How to Become a US Citizen

Ascertain how to become a US citizen by understanding the steps you have to take and requirements you must meet.

Applicants qualifying for citizenship by acquisition or derivation, have the good fortune of U.S. native born family members to establish eligibility. Citizenship by marriage or military service in a war offers applicants a fast pass to approval. Naturalization is the process by which foreign-born persons obtain citizenship. Approval of citizenship carries tremendous privileges, rights and benefits, as well as obligations.

Fundamental Ways to Obtain U.S. Citizenship

Applicants petitioning for U.S. Citizenship based on claim to native birth, or by way of marriage, military service, derivation, acquisition, or naturalization, are all considered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Citizenship through Naturalization

Naturalization is the voluntary application for U.S. citizenship. An average of nearly 1 million permanent residents apply for naturalization in the country annually. USCIS application for U.S. citizenship by naturalization may only be submitted by those who are not citizens by birth, or did not acquire citizenship from their parents.

Eligibility for U.S. citizenship application requires that the applicant be at least 18 years old; hold an unexpired green card; live in the country as a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years, or are a spouse of a U.S. citizen; a refugee, or are in receipt of your green card by way of political asylum; and you have been physically present in the jurisdiction of the United States for at least half of 5 years.

The 5 Year Rule for permanent residency prior to application to the naturalization process, permits 90-day early application to the USCIS. Refugees seeking asylum in the U.S, who have obtained green cards count each year as a permanent resident would applying for naturalization.

Those applicants married to U.S. citizens are exempt from the 5 Year Rule. If a U.S. citizen spouse is abusive, the foreign-born spouse holding the green card can file a self-petition Form I-360. This alternative to the 5 Year Rule also exempts an applicant from the minimum 3 years, enabling the immigrant victim immediate access to the benefit of naturalization. If a foreign-born spouse is applying for citizenship, and the U.S. citizen has a job requiring residency abroad, the applicant can still apply for citizenship without 5 years of permanent residence.

According to USCIS rules, a spouse's employer must be either the U.S. government; a U.S. research institution recognized by the U.S. attorney; a U.S. firm or corporation (or a subsidiary) engaged wholly or partly in U.S. interests in foreign trade and commerce; a public international organization; or religious denomination that has an organization within the United States. In this latter circumstance, the spouse must perform ministerial, priestly or missionary functions.

Conditional residents are those who obtained permanent resident status after 2 years after marriage, or authorization date of an investor visa. Spouses with a valid green card are eligible for citizenship after 3 years of marriage. In such case, to be eligible for U.S. citizenship application, no more than one year at a time should be spent outside the country; no other home has been established in another country; and have proof of residency in the state or district where the application will be filed for at least 3 months.

An additional wait time to apply for U.S. citizenship may be required if an applicant has not lived in the district or state jurisdiction where the USCIS filing will done for three months or more. Applicants found to be spending more than a year at a time outside of the United States while a permanent resident or on a visa eligible for U.C. citizenship application, may be asked to fulfill this requirement before an application will be considered.

Other requirements for U.S. citizenship application are: a god moral character; English fluency; and can pass a U.S. History and Government exam. Naturalized citizens must swear loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution. Applicants serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during war, can apply to obtain citizenship without first establishing permanent residency.

Citizenship through Acquisition

Acquisition means that an applicant qualifies at birth for U.S. citizenship, automatically. This rule applies even if an applicant is born outside the U.S. and its territories. If one parent is a U.S. citizen, a child automatically qualifies as a U.S. citizen if the parents are married to each other. A child’s parent must be present in a U.S. state or territory for a minimum of 5 years at some time before the child’s birth.

In cases where the U.S. citizen parent is a single mother at time of birth, and she has been physically present in the contiguous U.S. or one of its territories at least 1 year before birth, the child is eligible for citizenship. A child also qualifies for U.S. citizenship if the genetic father was a citizen at time of birth, regardless if the parents are unmarried.

A U.S. parent with physical custody of a minor child who was born after February 27, 2001 is the criteria to automatic entitlement to citizenship. Children adopted before the 16th birthday, living in the U.S. with parents having the physical and legal custody for two years, are eligible for citizenship. If a child was admitted entry to the U.S. as an orphan (IR-3) or Convention adoptee (IH-3) and the adoption was completed outside the country, the child has rights to citizenship.

Citizen Through Military Service

Applicants serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during war, can apply to obtain citizenship without first establishing permanent residency. Military personnel who served in peacetime can apply for naturalization if they served honorably for at least 1 year, and they have obtained a green card and filed an application while still in service, or within 6 months of separation.

Steps to Becoming a US Citizen

If becoming a citizen of the United States is your desire, follow these seven steps to applying for US citizenship:

Step One: Find Out Whether You Are Eligible

Eligibility for U.S. citizenship application requires that the applicant be at least 18 years old; hold an unexpired green card; live in the country as a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years, or are a spouse of a U.S. citizen; a refugee, or are in receipt of your green card by way of political asylum; and you have been physically present in the jurisdiction of the United States for at least half of 5 years.

Conditional residents are those who obtained permanent resident status after 2 years after marriage, or authorization date of an investor visa. Spouses with a valid green card are eligible for citizenship after 3 years of marriage. In such case, to be eligible for U.S. citizenship application, no more than one year at a time should be spent outside the country; no other home has been established in another country; and have proof of residency in the state or district where the application will be filed for at least 3 months.

Other requirements for U.S. citizenship application are: a god moral character; English fluency; and can pass a U.S. History and Government exam. Naturalized citizens must swear loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution. Applicants serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during war, can apply to obtain citizenship without first establishing permanent residency.

Step Two: Overcome Barriers to Your Ineligibility

During the application process, an applicant may find out that they are not eligible to become a citizen. An applicant seeking eligibility may also be disqualified for discontinuity of residency by spending too long outside the United States. Depending on if an applicant is granted or denied citizenship, they may be required to provide additional documents for USCIS consideration of their case. A “Granted” written notice mailed to the applicant affirms naturalization. Some applicant cases are delayed with a “Continued” notice. USCIS requires additional documents to decide the outcome of continued cases. Applicants in receipt of “Denied” notice are ineligible for citizenship.

Step Three: File USCIS Form N-400

Filing USCIS Form N-400, Application for Naturalization begins the request for U.S. citizenship. There are steps are involved in completing the naturalization process. The application form requires attachment of two passport style photographs and the documents to establish eligibility for citizenship.US Citizenship Application Form N-400 is used for obtaining US citizenship (naturalization). A completed Form N-400 (US Citizenship Application) is the required form and must be filed along with photos and supporting documents. An application receipt notice is issued for record. The progress of an applicant’s case can be monitored online. The National Customer Service Center provides direct phone access for inquiry about the status of an application.

Step Four: Get Fingerprinted

A background check will have to be performed to fulfill USCIS examination of application for naturalization. Fingerprints are required for a thorough FBI for a background check. Once the application is approved, a fingerprinting appointment will be scheduled by the USCIS. To get fingerprints taken, an applicant must be at the Application Support Center at the correct time.

Step Five: Attend a Citizenship Interview

The naturalization interview and exam are the two most critical steps in the citizenship application process. Applicants must attend a scheduled interview and be present at the location at least 30 minutes prior to the appointment. The interview is an English proficiency test conducted by a USCIS officer. Applicants over 50 years of age are exempt from the interview English proficiency test. Applicants also take a U.S. history and government exam. Disabled naturalization applicants can request reasonable accommodations.

Step Six: Attend the Oath Ceremony

Approved applicants can participate in the official naturalization ceremony where a certificate of naturalization is provided the new citizen. The Oath of Allegiance is the Swearing-In Ceremony, where approved applicants are formally affirmed as citizens. The naturalization ceremony may be held on the same day of an applicant’s naturalization interview. Approved applicants not attending a naturalization are sent a separate notice of date of ceremony with direction to the location.

Step Seven: Swear the Oath of Allegiance

Before taking the Oath of Allegiance, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony, known as Form N-445, must be completed. An immigration officer will review the answers. If the applicant passes, the officer will ask for the surrender of the applicant’s green card. After doing so, the applicant with pledge allegiance by taking the oath. He or she will then receive a naturalization certificate. All information, such as the applicant’s name, should be checked. The applicant should notify officers of any mistakes before leaving.

Advantages of U.S. Citizenship

U.S. Citizenship gives citizens the right to vote in federal elections; the ability to elect the leaders of the nation. A distinct advantage is the right to a U.S. passport for travel, as well as Social Security and Medicare. Citizens are entitled to become a federal employee, or an elected official. Citizens can apply for U.S. passports and enjoy natural born citizen rights. A U.S. citizen, you have access to a U.S. passport and U.S. government protection from unexpected issues overseas.

If you are a US citizen, you are eligible for most federal jobs abroad, including appointed diplomatic officials. Naturalized citizens can also become an elected official, with exception of the Presidency, which is reserved for natural born citizens. Family members of U.S. Citizens are entitled to bring their family to the United States. Legal residents and U.S. citizens may petition for certain qualified relatives to immigrate to the country. Relatives approved for entry, can live permanently in the country.

Inquiries about U.S. citizenship application can be submitted for legal consultation from an attorney listed with the UpCounsel marketplace. UpCounsel lawyers represent the top 5% attorneys in the United States, graduating from top law schools such as Harvard Law School and Yale Law School. UpCounsel attorneys have an average 14 years of legal experience, and have represented corporate clients like Google and Stripe.