"Naturalization" is the legal term for the process of acquiring United States citizenship after birth. In order to naturalize, a foreign citizen or national may apply for U.S. citizenship after he or she complies with the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA requires that applicants for citizenship establish that they qualify to become U.S. citizens based on residence and physical presence, good moral character, knowledge of English language, U.S. history and government, and loyalty to the United States.

Residence and physical presence
One of the legal requirements to become a citizen has to do with "residency" and physical presence in the United States. In order to qualify for citizenship, an applicant must be a permanent resident, i.e., the holder of a "green card" and have lived in the U.S. for a certain period of time. If the applicant became a permanent resident through marriage to a U.S. citizen, the applicant may apply for citizenship after residing in the U.S. for three years from the date on which permanent residency or conditional permanent residency was obtained. Otherwise, the applicant must have resided continuously in the U.S. for at least five years and been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months of those five years.

In order to qualify, the applicant may not have any single absence from the U.S. of more than one year. Absences of more than six months but less than one year are considered to disrupt the applicant's continuity of residence unless the applicant can establish that he or she did not abandon his or her residence during such period. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) treats time spent in the service of the U.S. Armed Forces as time physically present in the U.S., even if the applicant was out of the country. Finally, the applicant must have resided within one state for at least three months.

Good moral character
Another requirement is that an applicant for citizenship be a person of "good moral character" during the required permanent residency period (although the CIS may also look at events that occurred prior to residency to determine character). Persons who have been convicted of aggravated felonies committed on or after November 29, 1990 or who have ever been convicted of murder are permanently barred from applying for citizenship on this basis. Any applicant with a criminal record should consult an immigration attorney prior to applying for citizenship because many crimes that make a permanent resident ineligible for citizenship make him or her deportable as well.

Knowledge of English language, U.S. History and Government
A test is administered at the time of the naturalization interview to determine the applicant's knowledge of basic English, U.S. history and government. The test requires that the applicant write a sentence in English dictated by a CIS officer and answer a number of multiple-choice questions about American history and U.S. government.

Loyalty to the United States
An applicant for citizenship is required to demonstrate that he or she is attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States. Once an applicant is approved for naturalization, he or she must take the oath of allegiance in a ceremony actually conferring citizenship. The applicant swears to support the Constitution and obey the laws of the U.S., renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title, and bear arms for the Armed Forces of the U.S. or perform services for the government of the U.S. when required.

Banned Individuals
Individuals who do not fulfill the requirements above may be ineligible to become a naturalized citizen. Additionally, there are certain classes of people who are automatically barred from naturalizing to the United States. Anarchists, individuals who advocate or teach opposition to organized government, people affiliated with the Communist Party or any other totalitarian party, persons who advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government, saboteurs, or persons who publish subversive material regarding the violent overthrow of government are all such classes of people. A person who has deserted the U.S. Armed Forces or has pending deportation proceedings against them is automatically barred from naturalizing to the United States.

Becoming a United States citizen carries a number of benefits with it, as well as responsibilities.

Benefits of Being a U.S. Citizen
One of the most obvious benefits and responsibilities bestowed upon a U.S. citizen is the right and duty to vote and participate in the political process that shapes the nation. Additionally, a naturalized U.S. citizen is entitled to all the benefits of traveling abroad with a U.S. passport, including relative freedom of movement throughout the world without having to comply with burdensome visa requirements. Serving on juries is another responsibility of citizenship.

Some of the greatest benefits for naturalized citizen are immigration benefits. For example, only U.S. citizens are permitted to petition for their parents, siblings or for their married children. U.S. permanent residents are not. To apply for citizenship, please contact us.