There are two ways in becoming a United States Citizen.
Automatically Acquiring Citizenship v. Naturalization
Both Acquiring Citizenship and Naturalization are processes where a foreign-born individual becomes a Citizen of the United States.
Naturalization involves the filing of an application after the Legal Permanent Resident becomes eligible to apply for Citizenship.
Acquiring Citizenship does not likely require an application but is usually determined by law defining when an individual born outside the United States acquires Citizenship at birth or after birth when one or both parents are Citizens of the United States. In either case, a Naturalized Citizen or an individual Acquiring Citizenship hold the same rights and privileges.
The Naturalization Process.
This process is specific to foreign-born individuals who have obtained their Green Card and are legally described as Legal Permanent Residents of the United States. All Legal Permanent Residents must meet certain eligibility requirements in order to qualify to become United States Citizens, including waiting a certain period of time living within the United States before becoming eligible for Citizenship. These periods of time are known as the Continuous Residence Requirement and the Physical Presence Requirement which are determined by the legal basis that created Citizenship eligibility and in many cases the nature of the relationship with the petitioning Citizen relative.
If Legal Permanent Resident Status was obtained through a petition filed by an employer or through a family based petition filed by a Legal Permanent Resident Spouse; United States Citizen Parent; Legal Permanent Resident Parent or United States Citizen son or Daughter, the Legal Permanent Resident must reside in the United States as a Legal Permanent Resident for a period of 5-years before being eligible for Citizenship. If Legal Permanent Resident status was obtained from a petition filed by a United States Citizen Spouse, then the residence requirement within the United States as a Legal Permanent Resident is reduced to 3 years.
Whether applying based on the 5- or 3-year residency requirement, the Legal Permanent Resident must also prove that the Legal Permanent Resident has been a person of good moral character for the required period of either 5- or 3-years before applying for Citizenship.
Legal Permanent Residents applying based on the 5-or 3-year residency requirement must prove that the Legal Permanent Resident maintained a domicile or principal actual dwelling place within the United States for the 5 – or 3-year Continuous Residence Period. Extended absences outside of the United States for more than six months but less than one year create a rebuttable presumption that the absence may have disrupted the Continuous Residence Period. This means that a Resident who traveled outside the United States for a period of 6 months or more but less than one year within the 5-or 3-year period can still attempt to prove that the continuous presence was not disrupted. Examples of evidence that help prove that continuous residence was not disrupted includes:
- Evidence that the Resident’s employment in the United States was not terminated or that the Resident did not obtain employment while abroad.
- Evidence that the Resident’s immediate family members remained in the United States.
- Evidence that the Resident continued to own or lease a home in the United States.
If a Resident cannot prove that the continuous residence was not disrupted, the Resident will need to establish a new period of continuous residence.
If a Resident was absent from the United States for a period of 1 year or more, such absence will automatically break the continuous residence period. The Resident will have to reside in the United States for a new continuous period unless the Resident’s absence was a result of employment abroad by a specific type of employer including the United States government and the Resident filed form N-470 to attempt to preserve Residence for Naturalization before accruing a continuous period of 1 year abroad. Employers abroad that will exempt the Resident from the continuous residence requirement if form N-470 is properly filed include:
- The United States government, including the Military.
- Contractors of the United States government.
- Recognized American Institutions of Research.
- Public International Organizations.
- Organizations designated under the International Immunities Act.
If the Resident was absent from the United States for more than 1 year and does not qualify for the exemption and is applying based on the 5-year continuous residence requirement, the Resident will have to wait in the United States for a new period of at least 4 years and 1 day and also be able to overcome the presumption of a break in continuous residence in order to qualify again for Naturalization. If the presumption of a continuous break in residence cannot be overcome, then the Resident must wait a total period of 4 years and 6 months to qualify again for Naturalization.
If the Resident is applying based on the 3-year continuous residence requirement and was absent from the United States for more than 1 year, the Resident will have to wait in the United States a new period of at least 2 years and 1 day and overcome the presumption of a break in continuous residence or wait for a total of 2 years and 6 months to qualify again for Naturalization.
Additionally, Legal Permanent Residents applying for Naturalization based on the 5-year continuous residence requirement must prove that they were physically present in the United States for a period of 30 months within the 5-year period before applying for Naturalization.
Legal Permanent Residents applying for Naturalization based on the 3-year continuous residence requirement must prove that they were physically present in the United States for a period of 18 months within the 3-year period before applying for Naturalization.
Remember that all Legal Permanent Residents must also prove that they have resided for a period of 3 months immediately preceding the filing of the application in the USCIS district or state where the applicant resides.
A child who obtained Legal Permanent Resident status by being a victim of an abusive United States Citizen or the child of a victim abused by a United States Citizen Spouse will be able to apply for Citizenship by meeting the 3 year residency requirement.
Surviving spouses, children and parents of deceased United States Citizen Military Service Members do not need to meet the 3- or 5-year physical presence requirements.
Spouses of Citizen Military Service Members under specific conditions can count their time residing abroad with their Military Spouse towards the physical presence requirement or can be allowed to naturalize from abroad without having to meet physical presence requirements.
There are a number of factors that can derail the citizenship process. You can find out more about these by clicking here.
Applying for Citizenship.
Accomplished by filing form N-400 with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, “USCIS” attaching the required fee. After filing the application, USCIS, will process the application, will schedule a date for fingerprinting, and schedule a date for an interview with a UCSIS officer. At the interview, the officer will examine the applicant’s application to confirm eligibility and to administer a test where the applicant must answer 6 out of 10 questions pertaining to United States history, government, and law. The 10 questions are selected from a total of 100 questions that are available online that can be reviewed any time before the interview. These questions can be found by clicking here. If the applicant successfully passes the test and the officer believes that the applicant is eligible and deserves to be granted the rights and privileges of a United States Citizen, the applicant will be invited to a ceremony where the applicant will take an oath of allegiance becoming a United States Citizen. Depending on the years as a Legal Permanent Resident and the age of the Legal Permanent, the test can be provided in native language of the Permanent Resident or a simplified version will be administered to an older applicant. Furthermore, the testing requirement can be waived altogether if the applicant can prove through a professional diagnosis that the applicant suffers from a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment.
If 65 years old and Legal Permanent Resident for 20 years or more will only need to prepare for 20 out of 100 questions and then successfully answer 6 of 10 questions selected. Will also be able to take test in native language.
If 50 years old and 20 years or more as a Legal Permanent Resident or 55 years old and 15 years or more as a Legal Permanent Resident then the test can be administered in the applicant’s native language and with the help of an interpreter.
How Are Family Members Treated?
Each applicant must apply for their own citizenship and it is not extended the same way green cards are. There are some ways that people can automatically become citizens based on family relationships though.
Automatically Acquiring Citizenship
The following discussion is based on the current laws addressing acquisition of Citizenship through parents. Note that parental residency requirements and Citizenship through adoption requirements vary depending on the date of birth of the child and the law in effect at the time of birth.
There are two ways a child of a United States Citizen can automatically acquire citizenship.
Citizenship at Birth
Acquiring citizenship at birth requires that the child have two United States Citizenship parents or at least one United States Citizen parent physically present in the United States before the child was born. A child born to two United States Citizen parents is automatically a United States Citizen. A child born to one United States Citizen and a United States National requires that the Citizen parent have been physically present in the United States one year prior to the child’s birth. A child born to one United States Citizen parent and an alien parent requires that the Citizen parent reside in the United States for at least 5 years prior to the child’s birth with at least 2 out of the 5 years occurring after the parent was 14 years of age.
Citizenship after Birth
Acquiring Citizenship after birth also requires that the child have one or two United States Citizen parents regardless whether the parent or parents were United States Citizens at birth or naturalization. The child will need to be living under the physical and legal custody of the Citizen parent and to complete the process, the child must live with the Citizen parent at some point in the United States as a Legal Permanent Resident while under 18 years of age to become a United States Citizen.
If the child and/or the parent or parents meet the eligibility requirements there are no disqualifying factors. Keep in mind that parental presence requirements and other requirements may vary depending on the law in effect when the child was born.
Applying for Citizenship
Normally not required, but highly recommended to possess evidence that the foreign-born United States Citizen is a Citizen. The foreign-born United States Citizen can obtain a Certificate of Citizenship by submitting form N-600 with the required fee or applying with the United States Department of State for a United States Passport.
See Disqualification Factors above.