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What Is a U.S. Citizen?

U.S. citizenship gives a person as many rights the U.S. has to offer under their laws. A U.S citizen has the right to vote, the right to petition for other family members to immigrate to the U.S. to become citizens, and has the right to live in other counties without losing the right to return back to the U.S. 

Becoming a U.S. also gives citizens many rights and privileges in accordance with the United States Constitution and applicable federal and state laws. Citizenship also imposes a number of obligations on a person, such as serving on a jury when ordered to do so and paying taxes. Citizenship can be acquired through birth or through naturalization.

How Do I Become a U.S. Citizen?

A person can be or become a U.S. citizen in several ways:

  • You are born in one of the United States or its territories
  • Your parents are both U.S. citizens at the time of your birth
  • You are naturalized apply and become a U.S. citizen
  • Both of your parents are naturalized when you are a minor

How Do I Apply for U.S. Citizenship?

To apply for citizenship, a person must meet many factors, such as:

  • You lived in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for at least five years
  • You were present in the U.S. for half of those years
  • You are 18 years or older
  • You did not make any other country your permanent home during the time you resided in the United States
  • You have good character

What are the Forms for U.S. Citizenship?

You must fill out the immigration form appropriate to your situation, and submit it along with a copy of your green card, required photographs, and a fee. There are many forms for citizenship applications including N-600, N-600K, N-643, etc. See an immigration lawyer to determine which form is right for you.

What Is the U.S. Citizenship Interview?

After applying for citizenship, the applicant is scheduled for an interview with the BCIS (formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Because of the great backlog of cases in the BCIS, the applicant will most likely receive an interview after at least 90 days has passed since the application was filed. Most applicants do not receive an interview for many months after they apply. The interview will be conducted in English unless you qualify for a few very specific exceptions.

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS)

Before September 2002, the agency that was charged with overseeing immigration issues was the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In September 2002, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act, transferring the powers of the INS to the Department of Homeland Security. The immigration and citizenship service functions of the INS are now placed under the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).

What Is Naturalization?

Naturalization is one process where an immigrant can apply to become a U.S. citizen. In most circumstances, the person seeking to be naturalized has held a green card / permanent visa for a long period of time before she or he has taken any steps towards naturalization. To be eligible for citizenship through naturalization process, a person needs to meet certain eligibility requirements. These include, but are limited to:

  • The applicant has been a permanent resident for at least 5 years; or
  • The applicant has been a permanent resident in the U.S. for at least 3 years, and is able to file as a spouse of a person who is a U.S. citizen
  • The applicant has served in the U.S. military and has met various requirements associated with service and citizenship
  • Various other requirements related to children of U.S. citizen.

The citizenship process also involves other steps and requirements, such as interviews and a naturalization test.

What If Only One Parent was a U.S. Citizen at the Time of Birth?

Depending on when you were born, and which of your parents was the U.S. citizen, you may have had U.S. citizenship passed to you. The United States Congress and the United States Supreme Court have changed the citizenship laws many times throughout the last century. Thus, if you were born one year to one U.S. citizen parent and one non-citizen parent, the laws determining whether you are or are not a citizen can be different than if you were born the year prior. Check with an immigration lawyer for more information.

Should I see an Immigration Attorney If I Want to Apply for U.S. Citizenship?

The application and interview process for U.S. citizenship is lengthy and time consuming. Additionally the procedural rules of the BCIS are extremely strict. An immigration attorney can help you sift through the very detailed requirements and make your application process move smoothly. An immigration attorney can also help you prepare for the interview and collect all the proper documentation for the application. For people who are uncertain if they already are U.S. citizens, an immigration attorney can help determine which citizenship law applies to your situation.

Vea esta página en español: Ciudadanía o visita Abogados-Leyes.com para más información legal.

Photo of page author Ki Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 11-19-2017 11:34 PM PST

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