This is your complete guide on how to become a U.S. citizen. Learn the definition and value of becoming a U.S. citizen, how to apply for citizenship, and how to pass the U.S. citizenship test.
Defining U.S. Citizenship
U.S. Citizenship bestows upon an individual certain entitlements, benefits, and obligations. Citizenship establishes the right of protection by the U.S. Constitution and the defining law of the land.
A U.S. citizen has the freedom/right to:
- Live and work within U.S. Borders
- Enter and leave the United States, at will
- Hold public office
- Apply for work in the federal government
A United States citizen is obligated to:
- File and pay taxes
- Comply with jury duty requests
- At times, military participation
A U.S. citizen receives these benefits:
- U.S. Embassy protection beyond U.S. Borders
- The ability to sponsor relatives in foreign countries
- Automatic citizenship granted to children of 2-U.S. citizens living abroad
- Invest in Real Estate without concern about the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA 96-499) being triggered.
The Value of U.S. Citizenship
As a country, the United States is built upon a principle that welcomes immigrants from across the globe. The United States seeks and appreciates the contributions of immigrants who take refuge here – despite the reason that may have brought them to U.S. shores.
The concept of U.S. citizenship represents the notions of opportunity and freedom. U.S. citizens adhere to the belief that all people are equal and committed to the future betterment and protection of the United States.
When does U.S. Citizenship begin?
U.S. Citizenship starts at birth if:
- You are born in the United States – this includes territories and possessions of the U.S., or,
- You are born outside the United States borders to U.S. citizens (includes additional requirements)
There are two ways to become a United States citizen after birth. They are -
- To “Acquire” citizenship through one’s parents, or
- To Apply for naturalization
U.S. Citizenship through Naturalization
The decision to become a U.S. citizen divulges the applicant’s commitment and loyalty to the country and the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, U.S. citizens enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship, as discussed above.
Before beginning the naturalization journey, be certain you are eligible for U.S. citizenship. In other words, are you a permanent resident here lawfully (i.e. do you have a green card)? Note, however, there are additional eligibility requirements.
The Naturalization Process
Becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States requires commitment and dedication.
The process of naturalization confers upon an individual the rights, privileges, and obligations of U.S. citizenship. It is a process by which a non-U.S. citizen chooses to become an American citizen.
The individual applying for citizenship is fully responsible for delivering information that establishes they have met the U.S. citizenship eligibility requirements.
These eligibility requirements include -
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Submit the completed The Application for Naturalization (Form N-400).
- Demonstrate good moral character (GMC) for at least five years before taking the Oath of Allegiance.
Oath of Allegiance
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
The Naturalization Act of 1790 created the concept of Good Moral Character (GMC). This act started the requirement for those applying for citizenship to be of Good Moral Character. Conduct or behavior that offends or violates the moral character of the residents of a community is unacceptable. USCIS has set forth a list of criminal conduct that automatically prevents an applicant from being considered an individual with Good Moral Character (GMC).
A USCIS officer assesses, on a case-by-case basis, if an applicant meets the Good Moral Character standards based on:
- An applicant’s legal record; & information provided on the citizenship application
- Statements made during the interview process
- A minimum of five consecutive years as a Green Card holder (i.e., a lawful U.S. resident); or at least three years as a Green Card holder while being the spouse of a U.S. citizen. A Green Card cannot be expired on the day an application of citizenship is submitted.
- Be physically present within U.S. borders for 30 months within the above-noted five-year requirement.
- Be physically present within U.S. borders for a minimum of three months, up until the filing date.
- The ability to pass a written citizenship test about American history and the workings of the U.S. government. [The naturalization test is detailed in the next section.]
- Speak, write and read English.
Before 1906, applicants for U.S. citizenship were not required to speak/read/write English, to know U.S. history or to understand the principles of the U.S. Constitution. Before the early 20th century, a court decided if the applicant was a person of good moral character and law abiding.
Naturalization exams taken for U.S. citizenship in the 19th Century are difficult to find because a judge decided whether or not to approve a citizenship application.
- Schedule and complete an Interview with USCIS personnel
- Act upon notice from the USCIS regarding the U.S. citizenship application decision of Granted, Continued (i.e. need more information), or Denied.
When one becomes a citizen, they receive a Certificate of Naturalization. To receive a certified copy of a Certificate of Naturalization, follow this link.
Note – a lawyer may represent citizenship applicants; however the government will not reimburse the applicant for attorney fees. The G-28 Form (Notice of Appearance as Attorney) must be filed if an applicant is to be represented during the interview process.
The U.S. Naturalization Test
The naturalization test for U.S. citizenship allows those vying for citizenship to demonstrate their understanding of American civics. This includes American History, the principles of the U.S Constitution, and the ways in which the United States government operates.
A Brief History
1891 – The Superintendent of Immigration (pre-INS) began in the Department of the Treasury.
1903 – The Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) was created and transferred to the Department of Commerce & Labor.
1913 – The INS was transferred to the Department of Labor.
1940 – The INS was transferred to the Department of Justice. Certain revisions occurred regarding language requirements and the addition of specific exemptions.
1952 – The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) passed with numerous modifications to the then existing immigration law. The INA is a part of Title 8 of the United States Code – Aliens & Nationality.
1994 – An exception was added to immigration law regarding certain medical disabilities and the English language requirement based on specific age/residence conditions.
2000 – The Child Citizenship Act enacted.
2003 – The INS was dismantled. INS functions were divided among the USCIS, ICE and the Border Patrol.
2008 – The USCIS redesigned the naturalization tests to ensure equal testing experiences for all.
Preparing for the U.S. Naturalization Test
Like any test, the best way to optimize the result is to thoroughly prepare. There are many options to help citizenship applicants to prepare for the naturalization test.
- An MP3 Audio of One Hundred Civics Questions/Answers
- Study Materials
- Learn to speak English
- A Free Naturalization Self-Test
- A Test Process & Interview Process Video
- Webpage on How to Apply for U.S. Citizenship
- The USCIS Resource Center
The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services’ website offers tremendous guidance regarding the process of naturalization.
The Grandparent Rule
In 1994, the Immigration and Naturalization Services modified Section 322 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA). The revision made it possible for the child of a United States citizen (who did not receive U.S. citizenship at birth) to acquire U.S. citizenship through a grandparent’s physical presence within United States borders.
In 2000, the Child Citizenship Act, was modified to allow a child (adopted or biological), who typically lives outside U.S. borders with a parent who is a U.S, citizen, the ability to acquire citizenship. For this to occur, the following requirements must be met:
- The parent must be the child’s legal guardian, with custodial responsibility.
- The application (Form N-600K) must be submitted. The parent, grandparent or legal guardians are the only people permitted to submit the N-600K citizenship form.
- Both the child and parent must sit for the interview within U.S. borders.
- The child must take the Oath of Allegiance. This is a requirement for children who are fourteen or older.
Dual Citizenship or Nationality
United States law does not mandate that an individual decide to choose one country’s citizenship over another’s. As such, it is possible that someone becomes a U.S. citizen and, at the same time, remains a citizen of another country. In the law, this phenomenon is referred to as dual citizenship or dual nationality.
However, dual citizens must be cautious when traveling abroad as dual citizens are obligated to obey the laws of both (or all) countries to which they are citizens. Should a dual citizen have inquiries regarding the policies and laws of a specific country, it is best to contact that country’s consulate or embassy.
Those who are dual citizens (of which one citizenship is a U.S. citizenship) must enter and leave the United States’ (and its territories) using their United States passport. The same is true when entering or leaving any other country to which someone may hold dual citizenship.
For those wishing to renounce their U.S. citizenship, follow the guidance from USA.gov.
The Cost of Becoming a U.S. Citizen
The cost to apply for U.S. citizenship is as follows:
|Filing Fee||$ 640|
|Biometric Fee||$ 85|
Applicants beyond the age of 75 are not required to pay the Biometric Fee, only the filing fee of $640.
Applicants who are military members have all fees waived.