How Do You Become A US Citizen?

There are enormous benefits, privileges, and rights that come with having United States citizenship. Once you become a citizen of the U.S., you become eligible to vote in all elections. Your children could become citizens, apply for federal government employment, reunite with family, and perhaps most importantly, you and your children are protected from deportation. 

After becoming a citizen you are free to travel with a U.S. passport and you can apply for green cards for your relatives living in other countries outside of the U.S. You are also eligible to receive federal benefits that are available only to U.S. citizens making knowing how to become a U.S. citizen valuable knowledge to have.

Citizenship Through Acquisition

In this situation, a child is able to obtain citizenship if at least one of their parents was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth even if the child was born outside of the United States. The laws governing the acquisition of citizenship have been changed significantly, and in order to determine a child’s eligibility for acquisition, they must look to the laws applicable for their birth year. 

A child born on or after November 14, 1986, can obtain citizenship through acquisition if both of their parents are U.S. citizens and one resided in the U.S. before the birth. If only one of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen, the child may be able to obtain citizenship if the parent resided in the U.S. or its territories for at least five years prior to the birth of the child. At least two of those years would have to be after his or her 14th birthday.

It is also possible to obtain citizenship through acquisition if the child was born before November 14, 1986, but after October 10, 1952. The U.S. citizen parent must have been physically present in the U.S. or its territories for a minimum of ten years at some point in their life prior to the birth of the child. At least five of those years must be after his or her 14th birthday. 

Citizenship Through Naturalization

Naturalization is the process of a person who is not born in the United States voluntarily becoming a U.S. citizen. To apply for citizenship and obtain it a person must meet several requirements, the first one being that they are at least 18 years of age. There are three eligibility categories with one category being service in the U.S. Armed Forces, another being three years spent as a permanent resident who has lived in a marital union with a U.S. citizen spouse for a minimum of three years. The final common form of naturalization is through five years of living as a permanent resident of the U.S. To qualify as a permanent resident of the U.S. you must live in the United States for five continuous years immediately preceding the date that the application for naturalization is filed.

Citizenship Through Family

It is possible for a child who is under 18 and living with their parents at the time to “derive” U.S. citizenship from their parents when their parent naturalizes. This happens as long as the children are also permanent residents of the United States. A child who obtains U.S. citizenship through the derivation process does not need to participate in any naturalization ceremony. In most cases, foreign-born children automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if they meet three requirements. The child must have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, the child must be a “green card” holder meaning they have lawful permanent resident status, and the child must be residing in the United States in the physical and legal custody of a parent who is a U.S. citizen.

Citizenship Through Military Service

If you are serving or have served in the U.S. military and are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization under special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). To establish eligibility, you must:

  • Be 18 years old or older;
  • Have served honorably at any time in the U.S. armed forces for a period or periods totaling at least 1 year;
  • Have submitted a completed Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service (PDF, 418.02 KB), at the time of filing your N-400;
  • Demonstrate that if separated from service, you were never separated except under honorable conditions;
  • Be a lawful permanent resident at the time of your naturalization interview;
  • Meet certain residence and physical presence requirements;
  • Demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak English, unless qualified for a waiver or exception;
  • Demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and government, unless excepted;
  • Demonstrate good moral character for at least five years before filing your N-400 through the day you naturalize; and
  • Demonstrate an attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and be well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law, unless waived.

State Residence

After meeting the requirements for living in the country for at least five years prior to filing an application you must also meet the requirements for state residency as well. It is required that you live within your state for at least three months prior to the date of filing your application for naturalization. If you recently moved to your state you must wait three months before initiating your application for citizenship.

The Path to Citizenship

How you arrive in the United States and the citizenship status of your parents can impact how you chose to become a citizen of the United States. Once you have made the decision to move forward with becoming a citizen you are able to retain your heritage to the country of your ancestors while forging a new life with a new history in the United States. You also open yourself up to the responsibilities that come with being a citizen of the United States. Once you have obtained your citizenship you can participate in the process of registering to vote in elections and serve on a jury to aid public courts. 

Attorney Toledo-Hermina has the experience and knowledge to help you navigate through the complexity of the citizenship and naturalization process. To schedule a complimentary consultation, fill out the form at the bottom of this page or call us today!

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