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
How to Become a U.S. Citizen
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Applying for Citizenship – 10 Step Naturalization Process
To become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you should follow the following 10 step process:
1. Determine if you are already a United States Citizen
- If you were born in the United States or a U.S. territory you may already be a U.S. citizen
- If at least one of your parents is a U.S. citizen (by birth or naturalization) you may already be a U.S. citizen
2. Determine your eligibility to become a U.S. citizen
- Review the Citizenship and Naturalization requirements listed earlier in this article
- Review the USCIS Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet
3. Prepare your Naturalization Application (Form N-400).
- Complete the N-400 and sign
- Get two passport style photographs taken (if you live outside the U.S.)
- Gather the required documents. See the document checklist for complete list
4. Submit your Application
- Include biometric service fees if applicable
- If you are seeking an exemption from the English and/or civics requirements because of a disability or impairment, include Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions
- Include any required documentation necessary to prove your eligibility
- Include two passport style photographs if you reside outside of the United States
- You can check on the status of your application by calling 1-800-375-5283
5. If applicable, go to your biometrics appointment
- Applicants for U.S. citizenship are required to pass a FBI criminal background check. You will need to provide biometrics (fingerprints and photograph)
- You will receive a notice for the biometrics appointment
- You must attend the biometrics appointment and have your photograph and fingerprints taken
6. Complete the Interview Process
- Once the preliminary processes are complete, you will be contacted by the USCIS to schedule an interview
- You will be asked questions about your N-400 application form
- You will take the English and civics portions of the Citizenship Test (unless you are exempt)
- Following your interview, you will be provided a “Notice of Interview Results”
- In some cases, your case will need to be continued. In most cases this is because you failed either the English or civics portion of the naturalization test or you did not supply the required evidence/documentation
7. Receive a written notice of decision – the decision will show one of the following statuses:
- Granted – Form N-400 is approved
- Continued – If you fail your English/Civics tests or don’t provide sufficient evidence/documentation
- Denied – Your form can be denied if USCIS deems that your record establishes that you are not eligible for naturalization
8. Receive a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance
- If your form N-400 is approved, you will participate in a naturalization ceremony where you will swear an Oath of Allegiance. The naturalization ceremony can be on the same day or scheduled at a later date.
9. Take the Oath of Allegiance
- You are not an official U.S. citizen until you take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony.
- You must complete Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony
- At the ceremony, you will
- Have your N-445 form reviewed by USCIS
- Turn in your Permanent Resident Card
- Recite the Oath of Allegiance
- Receive your Certificate of Naturalization
10. Understand U.S. Citizenship – As a U.S. Citizen, you have the following rights and responsibilities
When one becomes a citizen, they receive a Certificate of Naturalization. To receive a certified copy of a Certificate of Naturalization, follow this link.
Should I become a U.S. Citizen? - U.S. Citizenship vs. Permanent Resident
Many permanent residents wonder if becoming a U.S. citizen is worth it. Permanent residents have most of the rights of U.S. citizens but are missing some very important rights and privileges. The following list contains the most important rights that a citizen has that aren’t available to permanent residents, giving you further evidence of why completing your naturalization test is so vital.
Rights of US Citizens
We touched on some rights of U.S. Citizens above, but here is a more in-depth look at some of those rights.
- Voting – Citizens can vote in federal elections. In addition, most states do not allow permanent residents to vote in state elections.
- Jury Service – You cannot serve on a federal jury unless you are a U.S. citizen. Most states also restrict jury service to citizens.
- U.S. Passport Travel – As a citizen, you can travel worldwide with a U.S. passport. Along with this, a U.S. passport allows you to get assistance from the U.S. government if necessary.
- Ability to Work for the Federal Government – Many government jobs require U.S. citizenship, so if you have an interest in this sector, or think your skills could be put to work in the government in the future, you should strongly consider completing your Citizenship Test.
- Ability to Utilize Government Benefits – Some government benefits are not available to permanent residents, only to those who have become citizens through the nationalization test.
- Ability to Take Advantage of Federal Grants and Scholarships – Many college scholarships, financial aid grants, and other government funds are only available to U.S. citizens.
- Ability to Bring Family Members to the U.S. – As a citizen, your petition to bring family members permanently to the United States will be prioritized, something which is not the case for permanent residents.
- Ability to Become an Elected Official – To run for a federal office, such as the Senate or House of Representatives, you must be a citizen. Most state and local offices also require citizenship.
- Maintain your Residency – As a U.S. citizen, your right to remain in the U.S. cannot be revoked. If you have established work, family, and social ties to the U.S., becoming naturalized through a citizenship test is certainly beneficial.
- Obtain Citizenship for Minors – In most cases, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen is automatically a U.S. citizen.
The Cost of Becoming a U.S. Citizen
The cost to apply for U.S. citizenship is as follows:
- 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.