Chicago is a proud founder of Cities for Citizenship, a national initiative aimed at increasing citizenship among eligible U.S. permanent residents and encouraging cities across the country to invest in citizenship programs. For more information, visit citiesforcitizenship.com.
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Benefits of Citizenship
Permanent residents have many of the same rights as U.S. citizens, but certain benefits are only granted to citizens. The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is called “naturalization.” As a citizen you are able to:
- Vote. Citizenship gives you the right to vote in local, state, and national elections. Voting allows you to choose your representatives in government. You must register to vote at least one month before any election. Voter registration forms are available at your swearing-in ceremony or at any post office or library.
- Travel freely, with a U.S. passport. As a citizen, you will be able to leave the U.S. anytime and for as long as you like and then return without restrictions. To travel outside the U.S., you must obtain a passport. With a U.S. passport, you will have certain protections while traveling abroad.
- Sponsor a Relative. You can apply to bring close relatives such as your spouse, children, parents, brothers, and sisters to the United States as legal permanent residents. You will also be able to gain citizenship for children under the age of 18.
- Access jobs, scholarships and public benefits reserved for citizens. Certain jobs with the Federal government, financial aid grants and packages, and other government benefits are only available to citizens.
- Serve on a jury or run for office. The Federal government and the State of Illinois require citizenship in order to serve on a jury or run for elected office.
Requirements of Citizenship
In order to become a U.S. citizen, you must meet certain requirements. You must:
- Be at least 18-years-old;
- Have lived in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for at least five years, or three years if permanent residency was obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen;
- Be of good moral character. For example, you must have paid your taxes on time and not have been convicted of a serious crime. If any criminal record exists, please consult a lawyer or local community organization before filing your citizenship application;
- Demonstrate that you have knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and civics.
- Males between the ages of 18 and 26-years-old must register for the Selective Service System.
To become a citizen, you must be willing to swear your loyalty to the United States. You must agree to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. When you become a citizen, you accept all of the responsibilities of being an American. In return, you get the rights and privileges of citizenship.
Applying for Citizenship
Once you have determined that you are eligible for citizenship, follow these steps to apply:
- Prepare Form N-400, Application for Naturalization – this will require providing documentation of your eligibility for citizenship and having two passport-style photos taken. Form N-400 is available at the USCIS website. Be sure to read the directions of the form and submit all documentation required.
- Submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization – Illinois residents must submit their complete application and supporting documentation to USCIS, P.O. Box 21251, Phoenix, AZ 85036.
- Go to your biometrics appointment – applicants for naturalization must be fingerprinted for the purpose of conducting an FBI background check. You will be notified by mail of your biometrics appointment date, time and location.
- Complete the interview – once all the preliminary processes on your case are complete, you will receive an appointment notice for you naturalization interview. You must report to your local USCIS interview at the scheduled date and time for your interview. Bring the appointment notice with you. At the interview, you will answer questions about your Form N-400, and take the English and civics tests. If you fail the English or civics test, or have not supplied sufficient documentation, you will have the opportunity to retake the test once or to submit additional documentation.
- Receive a decision from USCIS on your Form N-400. If your application is granted, see the next step. If your application is denied, the denial notice will include instructions for appeal.
- Receive a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance – You may be able to participate in the oath ceremony on the same day as your interview. If this option is unavailable, you will be mailed a notification of the date, time and place of your scheduled oath ceremony.
- Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States – Once you have taken the Oath of Allegiance, you will receive a Certificate of Naturalization, which will mean that you are now a U.S. citizen.
To learn more about the naturalization process, view the USCIS’ 10 Steps to Naturalization pamphlet or the longer Guide to Naturalization.
For more information on becoming a citizen, visit the USCIS website. USCIS also offers citizenship resources in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.
To get help applying for citizenship, attend a citizenship workshop near you. Visit naturalizenow.org for a list of upcoming workshops in Chicago.
You can also visit your local public library for assistance. Find your nearest branch, or learn more about CPL’s “Citizenship Corners."