The Path to U.S. Citizenship: Your Options
There are several routes to U.S. citizenship, depending on your background, situation, and legal standing. Let’s go over them and help you decide which is best for you, as well as how to get started.
Why Become a U.S. Citizen?
The citizenship process in America is called naturalization, and U.S. citizenship can be achieved in several ways.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the federal government agency involved with immigration in the U.S. and has worked with many immigrants over the years during their journeys to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
While many immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship may have their reasons for wanting to become a U.S. citizen, some reasons that USCIS hears frequently include:
- Obtaining U.S. citizenship for children born abroad
- Helping family members come to the U.S.
- Getting a passport and benefitting from its protections when traveling
- Becoming eligible for jobs that require U.S. citizenship, including many government jobs
- Running for elected office
- Obtaining the right to vote in federal and state elections
How to Become a United States Citizen: Three Pathways
Naturalization is the most common citizenship process in America and is the next step after getting a green card in the United States. A green card is a document that permits an immigrant to legally live and work in the United States for a set time. Therefore, it is a requirement before naturalization. You are eligible for a green card if:
- You have a qualifying job offer with an employer petitioning on your behalf, or you have specific exceptional skills.
- You are legally in the United States with refugee or asylum seeker status.
- You have a relative who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, such as a spouse, parent, child, or sibling, and that person has petitioned for you to immigrate to the United States and your immigrant visa is readily available.
To follow the naturalization path of how to become a United States citizen, you will have to fulfill the residency requirements of living in the U.S. for five years before applying. In addition, of the five years, you must have been physically present in the U.S. for thirty months.
You will also need to meet personal requirements such as being 18 years of age at the time of your application and you must show you had good moral character during the five years preceding your application. Good moral character means you have been a law-abiding person who will contribute positively to society. In addition, you’ll need to have a working knowledge of how to read, write, and speak the English language, as well as a basic understanding of the U.S. government and history.
It should be noted that special rules apply for those who are married to and continuously residing with their U.S. citizen spouse. If you’re married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply for naturalization after you have had your green card for three years. The same rules apply for marriage-based naturalization as with the five-year naturalization process: you must be physically present in the U.S. for at least 18 months, you must reside continuously in the United States, you must maintain good moral character for the three years prior to your application and you must be able to show proof of your marriage relationship.
Another possibility of how to become a United States citizen is through military service. There are different requirements based on whether the service was during peacetime or a time of hostility. For example, the U.S. has been in a time of hostility since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
If you served during the period of hostility these past 20 years, you may apply for naturalization right away, provided that you completed your military service honorably. If you served during peacetime, in order to naturalize, you must have honorable service for a total time period of one year and you must be a permanent resident at the time of your naturalization interview. If your application is filed during your service or within six months of honorable separation, the residency and physical presence requirements do not apply.
Another way to become a U.S. citizen is through the parent-child relationship. These requirements vary depending on the specific circumstances of each applicant.
For example, if both parents are U.S. citizens and married, a child born in that marriage becomes a U.S. citizen even if the child was born outside of the United States, provided that one of the parents lived in the United States before the child’s birth.
If only one parent is a U.S. citizen and the parents are married or unmarried, the child can still become a U.S. citizen. However, the difficulty of acquiring citizenship in this scenario varies case to case. Many factors are considered including when and how long each parent was present in the U.S. and the relationship between the parent and child.
Finally, a child born outside of the United States may become a U.S. citizen as a matter of law by virtue of his parent(s) naturalization. Again, the difficulty of acquiring citizenship in this scenario varies case by case, but generally, a child may become a U.S. citizen if one of the child’s parents becomes a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization; if the parent was naturalized, the child was under 18 at the time of the naturalization; the child is residing in the U.S. as a permanent resident; and the child is residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent.
Citizenship is also possible through adoption once the U.S. citizen’s parents have legal and physical custody of the child, and the child has lived with them for several years, but the timing of the adoption and the child’s age play a significant role in the process.
How to Start the U.S. Citizenship Process in America
In addition to filling out Form N-400, applicants will also be required to provide biometric data such as photo identification, signature, and fingerprints during the application process. The applicant will also need to complete an interview with a USCIS officer, during which they will take the English language and U.S. Civics test and review their naturalization application. If the application is approved and the tests are passed successfully, the applicant will receive an invitation to a naturalization ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, obtain a Naturalization Certificate, and officially become a naturalized citizen.
If you are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, speak with a seasoned immigration attorney who can walk beside you down one of these pathways and assist you today. At Lamb & Turner, PLLC, we offer a range of immigration services to both individual and commercial clients, such as family immigration legal services and deportation and removal defense.