U.S. citizenship gives a person all the rights that the U.S. has to offer; for example, the right to vote, to petition for family members to immigrate, and to live abroad without losing your right to return. For these reason, citizenship is not easily obtained.
Naturalization is the process of obtaining United States Citizenship. One can obtain naturalization automatically, by operation of law, or through a process of affirmative application through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
(1) Automatic Citizenship
Individuals who are born in the U.S. are automatically citizens upon birth. There are limited exceptions for those who are born to foreign heads of state or on foreign vessels in U.S. Waters.
In addition, certain individuals born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or parents may be citizens at birth. The rules for automatic citizenship for those who are born abroad are extremely complicated and vary depending upon the year in which the individual seeking citizenship was born.
(2) Derivation of Citizenship by Naturalization of One or Both Parents
Children born outside the U.S. who have not acquired citizenship at birth may still derive citizenship when one or both parents naturalize.
Under current law, a child derives citizenship if one parent is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization, and the child is under 19, is a lawful permanent resident, and is residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent. Stepchildren do not qualify under these provisions.
(3) Citizenship through Military Service
Members of the Armed Forces are allowed to naturalize under liberalized rules. To qualify the applicant must have served honorably for three years in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
(4) Naturalization through Affirmative Application
All individuals applying for citizenship through an affirmative application for naturalization must first have a “Green Card” (permanent residence) and then meet other requirements, listed below.
- Must be at least 18 years old;
- Have continuously resided in the U.S. for five years after becoming a permanent resident (three years if married to a U.S. citizen);
- At least half of the permanent residency time must have
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been spent physically in the U.S.;
- Must have lived for at least three months in the jurisdiction where the application will be filed;
- Must demonstrate good moral character for the entire period of residence required (5 or 3 years);
- Must be able to speak, read, and write in English;
- Must be able to pass t test covering U.S. history and government; and
- Must be willing to take the oath of citizenship.
Certain individuals are not eligible for citizenship even if they have met the above requirements. These include people who have held certain ideological beliefs and people who have deserted the U.S. military. While criminal offenses do not of themselves preclude a person from being naturalized, people with aggravated felony convictions after 1989 are unable to show good moral character.