (6) correct answers.
Note that in California, the applicant may be able to get fingerprinted at various immigration offices throughout the state.4
The application process takes about six (6) months.5
The naturalization fee is $640 plus $85 for fingerprinting (biometrics). Note that applicants aged 75 and older do not pay the fingerprinting fee. And members of the military pay no fee as long as they file under INA sections 328 or 329.6
If a foreigner is approved to naturalize, the final step is to go to a naturalization ceremony to take the naturalization oath of allegiance:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
The ceremony is typically held at a local courthouse or USCIS office. At the ceremony, the new citizen will return his/her green card and receive a certificate of naturalization. There the new citizen may also apply for a passport and register to vote.7
Other benefits foreigners enjoy once they naturalize include the following:
- Not risking deportation in case they commit a crime.
- Coming and going from the U.S. without limitation.
- Being eligible to receive government benefits, work at a federal job, and run for public office.
- Passing U.S. citizenship to their children, and sponsoring foreign family members to come to the U.S.
It depends on the situation. The USCIS can disqualify a person from naturalization for showing a lack of good moral character. And even a minor crime like soliciting prostitution can show a lack of good moral character.
Convictions for violent crimes such as the California crime of murder definitely disqualify aliens from becoming U.S. citizens. Another bar to naturalization includes aggravated felonies (committed after November 29, 1990), some examples of which are:
- drug trafficking
- fraud (involving $10,000 or more)
- theft or burglary (resulting in one (1) year or more of prison)
- lewdness with a minor
- child pornography
Certain crimes and jail sentences temporarily bar citizenship. This delay typically lasts three (3) to five (5) years. Examples of these crimes include:
- fraud (involving less than $10,000)
- drug crimes (other than a single offense of possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana)
- two criminal convictions that result in a prison term of at least five (5) years
- being incarcerated for at least 180 days
The USCIS can also disqualify foreigners from naturalizing for having a criminal record even if it has been expunged.8
Call a California attorney…
If you want to become a citizen of the United States, call our California immigration attorneys. We will determine your eligibility for U.S. naturalization and guide you through the entire procedure. The U.S. recognizes dual citizenship, but not all other countries do.
Also see our article on naturalization in Nevada.
- Immigration and Nationality Act
- Immigration and Naturalization Service – U.S. Department of Justice.
- U.S. Congress (congress.gov)
- United States Government
- Naturalization Records at National Archives