Becoming a U.S. citizen is a dream of many. Every year thousands of citizen candidates seek ways to obtain U.S. citizenship. This is because U.S. citizenship has various advantages that range from voting rights to running for an office. Getting citizenship is also a symbolic milestone as it officially confirms that now you are an “American.” In that regard, here in this writing, we will explain the ways of becoming a U.S. Citizen.
In general, there are 4 ways to become a U.S. Citizen:
- Citizenship by Birth
- Citizenship by Acquisition
- Citizenship Through Bonds (Derivation)
1. Citizenship by Birth: Born in the U.S. or its Outlying Possessions
If you are born inside the U.S. or one of its outlying possessions, you are automatically granted U.S. citizenship! The outlying possessions of the U.S. are territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam. Birthright citizenship is as old as the United States, and it was constituted as a right in the Fourteenth Amendment:
“All persons born or naturalized in the U.S., and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the U.S. and the State wherein they reside.”
However, there is an exception to this right for children whose parents are foreign diplomats working in the U.S. at the time of the child’s birth. Foreign diplomats are not considered to be under the jurisdiction of the United States and its laws. Although children of foreign diplomats are not eligible to be U.S. citizens by birth, they may seek lawful permanent residence.
2. Birth to Citizen Parent(s) – “Acquisition”
If you are born outside of the U.S. to a citizen parent or parents, you may “acquire” citizenship through your parent or parents. However, as the name suggests, you are not automatically granted citizenship at birth. Instead, to acquire citizenship through your parent or parents, you need to apply for a citizenship certificate by filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
Please be reminded that the current laws regulating the requirements and procedures of acquisition are valid for children born on or after the 14th of November 1986.
- If both of your parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth,
- Your parents must have been married at the time of your delivery, and at least one of your parents must have lived in the U.S. before the birth.
- If only one of your parents was a U.S. citizen at the of your birth,
- Your parents must have been married at the time of your delivery, and the citizen parent must have lived in the U.S. for at least five years before dawn. Lastly, two years of the five years lived in the U.S. must be after the citizen parent’s 14th birthday.
Whether the birth occurs after marriage or out of wedlock is also an effective factor here.
If the birth occurs after marriage;
USCIS considers a child to be born in wedlock when the legal parents are married to each other at the time of the child's birth and at least one of the legal parents has a genetic relationship with the child. For this reason, if,
- The child's legal parents are married to each other, and at least one legal parent was that child's genetic parent at the time the child was born.
- The parent fulfills the residency or physical presence requirements under applicable law and the child fulfills all other applicable requirements under INA 301.
The children can seek U.S. Citizenship.
If the birth occurs out of wedlock;
Child of a U.S. Citizen Father
The general requirements for naturalization at birth for a child born in wedlock also apply to a child born out of wedlock outside the United States who has sought citizenship through a US citizen father. In particular, the provision remains valid in the following cases.
- Establishing blood bonds between child and father with clear and convincing evidence.
- The child's father was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child's birth.
- The child's father agrees in writing to provide financial support to the child until the child turns 18.
The following criteria must be met before the child turns 18:
- The child is legitimized in accordance with the residence law.
- The father accepts the paternity of the child in writing and under oath.
- The paternity of the child is determined by the decision of a competent court.
- In addition, the residence or physical presence requirements in the relevant paragraph of INA 301 also apply to children born out of wedlock, who claim citizenship through their father.
Child of a U.S. Citizen Mother
The rules governing whether a child born out of wedlock outside the United States acquires citizenship from a U.S. citizen mother at birth varies depending on when the child was born.
The child was Born Between 23 December 1952 and 12 June 2017
A child born between December 23, 1952, and June 12, 2017, outside the United States, out of wedlock, can acquire citizenship if they meet the following requirements at birth.
- Must be the child of a U.S. citizen mother.
- The child's mother must be a U.S. citizen at the time of the child's birth.
- The child's U.S. citizen mother must have been physically present in the United States continuously for 1 year prior to the child's birth.
Child Born on or After 12 June 2017
A child born out of wedlock outside the United States, born on or after June 12, 2017, acquires citizenship at birth if:
- The mother of the child was a US citizen at the time of the child's birth.
- The child's US-citizen mother must have been physically present in the United States for at least 5 years (with at least 2 years after the age of 14) prior to the child's birth.
3. Citizenship Through Bonds (Derivation): Children of Parent(s) Who Completed Their Naturalization
If you are born into the parent(s) who are naturalized, you may be eligible for naturalization through your parent(s). This is called “derivation,” as you ‘derive’ citizenship from your naturalized parent(s). To be eligible for derivation:
- You must be younger than 18 with a Green Card
- You must be physically present in the U.S. under the supervision of your family.
- At least one of your parents must have a U.S. Citizenship
Naturalization is the process by which green card holders (with exceptions) of the U.S. can become U.S. citizens. Paths to naturalization vary from applicant to applicant and, therefore, can be a long and confusing journey for some. There are multiple categories with which the citizen candidate can apply for U.S. citizenship. And eligibility requirements for naturalization vary according to the candidate's category. To reach the categories and look into their specific requirements, please see Citizenship and Naturalization.
However, there are still standard requirements that every candidate must meet to be eligible for naturalization:
Listed requirements with a star symbol (*) mean that there are exceptions to them based on military service.
- The citizen candidate must be a Green Cardholder*
- (The time you must spend as a permanent resident in the U.S. varies according to your category)
- The citizen candidate must complete their category's wait time after the Green Card is issued*
- The citizen candidate must be at least 18 years of age.
- The citizen candidate must not take trips six months or longer outside of the U.S. during their designated wait time before naturalization application.
- The citizen candidate must have been residing in the state s/he applies for naturalization for at least three months.
- The citizen candidate must have a good moral character. Please see this PDF file to understand better 'what having a good moral character entails. (Starting with page 9)
- The citizen candidate must accept to serve in the U.S. when called upon for national duty.
- The citizen candidate must be willing to protect the Constitution of the U.S.
You may also find this useful online Naturalization Eligibility Tool prepared by USCIS, automatically articulating your eligibility with criteria questions.
Grape Law is The Right Place for You!
As we explained, there are numerous ways to become a U.S. citizen. Whether you are born in the U.S., born into a U.S. citizen or naturalized parents, or have a green card, you can be a U.S. citizen! If you know your status and how to proceed with your application, you will be officially recognized as an “American” and join the thousands of people whose dreams came true!
We look forward to hearing from you with any questions and inquiries concerning becoming a citizen and cannot wait to be a part of your citizenship journey!