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US Citizenship: How to Become an American Citizen

Deciding to become a US citizen can be one of the most important decisions in an individual's life. If you decide to apply to become a US citizen, you will be showing your commitment to the United States and your loyalty to its Constitution. In return, you are rewarded with all the rights and privileges that are part of US citizenship through naturalization. This is how to get American citizenship!

How To Get US Citizenship

Thousands of individuals each year are preparing and completing all the necessary steps to become a US citizen. Becoming a US citizen is also referred to as the Naturalization process. There are different requirements for those becoming a citizen at birth, after birth, or through naturalization which has ten steps to it. Here is what you need to know about the US naturalization test as well as cover the benefits that come with becoming a US citizen!

If you meet certain requirements, you may become a US citizen either at birth or after birth.

To become a citizen at birth, you must:

  • Have been born in the United States or certain territories or outlying possessions of the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States OR
  • had a parent or parents who were citizens at the time of your birth (if you were born abroad) and meet other requirements

To become a citizen after birth, you must:

  • Apply for “derived” or “acquired” citizenship through parents
  • Apply for naturalization

To be eligible to become a United States citizen through naturalization, you must:

  • Be 18 years or older
  • Be a Permanent Resident of the United States, and I have been issued a Permanent Resident Card (formerly called Alien Registration Card)
  • Have had a Permanent Resident (Green) Card for at least five years, or for at least three years if you’re filing as the spouse of a U.S. citizen
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic English
  • Be a person of good moral character

You must also go through the ten-step naturalization process which includes:

  • Determining your eligibility to become an American citizen
  • Preparing and submitting form N-400, the application for naturalization
  • Taking the U.S. Naturalization Test and having a personal interview

US Citizenship for Military Members and Dependents

Members and veterans of the U.S. armed forces and their dependents may be eligible for special naturalization provisions. For more information, visit the Citizenship for Military Personnel & Family Members page.

To become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you must pass the naturalization test. At your naturalization interview, you will be required to answer questions about your application and background. You will also take an English and civics test unless you qualify for an exemption or waiver.

If you do not pass the test, you will be given two opportunities to take the English and civics tests and to answer all questions relating to your naturalization application in English. If you fail any of the tests at your initial interview, you will be retested on the portion of the test that you failed (English or civics) between 60 and 90 days from the date of your initial interview.

English Language Test

The English proficiency test demonstrates that the applicant will be able to take part in the economic and social aspects of life in the U.S. The test has three parts:

  • Reading: To test reading ability, an applicant may be asked to read out loud certain parts of Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
  • Writing: To test writing ability, an applicant will be asked to write one or two simple sentences.
  • Speaking: An applicant’s speaking ability will be tested when the applicant answers questions about himself or herself during the course of the interview.

The applicant need not be bilingual to pass this test; basic proficiency is adequate. If you have problems with English, you may want to consider taking an English as a Second Language course prior to naturalization.

Learn more about the US Citizenship Test

Civic Test

The civics test covers basic U.S. history and knowledge of government. Applicants may receive a waiver if they have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that impacts their capacity to learn and/or understand the relevant information. Additionally, applicants who have been living in the U.S. legally for over twenty years, and who are over 65, may receive special consideration on this test.

Citizenship Through Parents

There are two general ways to obtain citizenship through U.S. citizen parents: at birth, and after birth but before the age of 18. Congress has enacted laws that determine how citizenship is conveyed by a U.S. citizen parent(s) to children born outside of the United States.

Who May Qualify

The law in effect at the time of birth determines whether someone born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen parent(s) is a U.S. citizen at birth. In general, these laws require that at least one parent was a U.S. citizen, and the U.S. citizen parent had lived in the United States for a period of time. A child for citizenship and naturalization provisions is an unmarried person who is:
  • The genetic, legitimated, or adopted son or daughter of a U.S. citizen; or
  • The son or daughter of a non-genetic gestational U.S. citizen mother who is recognized by the relevant jurisdiction as the child’s legal parent.

Children of US Citizens Living in the US

Children who were born outside the U.S. but now live in the U.S. may acquire citizenship under Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). A child born outside of the United States automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when all of the following conditions have been met on or after Feb. 27, 2001:
  • The child has at least one parent, including an adoptive parent, who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization
  • The child is under 18 years of age
  • The child is a lawful permanent resident
  • The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.

Children of US Citizens Living Outside of the US

Children residing outside of the United States may obtain citizenship under Section 322 of the INA. A child who regularly resides outside of the United States is eligible for naturalization if all of the following conditions have been met:
  • The child has at least one parent, including an adoptive parent, who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization
  • The child’s U.S. citizen parent or U.S. citizen grandparent meets certain physical presence requirements in the United States or an outlying possession;
  • The child is under 18 years of age
  • The child is residing outside of the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent, or of a person who does not object to the application if the U.S. citizen parent is deceased
  • The child is lawfully admitted, physically present, and maintaining a lawful status in the United States at the time the application is approved and the time of naturalization

Benefits of Becoming a US Citizen

The advantages of becoming a U.S. citizen over a permanent resident are many. Here are the top ten:

  • No Need To Renew Your Green Card. As a United States citizen you will not need to renew your green card every 10 years. In addition, you will no longer be required to carry your green card with you.
  • The Risk of Deportation is Highly Reduced. As a naturalized citizen, you’ll have just as much right as any other American to live and work in the United States. Even if you’re charged with a crime in the future, you’ll be able to stay in the United States.
  • Ability to Take Long Trips Outside the United States. You will be allowed to take long trips out of the United States without the risk of losing your ability to return. **If you leave the United States for more than 180 days, then you, as a permanent resident, can lose your green card upon re-entry into the United States. The immigration officer can deem that you have abandoned your green card. If you know you are leaving the United States for more than 6 months you should speak to an immigration attorney. You may be able to obtain a re-entry permit prior to leaving the United States. This would allow you to travel out of the United States for as long as 2 years without abandoning your green card.**
  • Ability to Obtain a U.S. Passport. U.S. citizens have the right to obtain a passport and the ability to obtain assistance from U.S. Embassies and Consulates when traveling in other countries.
  • Ability to Obtain Federal Benefits. Upon naturalizing, you’ll gain full access to certain government assistance programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, which green card holders can access only for a limited time. You’ll also be able to take advantage of most federal college assistance programs that are not available to non-U.S. citizens.
  • Ability to Petition More Family Members. United States citizens can petition more types of family members into the United States than green card holders. Only U.S. citizens may petition parents, siblings, and married children. In addition, in the cases where both U.S. citizens and green card holders may do a petition (such as for spouses), the wait time is generally significantly shorter for U.S. citizens’ relations.
  • No longer have to deal with immigration paperwork. You won’t need to renew your green card or pay immigration filing fees. You also won’t have to notify USCIS every time you move.
  • Ability of Your Green-Card-Holding Children to Become U.S. Citizens. When you become a U.S. citizen, your unmarried children under 18 will automatically become U.S. citizens, too. However, they must meet the following criteria: They must be lawful permanent residents; they must be residing in the United States; and they must be in the legal and physical custody of the naturalizing parent.
  • Ability to Obtain Federal Jobs, Grants, and Other Government Benefits. Certain jobs require U.S. citizenship. These include many local, state, and federal government jobs. Many federal grants and scholarships are available only to U.S. citizens.
  • Ability to Vote and to Run for Public Office. Only United States citizens may vote. Naturalized U.S. citizens can run for most elected public offices.

Applying for Citizenship in the United States Can Be Difficult

The US citizenship application process can be very complex, time consuming and difficult. It is therefore essential that if you are considering applying for United States citizenship, you get professional immigration help. We are familiar with the requirements and skilled at improving an applicant’s chances of approval.

How We Can Help You Get Citizenship

We have helped thousands of immigrants successfully become American citizens and we can help you too. Our firm boasts 15 years of experience in working with adult permanent residents. We know what the United States immigration department requires, and how to meet all deadlines and expectations.

Want To Become A US Citizen?

The first step towards successfully becoming a US citizen is getting an assessment of your case. Call us or fill out our immigration assessment form and we will get back to you within 24 hours to discuss your eligibility and options.