Frequently asked questions about citizenship

New American with certificate
A newly sworn-in U.S. citizen poses with his certificate outside Faneuil Hall in Boston.

Why should I apply to become a U.S citizen?

U.S. citizens enjoy many rights and privileges, including the right to vote, stay in the U.S., apply for federal jobs, obtain government benefits, and run for office. Citizens can also travel with a U.S. passport, petition to bring family members to the U.S., and obtain citizenship for their children. In addition, citizens are eligible for federal grants and scholarships and may be called to serve on a jury.

What are the processing times for the application for citizenship?

5.5 to 13.5 months for the Boston field office. For the Lawrence office, about 6.5 to 14 months.

How many years do you have to wait before applying for citizenship?

5 years, or 3 years if you have been married to a U.S. citizen. You may submit your application up to three months before you are eligible for citizenship.

What do you have to do to become a U.S. citizen?

You have to fill out a detailed application form (20 pages, available 11 languages), and submit it together with the required documents (see next question). Once the application is submitted, you will receive an appointment for your background check, which will be conducted by running your fingerprints through an national criminal database. The final step is an interview where you will be asked about the information you included in your application and be tested on your English skills and knowledge of U.S. history and civics.

What information and documents do I need to complete the citizenship application form?

You will need a list of your addresses for the last five years with the dates you lived there, a list of your employers for the last five years with dates you worked there, and a list of dates and places you have been outside of the U.S. for the last five years. You will also need your green card, passport(s), Social Security card, and, if any, marriage and/or divorce dates and your children’s information (names, dates of birth, addresses, and A #s). You may qualify for a fee waiver if you receive a state/federal benefit or have low income, so bring a copy of your most recent tax return, your MassHealth card, or a letter in English from the benefit provider for services such as SNAP, SSI or TANF.

Can I still apply for citizenship if I don’t speak English?

Most people will be required to speak, write, and read basic English, but many local organizations offer classes to help you prepare. You will need to be able to answer questions about your application, the civics questions, and read and write several sentences in English for your interview.

Older applicants who’ve been in the country for many years may be exempted from the English requirement and bring an interpreter to the interview: if you are at least 50 and have had your green card for at least 20 years; or if you are at least 55 and have had your green card for at least 15 years. If you are 65 or older and have had your green card for at least 20 years, you’re not only exempt from the English requirement, but you can also take a simplified version of the civics test (see below). 

How much does it cost to fill out an application with MIRA?

Our services are free, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) charges $725 to submit the application. There are full waivers available to those who receive public benefits such MassHealth, food stamps, or Section 8 housing subsidies. (Please note that these policies may soon be changed.) Even if you do not receive public benefits, you may qualify for a waiver on the basis of your income and family size, so do check with us!

We encourage those eligible to apply, to do so as soon as they can, as the fee to submit the application is expected to increase in the coming months.

What happens after my citizenship application is submitted?

You will start receiving letters from USCIS with appointments. The first one would be your biometrics, when they take your fingerprints for an FBI background check. This appointment usually happens a few weeks to a month after the application is submitted. After a few months you would receive a notice for your interview, when you will asked questions about yourself (including information you may have provided in your application) and be tested on your English skills and knowledge of U.S. history and civics. Once you pass the test, a few weeks later, you will be sent a notice for your oath ceremony, when you will take an oath of allegiance to the United States and receive your naturalization certificate showing you are now a U.S. citizen.

What is the English and U.S. history/civics test?

For the English portion, you will be given three tries to read and write a sentence in English; you need to get one correct in order to pass. For the civics and history part, there is a pool of 100 questions from which you’ll be asked 10; if you answer 6 correctly, you pass. If you are 65 or older, you can take a simpler test, with 10 questions drawn from a pool of 20 (you still must answer 6 correctly to pass). If you do not pass the interview the first time, you will be given a second interview date to try again, usually within 90 days. The timeline may vary depending on your case and how busy you are.

How can I study for my interview?

USCIS has great resources online to help you study for the civics and English test. There is a USCIS app that helps you practice the civics questions, with virtual flashcards and list of civics questions – this is also available in different languages. In addition, many organizations offer free or reduced-cost resources and classes (cost might depend on your income and where you live). If you contact us, we can provide you a list of these organizations.

My green card has expired or been lost. Can I still apply for citizenship?

Please note that your lawful permanent residence status does NOT expire with the card. The card is only proof of your status. We can help you apply for a new green card and for citizenship at the same time.

I just naturalized. My child is under 18 years old and living with me. Can I just apply for a U.S. passport instead of filling out an application for citizenship?

A: Your child is already a U.S. citizen, but to be officially recognized as such, (s)he still needs to complete another application – form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. To get the citizenship certificate, you will need to submit proof that (s)he lives with you, as well as your own naturalization certificate and other documents. 

If you choose to get a passport for your child as proof of citizenship, the passport agency still requires proof that your child derived citizenship from you. However, you can apply for a passport before filing the N-600. It’s recommended to apply for the certificate and the passport once you become a citizen. 

What if I make a mistake on my application? I’ve heard that the government is trying to revoke some people’s citizenship.

This is a rare occurrence and only happens in extreme circumstances. When it has happened, it is because USCIS looked back on the file and realized that the person provided false documents or had committed a crime prior to the time of naturalization that made them deportable. USCIS would not revoke your citizenship if you just made a mistake, like forget a specific date or forget to mention a job you had.

Can I still keep my original citizenship as well?

Although the United States does not officially recognize dual citizenship, it also does not have any laws against it. However, your home country/ other country of citizenship may have laws against dual citizenship. As part of the U.S. citizenship oath, you formally renounce your allegiance to any other country.

How soon after I get my citizenship can I register to vote?

You can register to vote immediately preceding your oath ceremony. MIRA actually sends volunteers to register New Americans as they exit their ceremonies.

Can I leave the country while my application is pending? 

There is no rule against leaving the country while your application is pending, but there will be appointments you will have to attend. It is best to consult with us or with an immigration attorney for legal advice, especially if the trip is more than a few days.

What if I’ve had trouble with the law and have a criminal record?

It is important to consult with an immigration attorney or a U.S. Department of Justice representative with specific cases. Having a criminal background doesn’t necessarily preclude you from applying for citizenship. We can help you figure out if you bring us your court documents.

Does receiving public benefits (e.g. MassHealth, food stamps) affect my ability to apply for citizenship?

The proposed public charge change would not affect legal permanent residents applying for citizenship. This is a proposed regulation that would affect people applying for a green card,  but it is proposed meaning it is still being decided whether or not it will be implemented. No one should stop using their benefits because of this. In fact, if you have MassHealth, DTA, or another means-tested benefit, or if your income is below the poverty line, you qualify for a fee waiver. As noted above, not only are our services free, but the application for a fee waiver is free as well.