US Citizenship Requirements

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.


US citizenship ceremony - applicants taking the oath of allegiance before becoming US Citizens













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.

1. Citizenship application Form N-400

2. US Citizenship application fee (N-400 fee)

3. Study Materials for the English Test (Video available)

4. Study Materials for the Civics Test (Video available)

5. Naturalization Requirements Information

6. Naturalization Self-test (English)

7. Naturalization Self-test (Languages other than English, e.g. Tagalog)

8. USCIS Guide to Naturalization (How to obtain US citizenship)



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.”

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How to obtain US citizenship for a child born outside the US and living permanently abroad

Child Citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act

Under present law a child born abroad to only one parent who is U.S. citizen parent, and the other parent a foreign national, does not get U.S. citizenship at birth (by filing Form DS-2029) unless the citizen parent meet a specific U.S. physical presence requirement. Before the child was born, the citizen parent must have lived in the United States for a total period of at least five years with two of those years being after the citizen parent was 14 years old.

For a citizen parent that does not meet this physical presence requirement there is an alternative of expedited naturalization.

Who is eligible for citizenship?

A child born and living permanently abroad may get a certificate of citizenship when all the following five (5) requirements exist

  1. At least one parent is a citizen of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization. If the U.S. parent is dead, the applicant must show that at least one parent was a U.S. citizen.
  2. The U.S. citizen parent was physically present in the United States for at least 5 years, at least two of which were after the age of 14 or the U.S. citizen grandparent was physically present in the United States for at least 5 years, at least two of which were after the age of 14.
  3. The child must be less than 18 years and unmarried.
  4. The child is residing outside of the United States in the legal and physical custody of the applicant, and
  5. The child is temporarily present in the United States by a lawful admission, and is maintaining lawful status.

Citizenship for an adopted child

A U.S. citizen parent may also apply for a certificate of citizenship for an adopted child. In addition to the above requirements, the applicant must show that the adoption was final before the child’s sixteenth (16th) birthday, the U.S. citizen parent had legal custody and the child has lived with the parent for at least two (2) years.

The application for a certificate of citizenship

  • An application for a certificate of citizenship by the parent, grandparent or legal guardian on behalf of the child must be filed on Form N-600K with the correct fee and supporting documents while the child is living at a foreign address.  The application may be filed with any USCIS district office in the United States. The citizen parent may indicate any preferred interview dates.
  • The citizen parent should allow at least ninety days to enable USCIS to make a preliminary decision and schedule an interview. The parent will recieve a Form G-56 General Call in Letter, from the Deaprtment of Homeland Security (DHS) at the foreign address signifying that the child has a naturalization interview to attend in the United States.
  • The citizen parent will use the appointment notice to get a b2 visitors visa for the child (if not from a Visa Waiver Program country) from the U.S. consulate abroad. The b2 visitor visa is for the explicit purpose of attending the USCIS interview. The child must intend to return abroad as condition for obtaining the b2 non immigrant visa. Proof that his parents live abroad is usually enough to prove non-immigrant intent. 
  • The U.S. citizen parent, grandparent or legal guardian should go with the child to United States to the USCIS interview and carry supporting documents.
  • After approval at the scheduled interview and after taking and subscribing to the oath of allegiance inside the United States before an officer of USCIS the child becomes a United States citizen and gets a  certificate of citizenship.
  • The child is free to stay in the United States.

It is important to remember that USCIS must approve the application for quick naturalization before the child’s eighteenth (18th) birthday. Therefore the N-600K filing should be done in a timely manner.

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US Citizenship for a child with a green card

I am a US Citizen. My 16-year-old son came to the US 2 years ago on a green card. He lives with his mother who has a green card. Is my son a US Citizen?


US Citizenship for a child with a green card – The Requirements

For a permanent resident child to acquire automatic US Citizenship the law requires that:

1.            at least one parent must be a US citizen;

2.           the child must be under 18 years old; and

3.            the child must live in the US in the legal and physical custody of a US Citizen Parent (the child must be still living with a US Citizen Parent).

All three citizenship requirements must be met at the same time. Pursuant to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (effective Feb. 27, 2001) at the moment all these requirements are fulfilled the child is deemed a United States citizen.

Child must live with US Citizen Parent

Your son is not a US citizen at this time because he does not live with you. If you were to have legal custody of your son and can show a court order granting you custody of your son or if you can show factually that you son lives with you, (e.g. your address is contained on his school records, he is claimed as a dependent on your IRS tax returns and receives mail at your home), then all three  citizenship requirements would be met and your son is a US citizen.  Additionally if his mother becomes a US Citizen before he reaches 18 and he is still living with her, he could acquire automatic US citizenship then.

Get Certificate of Citizenship to prove US Citizenship

If your son acquires automatic US Citizenship you should file an up-to date copy of Form N-600 ( available at and include the application fee and supporting documents to get his Certificate of Citizenship. His certificate of Citizenship will then be used to document his US Citizenship and to apply for a US Passport.

Naturalization Process as a practical alternative

If your son does not qualify for automatic US Citizenship before he turns 18 he will have to satisfy the requirements for United States Citizenship through the Naturalization process using Form N-400 ( also available at The requirements for naturalization are:

  1. permanent resident in the US for at least 5 years (continuous residence);
  2. physical presence in the US (he has not been outside the US for more than a specified time);
  3. good moral character ( he has conducted himself in a legal and acceptable way);
  4. an understanding of English and US history and Government;
  5. an understanding of and support for the principles of the US Constitution; and
  6. residence for a specific amount of time in the state or USCIS district where he will file.

US Immigration Attorney Gary Goodin.

Copyright © 2011 Immigration Navigator

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