Too often, naturalization applicants (and their attorneys) file the application without going through the applicant’s history to determine if they are even eligible for citizenship, and if they are, whether it’s a good idea to file. This initial eligibility analysis is worth its weight in gold.
If there are any immigration problems in your past, or if you have a criminal record – do not rely on the fact that you have a green card. People can, and do, lose their green cards and get deported because they filed for naturalization. Even if you don’t lose your green card, you may be deemed to not have been lawfully admitted, or your naturalization application will be denied. In any case, establishing that you can naturalize is a necessary first step. This means looking through your background carefully, not jumping the gun and filling out Form N-400.
The next step in the eligibility analysis is to make sure you meet all the statutory requirements. Have you had your green card long enough? How long have you been in the US in the last 5 years? How long have you been living in the state that you want to file from? These are often called the “continuity of presence” requirements. Questions like these must be answered and analyzed by your immigration lawyer.
If you are eligible, Form N-400 can be filed. You will shortly thereafter get a fingerprint notice, and (here in the Washington, DC metro area) an interview notice within 4 – 5 months. You will have to prepare for two exams: one to test your basic proficiency in English, and a second to test your knowledge of American civics and government. If you pass, you may be scheduled to take your oath of allegiance that same day. After that, congratulations! You are a citizen of the United States of America.