How to Become a US Citizen – Complete Guidelines
Are looking to become a US citizen or a permanent resident of the United States? Having that vision of the American dream, a country where there are many opportunities for professional growth and development. US citizenship provides lots of immigrants with immense privileges, rights, and benefits just as any other US citizen or permanent resident.
However, it is this vision of the American dream that attracts them to the United States. Individuals from all over the world seeking opportunities to achieve a better life for themselves and their families. Therefore, if you are a foreign national seeking to permanently immigrate to the United States, you can achieve this by getting a green card. Which lets you become a permanent resident of the country.
There are certain basic paths you can follow to obtain US citizenship. Therefore, in this article we will provide information in full detail on how to become a US citizen, briefing you on the various paths to US citizenship, eligibility requirements, how to apply, and any other important information about getting US citizenship.
How to Become a US Citizen – Overview
The first step to gaining US citizenship begins with immigration. In other words, you will have to first immigrate to the United States and become a permanent resident to become a US citizen. This process involves applying for a “green card” which is the most common way people begin when applying for US citizenship.
A green card is an identity card that is about the size of a wallet, it shows that a person has a permanent residence in the US. That is to say that it lets the holder live and work in the United States permanently. Most green cards are usually valid for ten years. It expires after your authorized stay, although it is renewable. The green card lets you live and work in the United States permanently and also enjoy certain privileges like other US citizens, but limited.
Moreover, the United States grants green cards to immigrants who meet certain characteristics such as job offers from a US employer, visa lottery, family relationship, investment, etc. But that’s not why we are here, there are four (4) basic paths a foreigner can obtain US citizenship. There is US citizenship by birth, citizenship through derivation, citizenship acquisition, and citizenship through neutralization.
However, we will be giving an overview of each of the four basic paths to US citizenship.
Citizenship by Birth:
Citizenship by birth can also be under citizenship through acquisition. However, under the law of the United States, any person born within the country is automatically granted US citizenship. Besides, even if the person wasn’t born in the US, he or she might still be able to gain citizenship by birth. This is possible if the person was born in United States territories like the US Virginia Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands.
Although, there is one exception to this rule; which is children whose parents are members of a sovereign Native American tribe or foreign diplomats.
Citizenship Through Acquisition:
In this path of gaining US citizenship, a child automatically acquires citizenship regardless of his or her country of birth, but only in certain circumstances. However, those circumstances are as follows:
- That both of the child’s parents were US citizens and were also married at the time of the child’s birth. Also, either of the parents must have lived in the United States, or its territories, before the child’s birth.
- Either of the parents was a US citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Moreover, the birth date should be before November 14, 1986, but after October 10, 1952. They must also be married at the time of birth and also lived in the US for a period at least ten years before the child’s birth.
Citizenship Through Derivation:
Furthermore, when a parent gains citizenship through naturalization, the children who are under the age of 18 and still living with the parents at that moment may derive citizenship automatically. Provided that certain requirements are met, such as:
- Either one parent must be a US citizen
- The child must have a US lawful permanent resident (LPR) status
- Also, the child must be in the care of the US citizen parent
Citizenship Through Naturalization:
Becoming a citizen through naturalization is a process in which a non-U.S. citizen voluntarily becomes an American citizen. This is the most common way foreigners gain US citizenship. There are certain requirements one must meet to gain citizenship through naturalization. Besides, only certain immigrants such as those that have legal permanent residents status for 3-5 years, or meet some military service requirements can be eligible.
However, there may be different requirements for you depending on your situation such as
- Lawful Permanent Resident of 5 Years
- Married to a U.S. Citizen
- Serving in the U.S. Military
- Child of a U.S. Citizen
But here are the basic requirements for applying for naturalization:
- Be at least 18 years of age or older at the time of application
- You have been a green card holder (lawful permanent resident) for the previous three or five years depending on how you got your status.
- Have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States
- You must be able to read, write, and speak basic English
- Demonstrate good moral character
- You will have to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government
- Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
- Demonstrate loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution
How to Apply for US Citizenship (The Naturalization Process)
Meanwhile, the following is an overview of how to apply for US citizenship through the naturalization process. Therefore, after you confirm and meet the eligibility requirements for citizenship through naturalization, you can then begin the application process which is as follows:
1. Naturalization Application:
Moreover, you may either apply for naturalization online or by paper. To apply online, you will need to create a USCIS online account and then follow these steps:
- Submit evidence and pay fees electronically;
- Receive case status updates about your case and see complete case history;
- Communicate with us securely and directly; and
- Respond to requests for evidence.
Meanwhile, US citizenship through naturalization application by the paper process is as follows:
- You must read the instructions for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
- Complete and sign your Form N-400
- Pay the filing fee, if applicable
- Provide all required evidence and supporting documentation.
2. Appointment for Biometrics:
After filing for naturalization, and once the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) receives your Form N-400. You will receive a notice confirming that they have received your application. After reviewing your application, you receive a biometric services appointment notice and notice to appear for an interview.
However, the biometrics appointment which is to take your fingerprints is an essential requirement for the naturalization process. This is to conduct a background check and confirm the information you provide. It usually takes place about a month after the USCIS receives and reviews your naturalization application.
3. Interview and Exam:
A few months after the biometrics appointment, you will receive a notice about an appointment date and time for an interview with USCIS. You will also take your naturalization test during this interview. It is the last step to obtaining US citizenship through naturalization.
During the interview, the officer will go through your application and background. The citizenship exam is a two-part test, the first is an English language test, that focuses on your written and spoken English skills, while the second is a civics test.
4. The Oath of Allegiance Ceremony:
This is the final step of the Naturalization process, it means that you have passed the citizenship interview and test. Once your application is approved, you will receive a notification of the date, time, and location to attend the Oath of Allegiance ceremony.
However, you are not a US citizen until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance. Therefore, you must complete the process, because this is where you will receive your naturalization certificate and become a U.S. citizen.
Benefits of Naturalization/ Obtaining US Citizenship
However, as we mentioned earlier, green card holders have the authorization to live, work and study in the United States permanently with certain advantages. But the new status as a US citizen gives the immigrant rights and privileges that are not available to green cardholders. These rights and privileges include:
- You will be able to obtain federal benefits available only to US citizens which include; Medicare, Social security, pension, etc. Which may only be available to green card holders for a limited time.
- You can also be able to sponsor your relatives by applying for green cards on their behalf.
- Being able to vote in the US election and even run for elected office
- Your children automatically gain US citizenship, even if they were born outside the United States.
- Travel abroad with one of the most recognized and powerful passports in the world
- Moreover, you can no longer be deported to your country of former citizenship or nationality.
- You can be able to work in any government, private, or public office in the United States
- You will be able to live permanently in the US
Furthermore, certain obligations come with obtaining US citizenship which you must fulfill. They are as follows:
- You must obey the laws of the United States of America
- You will serve the country when it calls on you
- Pay your taxes promptly
- Give up all your loyalty to any other country or sovereignty etc.
How to Obtain US Citizenship Through Marriage
This process requires the spouse, who is a US citizen to petition for the foreign partner. However, you must meet the following requirements:
- You must be a green card holder (a Lawful Permanent Resident) for at least three years before applying for US citizenship.
- You must prove that you have been a continuous resident of the United States during those three years and that you were physically present in the country for at least a year and a half.
- Moreover, you must have lived as a married couple with your spouse, who has US citizenship.
- You must be at least 18 years old.
- Be able to read, speak, and write English.
- You must also possess good moral character.
US Citizenship Through Marriage Process
Furthermore, your spouse will need to submit a Form I-130 Petition for an Alien relative. This form establishes a relationship between you and your spouse. However, you will also need to prove the marriage by providing certain documents such as a marriage certificate, etc.
Moreover, if you already leaving with your spouse legally in the US, your status can be adjusted at the same time as you complete Form I-130. But you will also need to complete another Form I-485, which is an application to register for Permanent Residency or Adjust Status.
Besides, if you are outside the US, the process will have to wait until your visa is available and you attend an interview at the US embassy or consulate in your country of residency. You can then continue with the process above afterward. However, after adjusting your status, you will then attend a marriage interview. This is a way the USCIS tries to protect against marriage fraud,
The USCIS officer or interviewer will ask you and your spouse personal questions to determine the originality of your marriage. After the interview, you can then proceed with the naturalization process by applying for your Form N-400.
You should understand by now that you can only become a US citizen either at birth or after birth. You can obtain US citizenship by birth if you were born in the United States or any of the US territories, or you were born abroad to either or both parents with US citizenship. While after birth, you can get in two ways which is either you acquire/ derive citizenship through parents or by naturalization.
However, the process to obtain US citizenship can up to five months or more. Moreover, the cost and payment for the naturalization process, range from $700 to $1,200, for both application fees and biometric services. This is due to the recent increment of %83 in the process.