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U.S. Citizenship Overview

Foreign nationals outside the United States can seek ways to become U.S. citizens. The U.S. immigration system, governed by the federal government and agencies like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), provides different avenues to acquire citizenship through birth, blood, and naturalization.

A person born in the United States or to at least one U.S. citizen parent can acquire U.S. citizenship by birth or blood. Conversely, immigrant visas can also lead to citizenship through naturalization. Naturalization is a process where you can acquire U.S. citizenship regardless of whether you have a U.S. Citizen family member.

FindLaw's U.S. Citizenship section covers citizenship basics, what it means to have a legal status, what to expect when taking the citizenship test, and in-depth information about the naturalization process. It also includes links that contain the fact sheet of U.S. citizenship examination questions, naturalization requirements, and more.

Acquiring U.S. Citizenship by Birth or by Parentage

A child born in the United States or one of its territories acquires U.S. citizenship by birth. This concept is also known as jus soliWith this concept, individuals born in any of the 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are U.S. citizens by birth. A few exceptions apply to children born to a foreign government official or diplomat while working in the United States.

If you have received any of the documents below, you may start your application for a U.S. passport:

  • A U.S. certificate of citizenship
  • A consular report of birth abroad (Form FS-240)
  • A U.S. birth certificate
  • A naturalization certificate

Once you have these documents, you can apply for a U.S. passport as proof of citizenship.

Adoption by an American parent does not automatically give a legal status as a U.S. Citizen. A child who entered the U.S. on an International Adoption Visa (IR4 visa) will acquire U.S. citizenship once the adoption is finalized.

Understanding Dual Citizenship

Dual citizenship means that a person is a citizen of two countries simultaneously. Thus, they have the rights and obligations to both countries. Technically, the United States does not recognize dual citizenship. However, it also doesn't take a stand against dual citizenship or do anything to prevent a migrant from acquiring or maintaining it.

Some of the acts that can lead to a loss of citizenship include:

  • Serving in a foreign army engaged in hostilities against the U.S.
  • Formally renouncing their citizenship to an authorized U.S. official
  • Committing an act of treason against the U.S.

Most countries take a similar approach, but some countries will revoke your citizenship if you acquire U.S. citizenship. Whether you acquire citizenship by birth, blood, or naturalization, if you have dual citizenship, you have to observe the following:

  • You must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. The country may also ask the dual citizen of their foreign nationality to use the other country's passport to travel to and from that country.
  • You must owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. Dual citizens must observe the laws of both countries, and both countries can enforce their laws against them.

U.S. immigration laws do not require their citizens to choose between U.S. citizenship and other nationality. Thus, you may naturalize in a foreign country without risk of losing your U.S. citizenship.

FindLaw's U.S. Citizenship section covers citizenship basics, what it means to have a legal status, what to expect when taking the citizenship test, and in-depth information about the naturalization process. It also includes links that contain the fact sheet of U.S. citizenship examination questions, naturalization requirements, and more.

Can I Become a U.S. Citizen With a Nonimmigrant Visa?

The U.S. government, through the U.S. Department of State, offers a wide range of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas to individuals looking to travel to the U.S. either temporarily or permanently. Nonimmigrant visas are often issued for tourism, business, governmental or academic purposes. They can also issue employment-based visas for temporary workers. Asylum seekers may also enter with nonimmigrant visas and apply for asylum after entering. They can also apply for asylum at ports of entry. However, nonimmigrants, including asylees, do not automatically qualify for U.S. citizenship. Asylees and U visa holders can qualify for permanent residence, which would allow for naturalization after five years as a permanent resident.

Can I Become a U.S. Citizen With an Immigrant Visa?

In contrast, the U.S. government issues immigrant visas to individuals who want to stay permanently in the country. Immigrant visas can lead to citizenship. Family-based visas focus on family reunification, particularly the immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Can I Become a U.S. Citizen Through DACA?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration policy for undocumented individuals who arrived in the U.S. as children. They can request consideration for two years, provided they meet specific considerations. They may also be eligible to seek application for work authorization. However, DACA alone does not give a direct path to U.S. Citizenship. DACA recipients have to undergo other immigration avenues, such as obtaining an LPR status, first before they can be eligible for naturalization. With potential legislation through Congress, this could one day change.

Eligibility and Requirements for U.S. Citizenship

Lawful permanent residents (LPR) or green card holders can also apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Non-citizens who have had a valid green card for at least five years (three years for spouses of U.S. citizens), non-citizens who served in the U.S. military, and children of U.S. citizens typically qualify for U.S. citizenship. However, they should meet other eligibility requirements for citizenship application. Included among the requirements for U.S. citizenship are as follows:

  • Continuous physical presence in the United States as an LPR (green card holder)
  • Demonstrate good moral character
  • Pass the civics test and English test
  • Swearing oath of allegiance to the United States

Naturalization Process

Becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization includes paperwork, background checks, an interview, testing, and an oath of allegiance. Applicants for naturalization often complete the process without legal help, but some cases require the assistance of an immigration attorney.

The following articles can also help you understand your eligibility for naturalization.

Citizenship Test

The naturalization examination is composed of four parts. The speaking, reading, and writing tests all determine English language capabilities. The civics portion tests the applicant's understanding of U.S. history, government, and the legal system.

  • The Citizenship TestThis section includes samples of the test questions when you attend your U.S. citizenship examination. It also gives an overview of what to expect on the citizenship test.
  • Study for the Naturalization TestDuring your application for naturalization, you will be asked to take the civics and English tests. In the civics test, they will ask you ten questions from a list of 100 civics test questions, and you should answer 6 of them correctly to pass the test. You should demonstrate your ability to read, write, and speak English during the English portion. It is best to come in prepared by studying for the test.

Benefits and Responsibilities of U.S. Citizens

Naturalized U.S. citizens enjoy all the same rights and privileges available to natural-born citizens with some exceptions, including the ability to run for President. In return, citizens must uphold the U.S. Constitution and submit to other obligations of citizenship.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is no small task. Consider meeting with an immigration attorney if you need legal assistance.

Revocation of Citizenship

Citizenship is rarely lost. Natural-born U.S. citizens may renounce their citizenship but cannot have it revoked. However, in limited circumstances, naturalized citizens may be denaturalized. Denaturalization may occur for several reasons, including the following:

  • Citizenship was acquired through the fraudulent concealment or misrepresentation of relevant facts when applying for citizenship
  • Refusal to testify before a congressional committee investigating your involvement in subversive acts within ten years of naturalization
  • Membership in a subversive/terrorist organization such as the Nazi Party or Al Qaeda
  • On account of a dishonorable military discharge before five years of service

Navigating the Citizenship Journey With Legal Help

Living in a new country and acquiring citizenship can be overwhelming. You may encounter legal challenges that would require professional help. To make the process more manageable, it is recommended that you seek legal advice from an immigration law attorney. They can assist you with understanding the legal immigration process of acquiring U.S. citizenship. With their experience in navigating immigration policies, they can look at your immigration status and seek the best possible option for you.

Learning more about the steps and the requirements will avoid denial of your application or potential deportation. Contact an immigration attorney near you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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