United States Citizenship, Explained

United States citizenship is highly desired by millions of people worldwide. There are several reasons for that. One of them is that you can obtain federal benefits available only to U.S. citizens...

United States Citizenship, Explained

What exactly does it mean to be a U.S. citizen? There are plenty of benefits that come with citizenship, but it’s not as easy to get as you might think. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines it as, having been born in the United States or having been naturalized to become a citizen. In the United States, there are two main paths to citizenship. If you were born in the U.S. or moved there at a young age, you’re probably an American citizen; this path is called jus soli and was established by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Jus sanguinis, or citizenship by bloodline, is for those who have become citizens through their parents or ancestors, even if they’ve never set foot on U.S. soil.

To become a U.S. citizen, you’ll need to complete several steps through both the federal government and the state in which you live. Here’s everything you need to know about United States citizenship, from prerequisites like age and length of residency to how to apply, how long it takes, and what happens if you get turned down. All the other important details are explained here in this guide to the United States citizenship. Whether you’re planning on applying soon or just want to know what you’re getting into if you were born in the U.S. but aren’t yet eligible to become a citizen, make sure you read through this article before making any decisions that could affect your life significantly.

Understanding United States Citizenship

US citizenship is a legal status that entails Americans with specific rights, duties, protections, and benefits in the U.S. United States citizenship serves as a foundation of fundamental rights derived from and protected by the constitution and laws of the country, such as freedom of expression, the right to vote, live and work in the U.S., and to also receive federal assistance.

Although, I mentioned earlier that there are just two main sources to obtaining U.S. citizenship; through birth and after birth. There are four fundamental ways immigrants can become U.S. citizens: citizenship through marriage in the U.S., citizenship through derivation (through parents), citizenship through the military, and citizenship through naturalization. However, most immigrants in the United States obtain citizenship through the naturalization process.

How is it Different From Simply Having a Green Card?

Anyone who is a permanent resident in America can apply for US citizenship after being legally accepted into that program. However, it’s not an automatic acceptance; applicants must meet certain requirements to obtain US citizenship. Permanent residents who are eligible for US citizenship will receive a certificate of naturalization by mail after filing Form N-400 and paying all associated fees. The process usually takes between 6 and 12 months but may take longer or shorter depending on your situation. Once you have received your certificate of naturalization, you become a citizen with full rights.

There are some differences between those with green cards and citizens when it comes to traveling outside of the country. For example, citizens have more flexibility when traveling outside of the country because they do not need prior approval from USCIS before leaving and returning to their home country while green card holders must wait at least three years before they can leave without seeking permission from USCIS first.

What Are the Different Ways to Become U.S. a Citizen?

There are several paths that you can take to become a U.S. citizen, you just have to find out more about each of the U.S. citizenship pathways, and know the one that's the best for you. Immigrants from all over the world dream of living out the American dream and starting a life in the United States. People who want to experience the American dream have the chance to do so, as long as they qualify based on the method they choose for becoming citizens.

Most commonly, immigrants begin their life in the U.S. by getting a Green Card to become lawful permanent residents. But Green Card is not the only way to become a proud citizen of the States. Becoming a U.S citizen will give you many more rights than that of a Green Card holder and comes with many benefits.

The U.S. citizenship application process is complex, with each citizenship pathway having its own set of specific requirements. This guide will help you to understand each of the pathways available, and how you can apply and fulfill your dream of becoming a citizen of the United States using them.

Citizenship Through Naturalization

Naturalization refers to the process in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen. For foreign nationals, citizenship through naturalization is the most common way to become a U.S citizen. Although foreigners can still be eligible for other pathways. There are several requirements that must be fulfilled before an individual can apply for citizenship. Generally, the main requirement to be able to apply for naturalization is to be a green card holder or permanent resident of the U.S. You must have held lawful permanent resident status in the U.S for at least five years to be eligible for naturalization.

Citizenship Through Marriage

Obtaining United States citizenship is possible if you are married to a US citizen. If you are married to a U.S citizen then you could be eligible to apply for a Green Card. Your spouse will have to submit Form I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative. This form helps you apply for your green card. It establishes a relationship between you and your spouse. But there are some things you will need to prove before being able to obtain that green card. Basically, you will need to prove that your relationship is genuine and will need to provide documents, this can be your marriage certificate. After becoming a Green Card holder, you can apply for naturalization as a U.S citizen. However, petitioning a relative for a green card requires a lot of paperwork.

Citizenship Through Parents

Furthermore, U.S. citizenship can also be obtained through the status of your parents. If both of your parents were born in the U.S. and are married, then you are automatically entitled to U.S. citizenship by birth, even if you were born outside the U.S. This works as long as your parents are married. If they are, then you can become a citizen even if you weren’t born inside the United States. However, at least one of the parents must have lived in the States prior to the birth of the child. Moreover, when a parent naturalizes, the children (under the age of 18 and living with the parent at the time) may “derive” U.S. citizenship automatically, provided they are also permanent residents.

Citizenship Through Military

Foreign nationals who have served in the U.S. armed forces in an honorable way can also obtain U.S. citizenship through naturalization. However, there are some requirements that you should meet if you want to become a citizen this way. The requirements vary depending on whether you have served during a period of peacetime or a period of hostility. The requirements are as follows:

  • You need to understand the government and history of the U.S.
  • Must be at least 18 years old when you apply
  • You must know how to read, write and speak in English
  • You must be a morally good person, which means that you’re paying your taxes and child support, and you haven’t been convicted of any serious crimes

How to Become a US Citizen

Furthermore, here are the several steps involved in obtaining United States citizenship through naturalization.

1. Immigration

Since you were not born to a U.S. citizen parent, your citizenship journey will start with you immigrating to the US. You will need to gain an LPR (lawful permanent resident of the United States) status first before you can qualify to become a U.S. citizen. The LPR status is otherwise referred to as having a Green Card. Meanwhile, there are several ways to immigrate to the U.S. and obtain a Green Card. They are as follows:

  • Through studies, after which you can get a job, and then obtain LPR status.
  • Employment
  • Asylum and humanitarian claim
  • Family
  • Investment
  • The diversity green card lottery

2. Live in the United States for Five Years

As one of the primary criteria for becoming a U.S. citizen, you must have first been a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for five years. However, there's an exception for immigrants who obtained their Green Card through a U.S. citizen spouse. They only need to have had the Green Card for three years.

3. Physical Presence

Furthermore, another requirement is that you must have been physically present in the U.S. at least half of the time you have had the LPR status. That is to say, either 30 months (2.5 years out of five), or 18 months (1.5 years out of three). Moreover, you must have been residing in the state from where you are applying for citizenship for a least 90 days.

4. Good Moral Character

You must be of good moral character during the five years prior to filing and up to admission, or in the case of a spouse for three years prior to filing and up to admission. it means you did not have certain types of crimes — such as murder, illegal gambling, or intentionally lying to the U.S. government in order to gain immigration benefits — on your record at any time before filing, and you did not lie during your naturalization interview. However, whether an applicant meets this requirement is decided by the government on a case-by-case basis.

5. Willing to Defend the U.S. Constitution and Serve in the U.S. Military

Moreover, you must accept the United States constitution and be willing to serve in the U.S. military or perform civilian service for the United States if called upon to do so. You must register with the Selective Service System if you are male and have lived in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25.

6. Application for Naturalization

The first step to becoming a U.S. citizen is to file an Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) and pay the filing fee. You may fill out and mail a paper application or complete the application online. If you file online, you must first create an online account with U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Services (USCIS). The next step is to set up your biometrics appointment at your local USCIS field office.

Then the citizenship interview and exam follow afterward. The citizenship interview is usually scheduled around 14 months after filing your application. Meanwhile, a USCIS officer will verify that all of the information on your naturalization application is correct. The exam, on the other hand, takes place at the same time as the interview. The USCIS officer will also give you a two-part naturalization test. 

The first component, an English language test, will evaluate your written and spoken English skills. The second, a civics test will assess your knowledge of U.S. history and basic information about how the U.S. government works. If you pass the interview and exam, the USCIS officer will approve your application at the end of the interview. But in some cases, USCIS may ask you for additional documentation or schedule a second interview.

7. Oath of Allegiance

Once your application is approved, you will attend an Oath of Allegiance ceremony. You must take a public oath of allegiance to the United States. It’s very important that you complete this step. You are not a U.S. citizen until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance. After your citizenship interview, you’ll receive a notice in the mail with the date, time, and location of the ceremony.

The time it takes to schedule the ceremony varies by state. But the process usually takes about 12 months and over 700,000 applicants are naturalized per year. You’ll be asked to return your green card when you check-in. Once the ceremony is over, you’ll receive a Certificate of Naturalization and begin your life as a U.S. citizen. After getting a citizenship certificate you can apply for a U.S. passport. The U.S. allows dual citizenship so you can be a citizen of another country and still qualify to be a citizen of America.

Final Thoughts

Getting U.S. citizenship is no walk in the park. There are a number of steps you’ll need to take and many important considerations to keep in mind throughout your application process. When it comes down to it, becoming a U.S. citizen can be difficult—but it’s certainly worth it! You may be seeking answers to questions such as "Is it hard to become a U.S. citizen now? What is the easiest way to become a U.S. citizen?" However, there's no U.S. immigration and citizenship program that can be referred to as "easy".

Navigating the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and its programs can be a very complex process. When you apply for citizenship you will need to prove that you can meet the many strict requirements, failure to do so can result in your application being rejected. One mistake on your application can quickly end up back at the start. No matter which one of the four paths to citizenship you take, you can expect it to be costly and time-consuming.