Citizenship and Naturalization

United States citizenship is the culmination of an extended immigration journey. Becoming a citizen brings additional rights as well as new responsibilities, and gives one more security about living in the United States permanently.

There are several different ways to become a citizen. Some people become citizens automatically when certain requirements are met. These people typically become citizens at the time of birth or later when a parent naturalizes. People who are not citizens automatically typically must apply for naturalization. The exact requirements for naturalization vary.

Requirements for Automatic U.S. Citizenship

There are three broad categories of individuals who become citizens automatically. First are those who were born in the United States or in another territory or area designated by law. Second, many children born outside of the U.S. become citizens automatically if their parents met certain requirements. That typically requires that one or both parents were U.S. Citizens and often requires their having spent some period of time in the U.S. as well. Finally, many children become U.S. Citizens if they are already Lawful Permanent Residents, living in the United States, and at least one parent is or becomes a citizen before the child turns 18 years old.

Requirements for Naturalization, the U.S. Citizenship Process

The process of naturalization is the main way an immigrant becomes a U.S. Citizen. Most individuals who apply for naturalization are already Lawful Permanent Residents, or green card holders. The requirements for naturalization for most people are as follows:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Have lawful permanent residency for at least five years, except when the person is married to a U.S. Citizen it may be three years instead. Most people can apply three months early, making the time requirements four years and nine months, or two years and nine months.
  • Not have disrupted residence in the U.S. by living outside the U.S., spent longer than six months during a single trip without a good reason, or by spending longer than one year even with good reasons.
  • Have at least three months residing in the state or USCIS District with jurisdiction over the application.
  • Be physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the qualifying period of time, such as two and a half years if the requirement is five years, or one and a half years if the requirement is three years. This period applies to the five or three years immediately preceding the application.
  • Demonstrate attachment to the Constitution of the United States by registering for the Selective Service for certain men under age 31, understanding the Oath of Allegiance, and taking that Oath.
  • Meeting educational requirements, including the ablity to read, write, and speak English for most people, and to learn 100 questions about U.S. civics and history. There are some limited exceptions for this requirement.
  • Demonstrating good moral character, usually by not having a criminal record, as well as some other specified acts.

There are some exceptions to many of the above requirements so it is always recommended to consult with an attorney prior to applying for citizenship. Additionally, some people, including veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families, may qualify for different naturalization processes.

Right and Benefits Associated with U.S. Citizenship

U.S. Citizens, whether automatically or through naturalization, have nearly exactly the same rights. The main difference is that citizens through naturalization can be denaturalized if they were not properly granted naturalization for a specific reason. Some of the most important rights and benefits that people often seek out through naturalization are the rights to:

  • Vote in federal and most other U.S. elections
  • U.S. benefit programs which are unavailable to many immigrants
  • Apply for jobs that require U.S. Citizenship
  • Have easier movement in and entry to the U.S., such as at airport customs
  • Run for federal elected offices

There are some responsibilties that are only for U.S. Citizens as well:

  • Serve on a jury when required
  • Defend the United States in times of need
  • Support and defend the U.S. Constitution

Recent News About U.S. Citizenship


US Citizenship Office in Austin – Is There a USCIS Office in Austin, Texas?

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) operates many offices across the United States and even internationally. You can check for the nearest USCIS Office at As of today, USCIS does not have an immigration office in Austin, Texas, despite many immigrants living in the area. There are many USCIS offices in Texas. Most people…

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Is It Too Late to Apply For Citizenship and Vote in the 2020 Presidential Election?

Time is running out to complete the naturalization process in the United States in time to vote in the 2020 Presidential Election. Applying for naturalization, the process of becoming a US Citizen, is a time consuming process that generally involves four main steps: Submitting the form N-400, Application for Naturalization Attending a biometrics appointment to…

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USCIS Expands Unlawful Acts for Naturalization

USCIS announced changes to acts that are considered “unlawful” for purposes of determining “good moral character.” This is an important change that affects several different types of benefits, including naturalization applications for people applying for US Citizenship. Any person who believes they have ever had issues with any of the new unlawful acts should seek…

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