Becoming a U.S. Citizen
Individuals born in the United States automatically are granted U.S. citizenship (as specified by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution), while those born abroad to at least one U.S. citizen often qualify. Additionally, non-citizens serving in the U.S. military are granted an expedited path to citizenship.
Legal permanent residents ("green card" holders) also may become U.S. citizens through the process of naturalization. Those seeking citizenship through naturalization must meet certain criteria, such as English literacy and good moral character, while proving a general understanding U.S. history, laws, and government.
Below is a general overview of the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, with links to FindLaw articles and government resources. For more in-depth information, visit the "Citizenship" portion of FindLaw's Immigration Law section.
Eligibility for 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 if they meet all other requirements.
- See FindLaw's "Naturalization Requirements," "Requirements for Applying for Citizenship in the United States" and "Naturalization: Waivers, Exceptions, and Special Cases" to learn more about the criteria for naturalization.
- See "Citizenship Through Naturalization," "Continuous Residence and Physical Presence Requirements for Naturalization," and the Military section of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website for additional information.
The process of 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.
- FindLaw's "The Naturalization Process" subsection contains articles covering the basics of becoming a U.S. citizen, and "U.S. Citizenship & Naturalization Resources" contains helpful links to FindLaw and USCIS content.
- USCIS offers extensive resources to help prospective U.S. citizens navigate the naturalization process, including "A Guide to Naturalization" and the "Citizenship Resource Center."
- USCIS also offers online video presentations about the naturalization process: "Becoming a U.S. Citizen: An Overview of the Naturalization Process" and "Naturalization Information Sessions" (with Spanish language captions).
The naturalization examination is composed of four parts. The speaking test, reading test and writing test all determine English language capabilities. The civics portion tests the applicant's understanding of U.S. history, government and the legal system.
- FindLaw's "The Citizenship Test" subsection includes sample citizenship examination questions and an overview of what to expect on the citizenship test.
- See "The Naturalization Test" and "Study for the Test" on the USCIS website for helpful information and study guides.
Benefits & Responsibilities of Citizenship
Naturalized U.S. citizens enjoy all of 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.
- FindLaw's "U.S. Citizenship & Naturalization Overview" article includes general information on the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship.
- See "Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities" on the USCIS website for more details.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is no small task. Consider meeting with an immigration attorney if you need legal assistance.
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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.
Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with the citizenship process.