There are two ways to become a US citizen:
1. Operation of law – US citizenship is automatic and no action need be taken to become a US citizen. Documentation of US citizenship on the other hand, is a different matter. Examples include
(a) born in the US,
(b) born to US citizens abroad, or
(c) as an LPR child (under 18) living with a US Citizen parent in the US
2. Naturalization – This means taking action by completing an application for US citizenship (usually Form N-400), passing the naturalization interview, taking the oath of allegiance and receiving a certificate of naturalization.
The general US citizenship requirements are as follows:
1. At least 18 years of age – You are at least 18 years of age when you apply. However if you are less than 18 you may be eligible for naturalization if you have a US citizen parent or have served honorably in the military during designated periods.
2. Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence – you must have been legally entitled to receive your green card when you received it. Just having a green card is not enough. Additionally you must not have abandoned or forfeited your immigration status by your conduct.
3. Residency requirements – You must satisfy the following 3 residency requirements
(i) Continuous residence for at least 5 years (3 years if married to a US citizen)
(ii) Physical Presence – you must have been “physically present” in the United States for at least half the time for which you must have continuous residence. There are exceptions for the physical presence requirement for aliens who are employees of the United States government or who are under contract with it.
(iii) Residency in Jurisdiction – To establish eligibility for naturalization, most applicants must file their application for naturalization with the “State” or Service District that has jurisdiction over their place of residence. In addition, most applicants must have continuously resided in the State or Service District for three months before filing the application.
4. Good Moral Character – Good moral character (GMC) is one of the most important basic requirements in naturalization. An applicant must possess good moral character during the 5-year statutory period before the application. Conduct that may prevent a finding of good moral character include habitual drunkenness, giving false testimony to get an immigration benefit if given under oath, membership of a communist party, some controlled substance violations and a conviction for certain aggravated felonies.
The courts have held that good moral character means character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides. The examining officer may consider any conduct or acts which offend the accepted moral standards of the community in which you live, even if you have never been arrested or convicted.
5. Support for the principles of the US Constitution – you must show that during the statutory period, you have been and still are a person “attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States.”
6. English and Civics – you must pass a citizenship test to decide your ability to speak, read and write Basic English and your knowledge of United States history and government.
Selective Service Registration
Unless exempted, all men living in the United States (whether documented or undocumented) who are between the ages of 18 to 25 years must have registered for Selective Service. Though Selective Service registration is not a requirement for naturalization, a “knowing and willful failure to register” may result in denial of US citizenship because the US Citizenship and Immigration Services may find that the applicant lacks good moral character. Furthermore INA Section 337(a)(5)(A) requires any applicant for naturalization to publicly declare his willingness to bear arms on behalf of the United States.
A naturalization applicant who failed to register for Selective Service, may however send an affidavit (a statement under oath) with his application stating that his failure to register was not willful.
There are many exceptions to these general rules. For example a US citizen parent may apply for naturalization on behalf of his or her child born and residing abroad (using form N-600K) when the child is less than 18 years. Because of these many exceptions the US citizenship requirements for each person (e.g. those who have served honorably in the US military) may be different.
You may be eligible for US citizenship and not know it or you may have obstacles from your past which, if not addressed, could bar you from getting US citizenship. It is important to consult an immigration attorney if you are thinking about making a US citizenship application.
I have a policy to strongly recommend that permanent residents become United States citizens as soon as they are eligible to avoid deportation and protect their legal rights in the land that they love and have chosen to make their home.
If you or a family member have questions and concerns about becoming a United States citizen or your citizenship status, please give my immigration law office a call at 888-747-1108. I would be happy to help.
Resources for US citizenship application and US citizenship test
Use the following links from the and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network CLINIC to help you learn more about United States citizenship requirements, how to apply for citizenship and prepare for the citizenship test.
3. Study Materials for the English Test (Video available)
4. Study Materials for the Civics Test (Video available)
Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”