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Citizenship and Naturalization

You can become a United States citizen if you were born in the United States, if your parents are U.S. citizens, or if you are a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) and apply for citizenship. Be aware that even if you qualify to apply for citizenship, there can be risks (see more information below). 

Am I already a U.S. Citizen?

Were you born in the United States?

  • If yes, then congratulations you are a U.S. citizen.

Are your parent(s) or grandparent(s) U.S. Citizens?

  • If yes, then it depends on when you were born, whether one or both of your parents or grandparents are citizens, and if you meet other requirements for getting citizenship.
  • See this chart or consult an immigration lawyer. 

How do I become a U.S. Citizen?

You must be a current lawful permanent resident (green card holder) to apply to be a U.S. citizen, through a process called naturalization. 

How do I qualify?

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) for 5 years or 3 years if you received your green card through marriage.
  • Be physically present in the U.S. for at least 2.5 years of the past 5 years or 1.5 years of the past 3 years if you received your green card through marriage.
  • Be a person of good moral character.
    • Have no serious criminal charges or convictions (consult an immigration lawyer if you have been charged or convicted of a crime).
  • Be able to pass an English and civics test.
    • You do not have to take the English test if you are at least 50 years old and have been a lawful permanent resident for 20 years or more, or you are at least 55 years old and have been a lawful permanent resident for 15 years or more – you will still have to take the civics exam, but in your native language.
    • You do not have to take the English test if you are at least 65 years old and have been a lawful permanent resident for 20 years or more, and you can take a simplified civics exam in your native language.
    • You may not have to take the English exams if you qualify for a disability waiver. You will need a doctor to complete another form (N-648) in order to qualify.

Citizenship Process Overview

  1. Send an Application for Naturalization (N-400) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  2. Receive notification that your application has been received by USCIS.
  3. Go to your appointment at a local office where they will take your fingerprints to complete a background check.
  4. Receive notification for an interview at your local USCIS office.
  5. Go to your interview where you will take the English and civics exams.
  6. Get notice that tells you if your application was approved.
  7. Attend the Oath Ceremony.

Do I run any risks if I apply for citizenship?

  • Be aware of the risks.
    • To apply for citizenship, you must show that you are a person of “good moral character” for 5 years prior to applying for citizenship (3 years if you received your green card through marriage) through the time of your interview.
      • Here are some examples of issues that may cause the government to determine that you DO NOT have good moral character. This is not a complete list and you should consult an immigration lawyer if you have any doubts.
        • Criminal convictions,
        • Smuggling,
        • Alcoholism,
        • Participation in illegal gambling or prostitution,
        • Committing fraud to get a visa or green card, 
        • Practicing polygamy (being married to more than one person at the same time),
        • Failure to pay child support,
        • Failure to file taxes,
        • Voting or false claims to U.S. citizenship,
        • Having helped someone enter the U.S. illegally,
        • There are many other issues that may affect your good moral character. Please consult an immigration lawyer.
    • If you have committed certain crimes, voted, committed fraud, or have left the U.S. for a long period of time (more than 1 year), applying to become a U.S. citizen could put you in danger of deportation. You should consult an immigration lawyer if any of these issues may apply to you.

Links to naturalization eligibility

Links to citizenship clinics in Massachusetts

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated May 2016

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