US citizenship is a natural pathway for immigrants living in the United States. Individuals may start the process when they are statutorily eligible under the INA, or they qualify under the exempt provisions of the statute. Green card holders are eligible to apply either as a spouse in three years and five years if in any other category. Once the interview is approved by the consular officer, the individual can then take the oath and become a naturalized citizen.
An individual over the age of 18 seeking to become a citizen of the United States must apply for naturalization by filing an Application for Naturalization, Form N-400. To be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must fulfill certain eligibility requirements set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In an immigrant’s life, the decision to become a U.S. Citizen can be very important. Individuals must demonstrate a commitment to the unifying principles of the U.S. constitution and in return, will enjoy many of the rights and privileges that are fundamental to U.S. Citizenship.
During the last decade, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) welcomed more than 6.8 million new naturalized U.S. citizens. In fiscal year 2010, approximately 495,232 individuals have been naturalized.
The eligibility requirements specify that the applicant must:
Be at least 18 years of age, a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), have resided in the United States for at least five years, have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months, must be a person of good moral character, and be able to speak, read, write and understand the English language. The interview includes a test of the individual’s knowledge of U.S. government and history and once approved, to be willing and able to take the Oath of Allegiance.
Even though there are special naturalization provisions which exempts certain applicants from one or more of the general requirements, the overall process and requirements remain the same for the majority of applicants. Spouses of U.S. citizens and members of the military constitute the main categories of individuals who are exempt from some of the general requirements for naturalization.
Spouses of U.S. citizens may apply for U.S. citizenship three years after being admitted as lawful permanent residents, rather than the five years prescribed under the general provisions. Spouses of U.S. citizens stationed abroad may not be required to meet any particular residence or physical presence requirement.
Members of the military who served honorably during certain periods of conflict may be eligible for naturalization even though they have not been admitted as lawful permanent residents and even if they are under the age of 18. Members of the military who served honorably for at least one year, at any time, and apply for naturalization within a certain time after their military service, are also exempt from the general residence and physical presence requirements.
In addition to these naturalization provisions, the INA also provides for the naturalization of children who are under the age of 18.
A child under the age of 18, who is a lawful permanent resident residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen parent, may automatically acquire U.S. citizenship.
A child who is residing abroad, who is temporarily present in the U.S. based an any lawful admission, may be eligible to apply for naturalization while under the age of 18 if he or she has at least one parent who is a citizen of the United States, and the parent (or qualifying grandparent) meets certain physical presence requirements in the United States. There are exemptions benefiting children of active-duty members of the military stationed abroad.
All persons filing an Application for Naturalization who have submitted a complete application along with all required documents will be scheduled for an interviewed by a USCIS officer. Those applicants found qualified are scheduled for an oath ceremony before a judge or an officer delegated the authority by the Director of USCIS to administer the Oath of Allegiance. Applicants do not become U.S. citizens until they have taken the Oath.