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How Long Is the Process of Becoming an American Citizen?

Naturalization is the highest benefit awarded by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Foreigners who wish to receive this benefit normally have to wait a minimum of three to five years as U.S. residents before they’re eligible to become American citizens, and in some cases less than a year if they served in the Armed Forces during wartime, but the reality of this benefit is that it often ends up taking much longer.

The most common path to naturalization is through the process President Donald Trump derisively calls “chain migration,” also known as family-based immigration. First Lady Melania Trump and her parents were born in Slovenia. They are all naturalized U.S. citizens because they completed the family-based immigration process. In the case of the First Lady, she became eligible to apply for naturalization three years after she married the man who is now President. Her parents became eligible five years after being sponsored and admitted into the country for the purpose of pursuing green cards. 

Military naturalizations have gone through several rule changes since the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s. Back then, only conditional residents were allowed to enlist unless they obtained an expedited waiver from a Member of Congress, and they had to wait five years. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, military members were able to apply for citizenship on the second day of their enlistment, which meant the process could have started while they were still in basic training. However, the Trump administration put an end to this expedited process in 2017.

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are lawful residents must now go through a military security suitability determination process, which can only start after six months of service during wartime and after one year during peacetime. Immigration law firms have pointed out that the new military determination process has added a new layer of bureaucracy to the military naturalization process, which can now take just as long as a family-based application.

Under ideal conditions, it should take six months from the time naturalization applications are received to the time applicants are scheduled for a ceremony. However, the current processing time for the N-400 is 10.3 months if no issues are encountered. Should there be a snag with the biometrics appointment or background investigation, the process could be considerably extended. The USCIS has not yet released processing times for the N-426 form that is now used for military naturalizations.

Foreigners who experienced a smooth process when getting their green cards shouldn’t automatically expect the same when they submit their N-400 or N-426 forms. Issues can arise each time the USCIS has to do a background investigation, and there’s always the potential of the case being audited and taking longer than expected. For this reason, retaining the services of a San Diego immigration law firm is always recommended.

Get in touch with KS Visa Law if you’d like more information on issues such as naturalization and family-based immigration. San Diego residents can call 858-874-0711 today to schedule an appointment.

May 2024