US citizenship can be obtained by birth, by parentage, or through a process called naturalization.
All people born in the US and subject to the jurisdiction of the US are US citizens at the time of their birth. This applies to people born in all territories and possessions of the US as well.
How to Get US Citizenship Through your Parent
People born outside of the US to parents who are US citizens can acquire US citizenship. If at least one of your parents is a US citizen, you can acquire citizenship through this parent if you are under eighteen years old, reside in the US with at least one of your US citizen parents, and are legally in the US as a permanent resident. If you do not reside in the US, you can still acquire citizenship through a US citizen parent if this parent has been residing lawfully in the US for at least five years, you are under eighteen years old, and you entered the US lawfully in a temporary status. In both of these cases, you automatically acquire US citizenship and do not need to apply for US citizenship.
People who need to document proof of their US citizenship can file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, with the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service) to receive a certificate showing their status as a US citizen. You do not need to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization if you acquired citizenship through your parent. Form N-400 is used by those who need to apply for US citizenship.
Eligibility to apply for US citizenship
If you are not a US citizen by birth or you did not acquire US citizenship through your parents after you were born, you may be eligible to apply for US citizenship through a process called naturalization. Unless you are a member of the US military, you must be a legal permanent resident (Green Card holder) in order to be eligible to apply for US citizenship.
You may eligible to apply for US citizenship if:
- You have been a legal permanent resident for at least five years;
- You have been a legal permanent resident for at least three years and are married to a US citizen; or
- You have qualifying service in the US military.
You must be physically present in the US for a certain amount of time before being able to file your US citizenship application. The amount of time required depends on your basis for being able to obtain US citizenship.
If you are required to have five years as a legal permanent resident, you must have thirty months of physical presence in the US before you can file your US citizenship application.
If you are married to a US citizen and are using this as a basis for your US citizenship, you must have eighteen months of physical presence in the US before you can file your US citizenship application.
If you are using qualifying military experience as a basis for your US citizenship application, your time in the military can be counted toward the physical presence requirement.
You must have continuous residence in the US during your status as a permanent resident. This is separate from the requirement to be physically present in the US. If you have left the US for over six months, you may have broken your period of continuous residence in the US. You will need to submit proof with your US citizenship application that you did not break this period of continuous residence. If you have left the US for more than one year, you have broken this period of continuous residence in most cases. Members of the military are exempt from this requirement.
You must demonstrate good moral character. If you have been convicted of certain crimes, including murder or any aggravated felonies, the USCIS will determine that you do not have good moral character. Other offenses may temporarily prevent you from applying for naturalization. You must be truthful when completing your US citizenship application. The USCIS may deny your US citizenship application if you lie about anything while completing it.
Applying for US citizenship
If you are eligible, you can apply for US citizenship by completing and filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. You will need to submit the form along with two passport-style photographs and supporting documents to the appropriate USCIS office.
After you file your US citizenship application, you will be required to get your fingerprints taken at a local USCIS office. You must also appear for an interview and pass English and Civics examinations. If you fail either of these tests, you will be given an appointment to retake them. If you fail either test a second time, your US citizenship application will be denied.
Once you have completed all of these steps and received a notice from USCIS stating that your US citizenship application has been approved, you must appear to take an Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. The USCIS will send you a notice containing the date of this ceremony. At some USCIS offices, you may be able to complete this oath on the same day as your interview.
You will receive your certificate of naturalization once you have completed the Oath of Allegiance. This certificate can be used as proof of your US citizenship. You may need to modify your status with the Social Security Agency and the state that issued your driver’s license to reflect that you are now a US citizen.