A person is a U.S. citizen at birth if born in the United States or in certain incorporated territories or, under special circumstances, born outside the United States where one or both parents are United States citizens or become naturalized U.S. citizens.
The process whereby a person becomes a U.S. citizen other than by birth is called Naturalization.
General Eligibility for U.S. Naturalization
An individual is eligible for U.S. naturalization if all of the following conditions are satisfied:
- U.S. lawful permanent resident
- Eighteen years of age or older
- Resident of the U.S. for five years subsequent to a grant of U.S. lawful permanent residence. The length of time is less for certain spouses of U.S. citizens
- Physically present in the U.S. for at least 50% of the five years. The length of time is less for certain spouses of U.S. citizens
- Reside continuously within the U.S. from the date of submission of the naturalization application until oath ceremony
- Not absent from U.S. for a period of 365 consecutive days during the five years immediately preceding the naturalization application, with limited exceptions
- Residence for at least three months within the state in which the naturalization application is filed
- Has good moral character for the fives years immediately preceding the naturalization application
- Attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution
- Willing to bear arms on behalf of the United States
- Pass an examination on U.S. civics
- Able to speak, read and write English, with limited exceptions
Special Rules Regarding Eligibility for U.S. Naturalization
Reduced Time of U.S. Lawful Permanent Residency for Certain Spouses of U.S. Citizens
If a U.S. lawful permanent resident is married to a U.S. citizen the residency requirement is reduced from five years to three years. However, at the time of filing the naturalization application, the U.S. permanent resident must still be married to the U.S. citizen spouse. Further, the couple must actually be living together for at least three years prior to filing the naturalization application. The rule does not require the spouse to be living with the U.S. citizen after the naturalization application is filed. However, the couple must still be married at the time of naturalization.
During this reduced three year period, the individual must be physically present in the U.S. for at least 50% of the three year period.
Certain Individuals May Apply for Naturalization Even if Outside the U.S. for More than 365 days
Employees working overseas for the U.S. government, an American research institute, U.S. firm engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce, or a public international organization where the U.S. is a member are allowed to apply for naturalization notwithstanding the fact they have been outside the U.S. for more than 365 consecutive days. See Section 316(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Further, certain U.S. lawful permanent spouses married to U.S. citizens working overseas for a U.S. company may apply for expedited U.S. citizenship regardless of any residency requirements.
Conditional Permanent Residents May Apply for Naturalization
A conditional permanent resident may apply for naturalization even if the conditional basis of residency has not been lifted as long as the individual has accrued the requisite residency period. See Section 319(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
English Language Requirement
The English language requirement is waived for the following applicants:
- Persons who are over the age of fifty and living in the United State for more than twenty years subsequent to U.S. lawful permanent residence status.
- Persons who are over the age of fifty five and living in the United State for more than fifteen years subsequent to U.S. lawful permanent residence status.
- Persons who are certified as being physically or developmentally disabled or have a mental impairment. Civics Examination RequirementPersons who are over sixty fives years of age and living in the United States for more than twenty years subsequent to U.S. lawful permanent residence status will be allowed special consideration regarding the civics examination. Specifically, the civics examination will be a test of ten out of twenty civics questions in the applicant’s own language and the applicant need only answer six questions correctly.
Naturalization Application Procedures
A lawful permanent resident must file an application with the USCIS. Upon receipt, the USCIS will issue a Biometrics Appointment Notice for the applicant to submit fingerprints at an Application Support Center (ASC) for the FBI background check. Once the FBI background check is complete, the USCIS issues a Notice of Interview for the applicant to attend a personal interview and undergo a test of English and knowledge of U.S. civics. Processing times vary widely between the USCIS field offices.
If an applicant passes the requisite tests and interview, the applicant is scheduled to attend an Oath Ceremony where he/she is sworn in as a United States citizen. The USCIS will issue a Certificate of Naturalization as proof of U.S. citizenship.
Once a person becomes a U.S. citizen, he/she should apply for a U.S. passport. U.S. law requires all U.S. citizens entering the United States to possess a U.S. passport. The U.S. recognizes dual nationality, meaning a person may possess multiple passports from other countries. However, not all countries allow their citizens to become citizens of other countries. The U.S. does not notify other countries when their national become U.S. citizens.
Once a person becomes a U.S. citizen, he/she is eligible to vote. The newly naturalized citizen must complete and submit a Voter Registration Application before being allowed to vote.