People who are born in the United States are automatically granted United States citizenship, along with the wide range of rights and benefits that come along with it. For others, citizenship can be obtained in a number of ways.
A person born elsewhere but whose parents or parents are U.S. citizens, for example, is generally entitled to citizenship, so long as the appropriate paperwork is filed. Meanwhile, a non-citizen can gain permanent resident (green card) status by marrying a U.S. citizen, but does not automatically become a citizen through this process. Instead, these individuals can seek citizenship through naturalization, which is also available to other persons who want to become U.S. citizens.
Naturalization in the United States
Naturalization is the process by which the U.S. government grants citizenship to a foreign citizen or national. To become a naturalized citizen, a person must apply for naturalization and meet each of the following requirements:
- Be at least eighteen (18) years old when the application is filed.
- Have resident status for at least five years before applying. This time period is decreased to three years for a person who: (a) has obtained legal permanent resident status; (b) has been living with and married to a U.S. citizen for the three preceding years; and (c) is married to a spouse who has been a citizen for a minimum of three years prior to the person's filing of the naturalization application.
- Have been physically present in the U.S. for a minimum of 30 months during the last 60 months before the application filing date.
- Have not left the U.S. for an uninterrupted period of six months or more during the five years prior to applying for naturalization. Certain exceptions apply for continuous periods of absence ranging from six months to one year.
- Be a "person of good moral character." This is determined on a case-by-case basis and generally refers to a character that measures up to the standards of the average citizens in the community in which the applicant resides.
- Pass an exam on United States government and history. During an interview with an immigration officer, the applicant is asked up to 10 questions from a list of 100 possible questions designed to measure the applicant's understanding of basic history and government principles. The applicant must correctly answer at least 6 of the questions in order to pass the test.
- Have a functional knowledge of the English language (required for most applicants), as tested by speaking with an immigration officer.
It is important to note that there are a number of exceptions to these requirements for older, long-term residents, as well as those with physical or mental disabilities. A person who becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen is entitled to a wide range of legal rights and benefits. Citizens are eligible to vote in federal and state elections, for example, and are typically given priority in attempting to bring other family members into the country permanently. Citizenship also means the right to obtain and travel with a U.S passport.
The process culminates in a public ceremony in which those being naturalized pledge an oath of allegiance to the United States and officially become citizens of the country. The oath requires the person to renounce allegiance to any and all foreign states. New citizens also vow to protect and defend American laws, including the Constitution, as well as to bear arms and serve the country when needed.
The above is a brief description of the citizenship and naturalization process. These steps, and the laws enforcing them, can often be very complicated, however. That goes for both individual applicants and business entities seeking to bring foreign workers stateside. It is important that anyone considering seeking citizenship seek the counsel of an experienced attorney to guide them through the process and address any and all issues that may come up along the way.
At The Vergara Law Group, our immigration lawyers have years of experience helping clients navigate the immigration and naturalization process from beginning to end. Whether you are seeking citizenship, a visa, or a green card, or need assistance defending against deportation, our attorneys are dedicated to providing personalized and aggressive representation on your behalf.