If you've ever wondered what it takes to become an American citizen, now's your chance to find out.

The local branch of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is inviting people to attend a rare open house Thursday at its office in Bloomington.

"It's an opportunity to come in and look around and ask questions," said Tim Counts, public affairs officer for the USCIS regional office serving Minnesota and nearby states.

The effort is a response to complaints that people are too often intimidated by the process of applying for citizenship.

Similar events are being held across the country as the agency tries to demystify its methods.

Just showing people where the branch office is located is a start. Located inside an unassuming office plaza across from the equally modest immigration courthouse, the USCIS office is easy to miss.

It sits in the shadow of two better known Bloomington landmarks: IKEA and the Mall of America.

"Unless you have a reason to come here, you don't even know we exist," Counts said.

The Minnesota open house will offer visitors light refreshments and an even lighter agenda.

There will be a short "Immigration 101" presentation followed by an informal tour of the office.

Sharon Dooley, director of the USCIS field office in Bloomington, will be there to answer questions, as will workers from the nearby Passport Office.

Although Counts assures me the open house is open to anyone, there is a list of invitees. Names on the list include politicians, judges and officials from the Mexican Consulate.

The afternoon will conclude with a short naturalization ceremony for a group from western Wisconsin, who will take the oath of allegiance to become U.S. citizens.

The open house will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday at USCIS office, 2901 Metro Drive, Bloomington. The ceremony will be at 3 p.m.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488