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 What Is Citizenship? How Is Citizenship Different From Naturalization?

U.S. citizenship is a specific status, implying that the citizen has a number of rights according to American laws and the United States Constitution. When a person is considered to be a citizen of the United States, they are entitled to federal assistance, among a number of other privileges. A few examples include:

  • The right to vote;
  • The right to live and work within the United States;
  • The right to run for specific public offices;
  • Consular protection when traveling abroad;
  • Invest in specific types of property;
  • Transfer citizenship to children who are born abroad;
  • The right to petition for other family members to immigrate to the United States, in order to become citizens themselves; and
  • The right to live in other countries, without losing the right to return to the United States.

Additionally, they are burdened with various responsibilities, such as:

  • Military service when applicable;
  • Paying taxes; and
  • Serving on a jury when summoned to do so.

A person can obtain American citizenship through a number of methods. This includes birthright citizenship, which is acquired by being born in the U.S. or in a U.S. territory. Another method would be naturalization, which is the only way a person can become a United States citizen if they were not born a U.S. citizen. The same is true if they did not acquire citizenship immediately after they were born. Only a person who has a permanent visa, which is also known as a green card, can apply for naturalization.

A person is considered to be a U.S. citizen by birth if they were born within the boundaries of the United States. This includes the following United States territories:

  • Guam;
  • Puerto Rico; and
  • The Virgin Islands.

Additionally, those who are born abroad may be considered U.S. citizens at birth if both of their parents are U.S. citizens at the time of their birth. Or, if at least one of their parents lived in the U.S. at some point during their lifetime. A person may also be considered a U.S. citizen at birth if one of their parents is a U.S. citizen. However, this is largely subject to additional requirements.

To summarize, the United States allows people to become citizens by birth or naturalization. The most common citizen path allows a person who has a green card for at least five years to apply for citizenship. Other ways to become a citizen include:

What Are The United States Citizenship Requirements?

It is important to keep in mind that the immigration process, including required criteria for obtaining citizenship, can vary drastically with each presidential administration. In order to receive the most accurate information, you should consider speaking with an immigration attorney. They will be most knowledgeable in terms of recent laws and procedures.

A person must first become a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. before they can apply for citizenship. In some cases, an applicant can reapply or appeal their case if their application is rejected. Additionally, each person is required to hold a green card for five years. After meeting the five-year green card holder requirement, they must also meet the following general requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing;
  • Live in the U.S. for at least three months prior to applying;
  • Reside in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the five years that they have been a green card holder;
  • Remain in the U.S. throughout the application process; and
  • Possess good moral character.

Because the term is somewhat ambiguous, it is helpful to further explore what is meant by good moral character, and what would be considered poor moral character. Unfortunately, there is no clear definition of good moral character for the purpose of an immigration proceeding. Generally speaking, “good” moral character means that your behavior meets the moral standard of the average citizen in your community. This is why customs and expectations associated with good moral character differ according to locality.

Some examples of factors that will affect a determination of your moral character include, but may not be limited to:

  • Refusing to pay court-ordered child support;
  • Failing to file or to pay income taxes;
  • Neglecting to register for Selective Service, if you are required to do so;
  • Lying to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) in order to obtain immigration benefits;
  • Driving drunk or habitual drunkenness;
  • Engaging in illegal gambling as a means of earning primary income; and
  • Committing adultery.

What Is The Process Of Applying For Citizenship?

In terms of immigration, most people are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen through the naturalization process. This involves many different steps, including:

  • Filing an application form;
  • Submitting all requested documents;
  • Completing an immigration interview;
  • Completing and passing the citizenship exam; and
  • Attending the swearing-in ceremony.

Generally speaking, the application that you will need is Form N-400, which is the application for naturalization. This form can be obtained from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), and submit it along with a copy of your green card. However, there are many different forms for citizenship applications, including:

  • N-600;
  • N-600K; and
  • N-643.

After applying for citizenship, you will be scheduled for an interview with the BCIS. The BCIS is formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS. Due to the backlog of cases in the BCIS, you will most likely receive an interview after at least 90 days have passed since the application was filed.

During this interview, a USCIS officer will test your English language ability as well as your knowledge of U.S. history and government. If the interview goes well according to USCIS standards, you will receive an appointment to be sworn-in. After the swearing-in ceremony you will then officially be a U.S. citizen and receive a certification of naturalization.

How Else Can I Become A United States Citizen?

In order to become a U.S. citizen by marriage, you must first obtain a fiancé visa or permanent visa. The fiancé visa allows a non-citizen to enter the country in order to get married. If you have already married a U.S. citizen and wish to become a citizen, you can apply for a conditional visa. In either case, the marriage must be legal according to US laws. Additionally, spouses that have obtained green cards through marriage do not have to adhere to the five year rule to apply for U.S citizenship.

If you stay married to the U.S. citizen, you can apply to become a citizen after three years of having the green card. The immigrant spouse must also meet other requirements, such as those previously discussed. It is important to note that if you marry a U.S citizen, you will not be eligible for U.S. citizenship right away. However, you may become eligible for a U.S green card that will then lead to obtaining citizenship.

A U.S. citizen can petition for a foreign-born relative to come to the United States. This is through a Family-Based Immigration Visa, either an immediate relative or family preference. There is a difference in the waiting period between these two categories. To apply for an immediate family member visa, the waiting period is six months to one year. The waiting period for preference family member visas is up to two years.

Do I Need An Attorney For Path To Citizenship Issues?

It is entirely possible to immigrate to the United States without the assistance of an attorney. However, as previously mentioned, immigration laws and requirements can change quickly. Additionally, mistakes made during the application process can bar you from applying for citizenship at a later date, or even deportation.

That is why you should consult with an experienced and local immigration lawyer if you would like to begin the process. Your attorney can help you determine whether you meet criteria, and how to apply for which specific visa would best suit your needs. Additionally, they will also be able to represent you in court as needed.


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