A citizen of the United States is a native-born, foreign-born, or naturalized person who owes allegiance to the United States and who is entitled to its protection. In addition to the naturalization process, the United States recognizes the U.S. citizenship of individuals according to two fundamental principles: jus soli, or right of birthplace, and jus sanguinis, or right of blood.
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General Naturalization Requirements:
Age: The law states that in order to file a naturalization application, the applicant must be at least 18 years old.
Residency: The applicant must be a LPR (lawful permanent resident - i.e., green card holder — exception is if he or she served in war for the U.S) in accordance with the immigration laws. Individuals who have legal permanent status will be asked to produce an I-551, Alien Registration Receipt Card, as proof of their status.
Residence and Physical Presence: The applicant is eligible to file for naturalization if, immediately before the filing, he or she:
- has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence (see above);
- has been living continuously as a LPR in the U.S. for at least 5 years prior to filing without an absence from the United States of more than one year (single absence);
- has been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the previous five years (absences of more than six months but less than one year shall disrupt the applicant's continuity of residence unless the applicant can prove that he or she did not abandon his or her residence during such period): and
- has resided within a state or district for at least three months.
Good Moral Character: The applicant must generally show that he or she has been a person of good moral character for the statutory period (typically five years or three years if married to a U.S. citizen or one year for Armed Forces expedite) prior to filing for naturalization. The applicant is permanently barred from naturalization if he or she has ever been convicted of murder, or of an aggravated felony as defined in section 101(a) (43) of the Act on or after November 29, 1990. During the statutory period those who indulge in habitual, heavy drinking; practice polygamy; willfully fail to support their dependents; have been confined to penal institutions; among other such acts, cannot be regarded as a person of good moral character and thus may be also barred from naturalization.
Nevertheless, an applicant must disclose all the relevant facts to the Service, including his or her entire criminal history, regardless of the fact that this history could disqualify him or her under the enumerated provisions.
Attachment to the Constitution: The applicant must show that he or she is attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States.
Language: Applicants for naturalization must be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language. However some applicants are exempt from this requirement. They are those who on the date of filing:
- have been residing in the United States subsequent to a LPR status for periods totaling 15 years or more and are over 55 years of age;
- have been residing in the United States subsequent to a LPR status for periods totaling 20 years or more and are over 50 years of age; or
- have a medically proven physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant's ability to learn English.
Knowledge of the United States Government and History: All applicants for naturalization must ably demonstrate a basic knowledge and understanding of the history of the country and of the principles and form of government of the United States. Some applicants are exempt from this requirement. They are those who have a medically proven physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant's ability to learn U.S. History and Government
Applicants who have been residing in the U.S. subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 20 years and are over the age of 65 will be afforded special consideration in satisfying this requirement.
Oath of Allegiance: To become a citizen, one must take the oath of allegiance. By taking the oath, an applicant swears to:
- support the Constitution and obey the laws of the U.S.;
- renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title; and
- bear arms for the Armed Forces of the U.S. or perform services for the government of the U.S. when required.
In certain instances, INS will permit some applicants to take a modified oath, if he or she establishes that they are opposed to any type of service in the armed forces based on religious teaching or belief.
Filing: Filing for U.S. citizenship requires completion of Form N-400. Some INS offices may require Biographical Information Form G-325. In addition to the filing fees, the applicant needs to submit two INS-style photographs and (generally) a copy of the Permanent Resident card / green card (Form I-551).
Waivers, Exceptions, and Special Cases
Spouses of U.S. Citizens
The applicant who has been a LPR for 3 years, is currently married to a U.S. citizen, and has been married to the same U.S. citizen for the past 3 years may file for naturalization. The U.S. spouse must also have been a citizen for all three years and meets all the physical presence and residence requirements; and finally the applicant meets all other naturalization requirements.
There are also exceptions for LPRs married to U.S. citizens stationed or employed abroad. Some lawful permanent residents may not have to comply with the residence or physical presence requirements when the U.S. citizen spouse is employed by one of the following:
- the U.S. Government (including the U.S. Armed Forces);
- American research institutes recognized by the Attorney General;
- recognized U.S. religious organizations;
- U.S. research institutions;
- an American firm engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce of the United States; or
- certain public international organizations involving the United States.
Citizenship via Parents
There are many ways in which foreign-born children of U.S. citizens may obtain evidence of citizenship:
- Generally U.S. citizen parents of children born abroad may file a N-600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship. This form should be accompanied by 2 photographs of the child, copies of any documents that verify eligibility, and the required filing fee, to be considered complete and ready to process.
- It is important to note that children born abroad of U.S. citizen parents derive citizenship from their parents. The Certificate of Citizenship is merely a record of citizenship; it does not confer citizenship on an applicant.
- Adopted children of citizen parents acquire citizenship. For adopted children, adoptive parents file an N-643 instead of an N-600. However, adopted children over 18 must file an N-400.
Veterans of U.S. Armed Forces
The applicants who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible to file for naturalization based on current or prior U.S. military service. Such applicants should file the N-400 Military Naturalization Packet.
LPRs with Three Years U.S. Military Service
The applicant, who has served for three years in the U.S. military; who is a lawful permanent resident the time of his or her examination on the application is excused from any specific period of required residence, period of residence in any specific place, or physical presence within the United States. This applies if an application for naturalization is filed while the applicant is still serving or within six months of an honorable discharge or have served honorably or separated under honorable conditions and can establish good moral character if service was discontinuous or not honorable.
Applicants who file for naturalization more than six months after termination of three years of service in the U.S. military may count any periods of honorable service as residence and physical presence in the United States.
Veterans who have served honorably in any of the periods of armed conflict with hostile foreign forces specified below
An applicant who has served honorably during any of the following periods of conflict is entitled to certain considerations:
- World War I - 4/16/17 to 11/11/18;
- World War II - 9/1/39 to 12/31/46;
- Korean Conflict - 6/25/50 to 7/1/55;
- Vietnam Conflict - 2/28/61 to 10/15/78;
- Operation Desert Shield/ Desert Storm - 8/29/90 to 4/11/91; or
- any other period which the President, by Executive Order, has designated as a period in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or were engaged in military operations involving armed conflict with hostile foreign forces.
Applicants who have served during any of the aforementioned conflicts may apply for naturalization based on military service after qualifying service and the requirements for specific periods of physical presence in the United States and residence in the United States are waived.
History Civics Exams
The USCIS takes a History and Civics Exam to evaluate applicants on their ability to speak, read, write, and understand English and also check their knowledge of the U.S. and its government, at the interview for Naturalization. Therefore to help applicants to know about the United States and its government, these are some sample test questions. At the interview, the USCIS Officer will ask the applicants similar questions in an oral format.
Click here to download and print a set of your own civics flash cards in an Adobe format to study off-line.