Becoming a United States citizen provides numerous rights and privileges. These are based in the United States Constitution and federal and state laws. The benefits of obtaining United States citizenship include, but are not limited to the following:
- The right to vote;
- Eligibility for federal employment or federal benefits, such as federal grants;
- Eligibility for state benefits;
- Right to sponsor family members for green card applications;
- Protection from deportation;
- Right to travel abroad with a U.S. Visa for a long period of time, with the right to return to the United States; and
- Right to run for public election and office.
In addition to the above benefits of becoming a United States citizen, becoming a citizen also imposes obligations on United States residents. For example, United States citizens have to pay federal taxes, register for selective service, and serve on a jury when ordered to do so.
Importantly, individuals that were born in the United States are automatically United States citizens, according to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Additionally, children born outside the United States to at least one parent with United States citizenship, also may qualify for United States citizenship. Finally, other persons may acquire United States citizenship through the process of naturalization.
In short, naturalization is the legal process where an individual who is not a United States citizen acquires United States citizenship. The naturalization process is often lengthy, and requires the non-citizen to meet numerous eligibility requirements.
The first main eligibility requirement is that the person seeking to become a United States citizen through naturalization must become a lawful permanent resident. The complete list of requirements for citizenship eligibility include the following:
- The applicant must have held a green card, i.e. be a lawful permanent resident for at least five years (some exceptions);
- The applicant must be at least 18 years of age;
- The applicant must have good moral character;
- The applicant must have lived for at least three months in the state in which they file the application;
- The applicant must be able to read, write, and speak some English, with exceptions;
- The applicant must have lived continuously in the United States for the five years preceding the date in which they filed the application for citizenship;
- The applicant must prove that they physically resided in the United States for at least 30 months of the five year period prior to filing the application for naturalization;
- The applicant must pass the United States citizenship test; and
- The applicant must swear to abide by all federal laws, the United States Constitution, and be loyal to the United States.
As can be seen, meeting the eligibility requirements to become a United States citizen may be a difficult task. However, once you meet the eligibility requirements for becoming a United States citizen, you may then file the application for naturalization. This done using the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) form N-400.
It is important to note that once you file the application for naturalization, the USCIS will investigate your entire immigration history. This means, if the USCIS discovers evidence of fraud in obtaining your green card or other similar issue, you may be deported.
As noted above, there are numerous steps that must be taken for an individual to obtain United States citizenship through the naturalization process. The first steps of the naturalization process were outlined above. These included determining if you were eligible to become a United States citizen, along with preparing and submitting the Form N-400 with the USCIS.
The remaining steps of becoming a United States citizen include:
- Biometrics Appointment: The USCIS requires that applicants for naturalization be fingerprinted and photographed. The purpose of the biometrics appointment is so that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) can conduct a thorough criminal background check on each applicant;
- USCIS Interview: After completing the biometrics appointment, each applicant will then receive an appointment to be interviewed by the USCIS. At the interview you can expect to be questioned regarding your form N-400, as well as take the required English and civics tests. After the interview, your interviewer will provide you with the results of your interview;
- Approval or Denial: After your USCIS interview, you will be issued a written notice of decision for your form N-400. Your application for naturalization may be either granted or denied. If your application is denied, and you feel the denial was incorrect, you may then appeal the decision by filing a form N-336;
- Oath of Allegiance Notice: If your application for naturalization was approved, you will be asked to attend an oath ceremony where you will make an “oath of allegiance” at a scheduled time and place;
- Oath of Allegiance: You will not become a United States citizen until you actually take the oath of allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. The oath may be administered by USCIS or a judge in a judicial ceremony. After taking the oath, you will receive you “Certificate of Naturalization”; and
- Understanding U.S. Citizenship: The final step of becoming a United States citizen is to understand the rights and responsibilities of all United States citizens. The rights and responsibilities were mentioned above, but include the right to vote in public elections, amongst others.
Regarding the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony: The oath is administered by USCIS at an administrative ceremony or by a judge in a judicial ceremony. Generally speaking, a court has exclusive authority to conduct the ceremonies in certain USCIS districts. You should receive your official Certificate of Naturalization after you take the Oath of Allegiance.
As can be seen, the process for becoming a United States citizen for non-citizens is complicated. Therefore, it is in your best interests to consult with a knowledgeable and well qualified immigration attorney in your area.
An experienced immigration attorney will be able to help you understand more about the immigration process. Additionally, they will be able to assist you with your application, and represent you in any necessary hearings.