U.S. Citizenship

If you are interested in obtaining U.S. citizenship, this section applies to you. Many individuals are already U.S. citizens and are not aware of it, and many are eligible to apply for naturalization but have not yet taken the steps to complete the process. There are many benefits to U.S. citizenship, including:

  • the right to vote in U.S. elections;
  • the right to travel with a U.S. passport;
  • the right to apply for certain government jobs;
  • the right to immigrate additional family members or speed the application process for others;
  • the right to live in another country without losing the right to return to the U.S.;
  • the right not be excluded or removed (deported) from the U.S.;
  • and the right to obtain certain government benefits.

Although the United States government does not recognize dual citizenship, your home country may allow for you to retain your citizenship. In order to find out if your home country allows for dual citizenship, you should contact your consulate in the United States or the appropriate government officials.

In general, there are four ways to obtain U.S. citizenship:
1) at birth in the U.S.;
2) by birth abroad to at least one U.S. citizen parent with additional requirements;
3) through the naturalization of your parents with additional requirements; and
4) through the naturalization process. (link to sections below)

  1. 1
    1) Birth in the United States

    If you were born in the United States or Puerto Rico, Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you are a U.S. citizen. As of June 1, 2009, you are also a U.S. citizen if you were born in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The only exception is if you were born to high-ranking foreign diplomats in the U.S. or the locations listed above.

  2. 2
    2) By Birth Abroad to a U.S. citizen parent (Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship)

    If you were born outside of the United States to at least one U.S. citizen biological parent, you may have acquired U.S. citizenship at birth by the nature of these relationships. If you have a child abroad, it is important to register the child as quickly as possible with the nearest U.S. Consulate.

    However if time has passed since your birth and you are unsure if you acquired citizenship at birth, you should consult a professional (an immigration attorney or a representative accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals) to determine if you are already a U.S. citizen. The law regarding citizenship through parents has specific rules that have changed over time, so the date you were born determines which law applies to you.

    In order to find out if you are a U.S. citizen through your parents, you should know the following:

    • What is your date of birth?
    • Were your parents married when you were born?
    • If your parents were not married, when did your U.S. citizen father recognize you as his child?
    • When did your United States citizen parent(s) live in the U.S., and how old were they at the time?
  3. 3
    3) Through the Naturalization of Parents (Derivation of U.S. Citizenship)

    If you were a Legal Permanent Resident under the age of 18 and both of your biological or adoptive parents naturalized, you are probably a U.S. citizen. If only one biological or adoptive parent naturalizes, the law depends on when you turned 18.

    If you turned or will turn eighteen after February 27, 2001 and you obtained Legal Permanent Residency before turning eighteen and at least one biological or adoptive parent naturalized before your eighteenth birthday, you are a U.S. citizen.

    If you turned eighteen prior to February 27, 2001, then prior to your eighteenth birthday, your parents would have had to be legally separated or divorced and the naturalizing parent would have had to have “legal custody” over you, or one of your parents had to be deceased when the surviving parent naturalized.

    If you are unsure whether or not you derived U.S. citizenship through the naturalization of your parents, you should know the following:

    • Are you a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR)?
    • In what year did you obtain your LPR status?
    • What year were you born?
    • When did your parent(s) naturalize?
  4. 4
    4) The Naturalization Process

    In general, a foreign national needs to acquire Legal Permanent Residency (LPR) status prior to obtaining U.S. citizenship.In addition, you must be at least eighteen years of age. There are two primary tracks: 1) if you are married to a United States citizen, you may apply for naturalization after three years of being an LPR; 2) if you are not married to a United States citizen, you may apply for naturalization after five years of being an LPR.

    Naturalizing to become a U.S. citizen is a big step in your life, and it is a step you should take carefully. If you have any criminal arrests or convictions – this includes any brushes with the law- or any adverse immigration history, you should consult with a legal professional prior to filing for naturalization. Please be careful because applying for naturalization when you have negative factors in your case can lead to the loss of your residency, extended detention, and possibly removal (deportation).

    There are a number of requirements that you need to demonstrate in order to become a U.S. citizen. You need to have maintained continuous residence during the preceding three or five years (depending on your track and the longest period that applies to you). This means that you have not remained outside of the United States for more than six months at a time. If you have had a break of between six months to one year, you may still be able to demonstrate continuous residence if there were exceptional circumstances that led to your extended absence.

    There is also a requirement that you have generally been physically present in the U.S. for more than half the time. For spouses of a U.S. citizen applying after three years of residency, you would need to show that you have been physically present in the U.S. for at least eighteen months. For all other applicants, you need to show thirty months of physical presence within the past five years. There are a few limited exceptions to these requirements.

    Additionally, you will need to demonstrate that you are a person of good moral character. There is no clear definition in immigration law of “good moral character,” but if you have had problems with drugs or alcohol, have been charged or convicted of a crime and/or have spend time in jail or prison, had problems with gambling or been involved with prostitution, failed to support your dependents, committed adultery or have committed any immigration-related violations such as smuggling, or have registered to vote or voted, you may have problems with the naturalization process. Further, if you were required to register for Selective Service (the draft) and failed to do so knowingly and willfully, you may also be found unfit for naturalization. It is strongly recommended that you consult with a legal professional if any of these situations apply or may apply to you.

    As part of the naturalization process, you will also need to take the full oath of allegiance to the United States and demonstrate that you generally support the U.S. form of government and the Constitution of the United States.

    Finally, you will need to pass an English literacy test, which includes a basic writing and reading test. You will also be tested on your knowledge of U.S. history and government. All study materials for these tests are available on the USCIS website (click here). There are exceptions to these requirements based on age or disability. If you request a waiver of these requirements based on disability, you generally must have a medical condition that prevents you from learning English.

    John W. Lawit, P.C. proudly and zealously represents clients in all types and aspects of obtaining U.S. citizenship.