Understanding U.S. Citizenship requirements is important if you want to navigate the naturalization process successfully. Use this guide to determine if you are eligible to become a US Citizen.
U.S. Citizenship Requirements
U.S. Citizenship is first and foremost derived from one’s birthplace. People who are born within the United States boundaries become subject to the laws and jurisdiction of the United States as citizens from birth. Those born within territories held by the United States may be citizens at birth but also may be subject to residency requirements.
Those born in American Samoa and Swains Island are generally considered nationals but not regarded as citizens of the United States.
Additional Ways To Become A United States Citizenship
If you were born outside of U.S. borders, but one of both of your parents are United States Citizens, you are eligible for Citizenship.
By operation of law - seek legal advice for this Citizenship option.
Those who are not United States Citizens at birth may opt to become a citizen through the process of naturalization. Naturalization is defined as conferring U.S. citizenship to someone after birth by any means. A naturalization application is submitted to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) and meets the criteria established by the United States Congress.
You can use our free citizenship practice tests to prepare for you exam.
Citizenship and Naturalization Requirements
If you were not born in the United States, naturalization is the process that a person goes through to become a United States citizen. To complete the naturalization process, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be 18 Years Old – at the time of filing your N-400 Naturalization Applications.
- Be a Permanent Resident – having a green card for at least 5 years.
- Have Continuous Residence – maintaining a permanent home in the United States for at least 5 years before filing your application.
- Adequate Physical Presence – you must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the last 5 years
- State/District Residence – you must prove that you have lived for at least 3 months in the state or USCIS district where you apply.
- Good Moral Character
- Support the principles and ideals of the United States Constitution.
- Able to read, write, and speak basic English.
- Understand U.S. Civics – you must have a basic understanding of U.S. History and government (as tested by the civics portion of the U.S. Citizenship Test)
- Take an oath of allegiance to the United States.
Exceptions to Eligibility Requirements
The Immigration and Nationality Act allows certain exceptions to the continuous residence requirement for those applicants working abroad for -
- The United States government, including the Military.
- An acknowledged American institution of research
- Contractors of the United States government
- An international organization that is public
- An organization that meets the requirements delineated in the International Immunities Act
If a citizenship applicant seeks to preserve their continuous residence (for naturalization purposes) while employed outside the United States by one of the above-noted recognized institutions, simply file a Form N-470. Form N-470 is an application to preserve residence for naturalization purposes with the United States Citizenship & Immigration Service.
Any company/organization may obtain United States Citizenship & Immigration Service recognition as an American Institution of Research to allow employees to preserve their continuous residence status for its employees who are assigned out of United States' borders for a significant amount of time. The company or organization seeking this status should follow the instructions found here - Requesting Recognition as an American Institution of Research.
For more information, visit the USCIS’ A Guide to Naturalization and the USCIS Policy Manual Citizenship and Naturalization Guidance.
English Language Exemptions
Some citizenship applicants are exempt from the naturalization’s English Language Requirement, but are still required to take the Civics portion of the test if -
- The 50/20 Exception - The applicant is at least 50 years old at the time of the naturalization application, and has lived as a permanent resident (green card holder) in the United States for 20 years, or more
- The 55/15 Exception - The applicant is at least 55 years old at the time of the naturalization application and has lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years, or more
Even if one qualifies for the 50/20 or 55/15 English language exceptions as noted above, one must still sit for the Civics test as follows -
- Applicants are allowed to sit for the civics test and take the exam in their native tongue.
- Should you choose to take the test in your native language, an interpreter must accompany you in the interview.
- The chosen interpreter must be fluent in both English and your native tongue.
- Applicants that apply when they are a minimum of 65 years old (and are permanent residents for a minimum of 20 years are afforded consideration regarding the Citizenship's Civics exam.
The Rights & Privileges of U.S. Citizenship
Seeking U.S. Citizenship as an immigrant is an important decision one can make. U.S. Citizens, even naturalized citizens, equally share the privileges and rights offered by U.S. Citizenship.
United States Citizenship offers the citizen the ability to -
- Vote in federal elections
- Participate in jury duty
- Receive state and federal benefits not available to noncitizens
- Get and use a U.S. passport
- Be eligible to be elected to elective public office
- Become eligible for federal and specific law enforcement jobs
- Be able to get citizenship for children born outside the country
- Have the ability to bring family members in other countries to the United States
The Naturalization Examination
The USCIS conducts an investigation and examines all naturalization applicants to determine whether an applicant meets the legally defined eligibility requirements. The process encompasses:
- Security & criminal background checks
- Review of the applicant’s immigration record
- In-person interview(s) with oral and written testimony
- Testing for English and civics requirements
- Qualification for a disability exception
The United States Citizenship & Immigration Service officers have bestowed the authority to conduct the investigation and examination. This includes the legal authority for certain officers to -
- Administer the Oath of Allegiance
- Collect both written, oral testimony during the interview,
- Subpoena witnesses
- Request evidence
Review our complete resource on the U.S. Citizenship test for a complete breakdown of the exam.
The Background Investigation
The United States Citizenship & Immigration Service conducts an investigation of the applicant. The investigation consists of a criminal background and security checks. The security checks included in the U.S. citizenship processes include:
- The collection of collecting fingerprints
- A "name check" performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
- The USCIS performs other inter-agency criminal background and security checks, as well.
All naturalization applicants must sit for an in-person examination before a United States Citizenship & Immigration Service officer. The citizenship applicant's examination includes both an interview and the administration of United States Citizenship required tests. The applicant's interview is a fundamental component of the naturalization examination.
The officer places the applicant under oath before interviewing them. The initial naturalization examination includes –
- The review of information provided in the application and questions relating to the applicant’s eligibility for naturalization
- The administration of tests to meet naturalization requirements
The written responses by the citizenship applicants regarding the answers to the question included in the applicant's application initially submitted. It is noted that the answers provided by a citizenship applicant under penalty of perjury.
Each citizenship application differs so that the USCIS officer may choose to:
- Record the face-to-face interview as established by the USCIS. A mechanical, electronic, or videotaped device are all permitted
- Have a transcript written for the discussion
- Prepare a citizenship affidavit regarding the testimony of the applicant during the face-to-face interview process. The freedom of Information Act (FOIA) permits either the applicant or his or her authorized attorney or representative may request a copy of the record of proceedings.
USCIS may schedule an applicant for a re-examination if need to be to determine the applicant’s eligibility
The Oath of Allegiance
The final act of naturalization includes the oath of allegiance in a public ceremony to the U.S. government and Constitutions.