United States Citizenship
There are a wide range of rights and benefits that come with being a citizen of the United States. For example, only U.S. citizens are able to vote, serve on a jury, travel outside of the U.S. for an extended period of time, and most federal jobs are limited to U.S. citizens.
U.S. citizenship is most commonly acquired by being born in the U.S. However, that is certainly not the only way to become a U.S. citizen. See below for a description of the various ways a person may become a U.S. citizen, or have their already-existing U.S. citizenship recognized.
Naturalization is the process by which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service will grant U.S. citizenship to a foreign citizen or national after they have satisfied all requirements stated in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders) over the age of 18 may be eligible to file an application for Naturalization. This application is officially called an “Form N-400, Application for Naturalization” and is filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
A permanent resident must have had their green card for at least five years before they will be eligible to apply. However, please note that there are exceptions to this rule. Most commonly, a person may be able to apply after they have their green card for only three years if during the past three years they have been married to and residing with a U.S. citizen spouse.
In addition to being a lawful permanent resident for a stated period of time, an applicant must also have been present in the United States for a certain period of time in the three or five years before they submit their application. Lawful permanent residents are free to travel with their green card, but too much travel may make them ineligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, at least until they accrue a sufficient amount of physical presence in the U.S.
Furthermore, an applicant for U.S. citizenship must demonstrate ‘good moral character.’ There is an entire list of things acts that, if committed, may cause a person’s application to be denied for lack of ‘good moral character.’ These acts include arrests, fraud, and maybe even failing to register for the Selective Service.
Finally, an applicant for naturalization will also have to demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak basic English. They must also have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government, commonly referred to as civics. There are limited exceptions to these requirements that may be granted to a person depending on their age and the length of time they have had their green card.
Naturalization of Parent
A person may acquire U.S. citizenship automatically, or by operation of law, if their parent becomes a U.S. citizenship through naturalization. This automatic acquisition of citizenship requires the following: (1) at least one parent is a U.S. citizen, either by naturalization or by birth; (2) the child is currently under 18-years-old; and (3) the child is residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of their U.S. citizen parent pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence. This final requirement requires the applicant to have a green card. Thus, a person does would not qualify for automatic citizenship if they are residing in the U.S. unlawfully.
A person who believes they qualify for automatic acquisition of citizenship in this scenario would not file “Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.” This form is for a person who is applying to become a U.S. citizen. Here, though, the person is already a U.S. citizen. They simply need their U.S. citizenship to be recognized. In this case the applicant would file an “N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.” This certificate is conclusive proof of U.S. citizenship.
Citizenship at Birth
Certain individuals born outside the United States may also be able to acquire United States’ citizenship at birth based on their mother’s or father’s U.S. citizenship.
There are highly detailed requirements that must be met for a person to successfully prove a claim of “derivative citizenship.” It is dependent on the child’s date-of-birth, the child’s parents’ marital status, the citizenship of each parent, and also the length of time that the child’s mother and/or father resided in the United States.
A person who does qualify for derivative U.S. citizenship may file an application for a ‘Consular Report of Birth Abroad.’ This application must be filed before a person turns 18-years-old, and if approved, is clear proof of U.S. citizenship.