Basics of U.S. Citizenship
Every good citizen makes his country’s honor his own, and cherishes it not only as precious but as sacred. – Andrew Jackson
In today’s difficult immigration times, it is crucial that anyone eligible for U.S. citizenship apply as soon as possible. An individual can become a U.S. citizen either by birth or through naturalization. A naturalized person is an individual who is not born in the U.S., but acquires citizenship through the application. In American society, being a U.S. citizen provides some benefits. As a U.S. citizen, a person can vote, sponsor relatives, and is entitled to social security and welfare benefits; also, unlike permanent residents, citizens cannot be deported, even if he or she is charged with a serious crime, under most circumstances.
CITIZENSHIP THROUGH BIRTH
WHO IS CONSIDERED AS A “BORN” UNITED STATES CITIZEN?
Generally, people are born U.S. citizens if they are born in the U.S. or if they are born to U.S. citizen parents:
- By being born in the U.S.: if you were born in the U.S. (including, in most cases, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), you are an American citizen at birth (unless you were born to a foreign diplomat). Your birth certificate is proof of your citizenship;
- Through birth abroad to TWO U.S. citizen parents: in most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if ALL of the following are true:
- Both your parents were U.S. citizens when you were born;
- At least one of your parents lived in the U.S. at some point in their life;
- Your record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of your citizenship. You may also apply for a passport to have your citizenship recognized. If you need additional proof of your citizenship, you may file an Application for Certificate of Citizenship or Form N-600, to get a Certificate of Citizenship.
- Through birth abroad to ONE U.S. citizen parent: in most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if ALL of the following are true:
- One of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born;
- Your citizen parent lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years before you were born and at least 2 of those 5 years in the U.S. were after your citizen parent’s 14th birthday*.
- Your record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of your citizenship. You may also apply for a passport to have your citizenship recognized. If you need additional proof of your citizenship, you may file an Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600) with the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Service (USCIS) to get a Certificate of Citizenship.
*If you were born before November 14, 1986, you are a U.S. citizen, if your U.S. citizen parent lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years and 5 of those years in the U.S. were after your citizen parent’s 14th birthday.
CITIZENSHIP THROUGH NATURALIZATION
If you are not a U.S. citizen by birth or did not acquire U.S. citizenship automatically after birth, you may still be eligible to become a citizen through the naturalization process.
WHAT FORM DO I NEED TO FILL OUT TO BEGIN THE NATURALIZATION PROCESS?
Are 18 years of age and older…
Application for Naturalization (Form N-400)
Acquired citizenship from your parent(s) while you were under 18 years of age…
Application for a Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600)
Are an adopted child who acquired citizenship from your parent(s)…
Application for a Certificate of Citizenship on Behalf of an Adopted Child (Form N-643)
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR NATURALIZATION?
The basic requirements for naturalization are as follows:
- You should be over 18 years old, and a permanent resident;
- You should have resided in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for five years continuously before you file for naturalization. This period is reduced to three years if you are married to and living with the same U.S. citizen spouse who petitioned for you for at least three years as a permanent resident;
- You must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of that 5 or 3 year period;
- You have to demonstrate that you are a person of good moral character;
- You must demonstrate a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government knowledge;
- You must show that you can read, write, and speak simple English;
- Finally, you must pledge allegiance to the U.S. government.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE “GOOD MORAL CHARACTER”?
Good moral character is a very important requirement for naturalization. Certain actions, such as illegal gambling, prostitution, failure to pay your taxes, lying to immigration officials, problems with drugs or alcohol, or being in arrears with your child support payments, may make it difficult to prove good moral character. Parking tickets or minor offenses do not usually disqualify an applicant, but repeated convictions for minor violations might. Having a criminal record can make the process a bit more difficult, but it does not mean you will be automatically denied.
Sometimes people with criminal records fail to apply for citizenship, because they believe that they are ineligible. It is a misconception that a person who has been charged with a crime cannot become a citizen. A person may be eligible for citizenship, even if he or she has been charged with a crime in certain instances. If you have a criminal record, it is recommended that you contact an experienced immigration attorney for advice, before filing your naturalization application.
IF I HAVE BEEN CONVICTED OF A CRIME, BUT MY RECORD HAS BEEN LEGALLY ERASED, DO I NEED TO INDICATE THAT ON MY APPLICATION OR INFORM AN IMMIGRATION OFFICER?
Yes. In fact, you should always be honest with Immigration regarding the following:
- Arrests (including those by police, Immigration Officers, and other Federal Agents);
- Convictions (even if they have been erased / expunged); and,
- Crimes you committed for which you were not arrested or convicted.
Even if you have committed a minor crime, Immigration may deny your application if you do not mention any previous incidents to the Immigration Officer. It is extremely important that you inform Immigration about any and all arrests, even if someone else has advised you that you are not required to do so.
WHERE DO I FILE MY NATURALIZATION APPLICATION?
You should send your completed Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) or appropriate naturalization form to the appropriate United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Service (USCIS) Center.
HOW CAN I PAY MY APPLICATION FEE?
You must send your fee with your application. Remember that your application fee is not refundable, even if you withdraw your application or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denies your case. You must pay your application fee with a check or money order drawn on a U.S. bank in U.S. dollars, payable to the “USCIS.” However, if you are a resident of Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands, the rules are as follows:
If you are a Resident of:
Make fee payable to:
U.S. Virgin Islands
“Commissioner of Finance of the Virgin Islands”
DO I HAVE TO GO FOR AN INTERVIEW OR TAKE AN EXAMINATION, AS PART OF THE NATURALIZATION PROCESS?
Yes. Each naturalization applicant must undergo an interview with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). At the interview, you will be asked questions about your application for naturalization and background. Appendix 1 has some very useful tips on how to behave during the interview process. Every applicant must then take an examination, which will test their knowledge of the English language, and a civics exam to test their knowledge of U.S. history and government.
WHERE CAN I BE FINGERPRINTED?
After the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received your application, they will notify you of the location where you should report to get fingerprinted.
WILL UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES (USCIS) PROVIDE SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS FOR ME IF I AM DISABLED?
Some people with disabilities need special consideration during the naturalization process. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will make every effort to make reasonable accommodations in these cases. For example, if you use a wheelchair they will make sure your fingerprint location is wheelchair accessible. If you are hearing impaired and wish to bring a sign language interpreter to your interview, you may do so. Asking for a special accommodation will not affect your eligibility for naturalization. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) makes decisions about making such accommodations on a case-by-case basis.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO BECOME NATURALIZED?
The time it takes to become a citizen varies from one local office to another.
HOW DO I DETERMINE THE STATUS OF MY NATURALIZATION APPLICATION?
The receipt notice, which you will receive from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), will provide you with the approximate time it will take for them to process your case. If you have NOT been scheduled for a naturalization interview, you can visit the local office having jurisdiction over your case, to inquire about the status of your application.
CAN I REAPPLY FOR NATURALIZATION IF THE UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES (USCIS) DENIES MY APPLICATION?
In most cases, you may reapply for citizenship if the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denies your application. If you reapply, you will need to complete and resubmit a new Application for Naturalization (N-400) form and pay the fee again. You will also need to have your fingerprints and photographs taken again. If your application is denied, the denial letter should indicate the date you may reapply for citizenship. If you are denied because you failed the English or civics test, you may reapply for naturalization any time after your denial. You should reapply whenever you believe you have learned English or civics well enough to pass the test.
WHEN DID/DOES MY TIME AS A PERMANENT RESIDENT BEGIN?
Your time as a Permanent Resident begins on the date you were granted permanent resident status. This date will be printed on your Permanent Resident Card (formerly known as an Alien Registration Card).
IF THE UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATIONS SERVICES (USCIS) GRANTS ME NATURALIZATION, WHEN WILL I BECOME A CITIZEN?
You become a citizen as soon as you take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. In some places, you can choose to take the Oath the same day as your interview. If that option is not available or if you prefer a ceremony at a later date, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will notify you of the ceremony date with a Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony (Form N-445).
HOW DO I REGISTER WITH SELECTIVE SERVICE?
Selective Service registration allows the U.S. Government to maintain a list of names of men who may be called into military service, in case of a national emergency requiring rapid expansion of the U.S. Armed Forces. By registering all young men, the Selective Service can ensure that any future draft will be fair and equitable. Federal law requires that men who are at least 18 years old, but not yet 26 years old, be registered with Selective Service. This also includes all male non-citizens within these age limits who permanently reside in the U.S.. Men who are lawful permanent residents must register. Men cannot register for the Selective Service after reaching the age 26.
WHY DO I NEED TO REGISTER WITH THE SELECTIVE SERVICE?
Failure to register for the Selective Service may (in certain instances) make you ineligible for certain immigration benefits, such as citizenship.
Given the current challenges facing those seeking United States citizenship, it is strongly recommended that everyone interested in doing so should consider becoming a citizen as soon as they become eligible. There are a number of ways to be considered a “born United States citizen” —generally speaking, these include if you are born in the United States or if you are born to United States citizen parents. Please note that there are a number of conditions that must be met in order to be considered a naturalized United States citizen. A variety of significant benefits await all who become United States citizens. If you are a United States citizen, you will not be deported, even if you are charged with a serious crime (in most cases). Additionally, becoming a citizen gives you the right to vote, become eligible for Medicaid, sponsor relatives, etc..