Becoming a U.S. Citizen

U.S. citizenship carries tremendous privileges, rights, and benefits. Generations of people have  sacrificed so much to immigrate to America and seek citizenship.

There are four fundamental ways to obtain U.S. citizenship: 1.) Citizenship by birth in the U.S., 2.) Citizenship through derivation, 3.) Citizenship through acquisition, and 4.) Citizenship through naturalization. Most immigrants in the United States become citizens through the naturalization process. An average of almost one million permanent residents apply for naturalization each year.

Commonly Asked Questions

Citizenship through Naturalization

Naturalization refers to the process in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen. For foreign-born persons, naturalization is the most common way to become a U.S. citizen. There are several requirements that must be fulfilled before an individual can apply for citizenship. Generally, applicants must be 18 years old and fall into one of the following three basic eligibility categories:

  • Have been a permanent resident for the past 5 years;
  • Currently married to and living with a U.S. citizen and have been married to and living with that same U.S. citizen for the past 3 years;
  • Currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces (or will be filing your application within 6 months of an honorable discharge) and have served for at least 1 year.
Citizenship through Derivation

When a parent naturalizes, his or her children (under the age of 18 and living with the parent at the time) may “derive” U.S. citizenship automatically, provided they are also permanent residents. What’s more, a child who gets U.S. citizenship through derivation does not have to participate in a naturalization ceremony. Generally, foreign-born children under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if three requirements are met:

  • The child must have U.S. lawful permanent resident status (“green card” holder); and
  • At least one parent must be a U.S. citizen; and
  • The child must be residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen parent.
Citizenship through Birth

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Under United States law, any person born within the United States (including the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands) is automatically granted U.S. citizenship.