Applying for U.S. Citizenship
Becoming a U.S. citizen comes with great, compelling advantages: You can vote; you are entitled to government benefits; you become a holder of the world’s most powerful passports; you are eligible for certain federal government jobs, and much more.
So how does one become a U.S. citizen? You may obtain U.S. citizenship by birth or by naturalization. Unless you were born in the U.S., or one or both of your parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth abroad, you are required to go through the naturalization process.
U.S. Citizenship by Naturalization
What is the naturalization process? It is the process wherein a foreign national is granted U.S. citizenship after they meet the requirements stipulated in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
To qualify for U.S. citizenship, you must fulfill the following requirements for naturalization:
- Continuous residence requirement: you must have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years as a lawful permanent resident (having a green card) prior to applying. If you are married to and living with a U.S. citizen, the continuous residence requirement is three years.
- Physical presence requirement: you must have been physically present in the United States for two and one-half years (2.5 years) if you are applying based on the 5-year continuous presence and one and one-half years (1.5 years) if you are applying based on the 3-year continuous presence (basically half the time of the continuous residence time)
- Age requirement: you are 18 years old or older
- Jurisdiction requirement: you lived within the State or the USCIS district with jurisdiction over your place of residence for at least three months prior to the date of filing
- Good moral character requirement: you can demonstrate you have good moral character, which can be affected by not filing taxes when you should have been, having a criminal background, for men, not registering for selective service when you were required to do so, etc.
- English proficiency requirement: You must be able to read, write, and speak English. You will be tested at your naturalization interview.
- Knowledge of U.S. history/civics: You must know the history and government of the United States
- Allegiance to the U.S.: you must pledge your allegiance to the United States and accept the principles of the U.S. Constitution. You will be given an oath of allegiance at the final stage of our approval to be a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Naturalization Application Resources and Study Guides
- For further information regarding the English and Civics/ History exams, please click here.
- There are limited situations that exempt applicants from taking the English exam. Click here for more information on this.
Acquired U.S. Citizenship at Birth
If you were born abroad to U.S. citizen parents or a parent, depending on the date of your birth, and other U.S. residence and physical presence requirements of your U.S. citizen parent(s), and in some cases, of your U.S. citizen grandparent(s) and/ or your residence in the U.S., you may have acquired U.S. citizenship by birth. The scenarios vary, depending on the date of your birth, since applicable laws change over the years.
One scenario is the following: If you were born abroad on or after November 11, 1986, you are a U.S. citizen if both your parents were U.S. citizens, they were married at the time of your birth, and one of them had ever resided in the U.S. If only one parent was a U.S. citizen and the other was a U.S. national, then the citizen parent must have been physically present in the U.S. or its outlying territories for a continuous period of 1 year. If one parent was a U.S. citizen and the other was foreign alien (non-U.S. citizen/ national), then the U.S. parent must have been physically present in the U.S. or its outlying possessions for 5 years, 2 of which after the age of 14. The physical presence may be in aggregate, and time the parent was in the U.S. as a non-immigrant or even unlawfully counts. There are other possibilities that one born abroad to married U.S. parents may have acquired U.S. citizen at birth. This nationality chart on the USCIS website really helps to summarize the scenarios.
It is a whole different analysis if you were born abroad to unmarried parents, and whether the U.S. citizen parent was your mother or your father. This nationality chart on the USCIS website really helps to summarize the scenario for such out-of-wedlock birth abroad (e.g., residence requirements are different depending on whether it was your mother or your father who was the U.S. citizen, and if father, then there are additional requirements of legitimation).
Derivative U.S. Citizenship
Then there is yet another birth abroad scenario in which there was no acquisition of U.S. citizenship at birth, but if certain facts exist prior to certain age (18 years in most cases, or 21 in other, earlier cases), you may have derived citizenship through your U.S. citizen parent. A common scenario involves foreign national parents immigrating to the U.S. with the whole family including minor children. One or both parent naturalizes to become a U.S. citizen. If the child was born on or after February 27, 2001 and lived in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. parent and the child is under 18, then the child has derived citizenship when the U.S. parent gained citizenship by naturalization. Similar to acquisition of citizenship at birth, there are many variables depending on the date of birth of the child. This nationality chart on the USCIS website really helps to summarize the scenario for derivative citizenship cases.
Advantages of Being a U.S. Citizen
We’ve touched on this subject lightly in the beginning, but let’s take a deeper look into it. In addition to being able to enjoy all the rights and benefits of being a U.S. citizen, such as the right to vote and to obtain certain government benefits, you are protected from removal (“deportation”) if you were to be convicted of certain otherwise deportable offenses (e.g. aggravated felonies, crimes involving moral turpitude or “CIMT, etc.).
Another benefit: You may bring your fiance(e) from overseas in order to marry within the United States (the fiance(e) may then apply for adjustment of status in the U.S.). It is unclear at this time, however, if a U.S. citizen who has acquired U.S. citizenship automatically at birth is the same as “natural born” citizen under the U.S. Constitution, for purposes of eligibility to become the United States President.
Why is a U.S. citizenship lawyer in San Jose needed for the citizenship/ naturalization process?
Applying for U.S. citizenship is such a huge decision and an extremely important milestone to be done “DIY style.” The naturalization process is long, complex, and littered with nuances. A San Jose immigration attorney can guide you throughout all the stages, from gathering the requirements for naturalization to preparing for the interview. Additionally, should you run into challenges, an immigration lawyer can look into all the options, so you can still achieve the desired outcome.
If you are considering obtaining U.S. citizenship through naturalization, or if you believe you may have acquired or derived citizenship through your parent(s), contact the San Jose immigration attorneys the Law Office of Alison Yew for a consultation.