Is There Time to Become a U.S. Citizen Before the November, 2016 Election?

American flag background - shot and lit in studio

While on the road today, I caught a snippet of a radio interview in which U.S. immigrants (presumably green card holders) discussed their eagerness to apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship as soon as possible, in order to be able to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

That made me wonder: Is there time? Anything to do with the U.S. immigration bureaucracy tends to take weeks and months longer than it should. But let’s take the best-case scenario for an applicant who decides today, February 19, 2016, that he or she wants to apply. Let’s also assume that that person meets the basic citizenship criteria.

The first step would be to fill out the paperwork; no small task, because it not only involves filling out a form, but figuring out the dates of all one’s absences from the U.S. over the last several years, making a copy of one’s green card, having two passport-style photos taken, rustling up a $680 fee, and including any other relevant documentation (for example, proof of marriage to a U.S. citizen if applying after three years rather than usual five on that basis, or a medical report if claiming an exemption from the English or civics exam based on a disability).

And then the person would need to make a complete copy of the application and send it via a secure method, to protect against the all-too-real possibility that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will lose it.

Let’s assume that all of the above could be done in one week. The person would then need to mail the applications to a USCIS “lockbox,” which facility would then need to review and transfer the application to a local field office. That’s bound to take a few days right there.

Next, it becomes a matter of how quickly one’s local USCIS field office is moving. Applicants can check this on the “USCIS Processing Time Information” page, by choosing the appropriate office from the”Field Office” dropdown, then scrolling down to where it lists “N-400.”

Most offices are processing applications they received in July 2015, meaning it’s taking them seven months to interview the applicants. Los Angeles advertises only a five months’ wait. But it’s an eight months’ wait in Houston and Baltimore, and I didn’t check every field office, and the waiting periods can change depending on how many people apply at any given time.

Now let’s say the person attends the required in-person naturalization interview at a USCIS office, passes all the exams, and is approved for U.S. citizenship. That’s great, but it’s not the end of the process. First off, USCIS may not yet have received the results of the person’s fingerprint checks from the FBI and other sources, which can add weeks or months to process.

And no one becomes a U.S. citizen without attending the swearing-in ceremony. This, too, might be scheduled weeks or months after the person’s approval; though same-day swearing in is possible in some locations.

Oh, and let’s not forget actually registering to vote!

So, putting it altogether, and assuming that all goes smoothly, I’d guesstimate it would take approximately 8 1/2 months from today to successfully becoming a U.S. citizen. That’s almost exactly the amount of time left between now and the November presidential election.

If you’re hoping to apply, get moving on the process today!