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We assist clients in successfully navigating the impersonal and complex process of the U.S. immigration system. Our years of experience mean that our attorneys provide knowledgeable legal service to our clients.
Many foreign nationals who become lawful permanent residents (also known as Green Card holders) dream of becoming citizens of the United States. Helping immigrants achieve citizenship is one of the most rewarding services we offer. Although the citizenship application process can be overwhelming and confusing, it’s our goal to make it as straightforward as possible.
ADVANTAGES TO BECOMING A CITIZEN
Becoming a United States citizen has its advantages. For example, a permanent resident who wishes to travel outside the country for more than six months must apply for a re-entry permit through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before traveling. If not, they may be denied re-entry into the U.S. or be required to obtain a new visa. On the other hand, a citizen can travel abroad for unlimited periods.
Other common advantages of citizenship include:
- The right to vote in state and federal elections
- Eligibility to work in federal jobs
- The right to become an elected official
- Protection from deportation
- Citizenship privileges for children and broader sponsorship privileges for relatives
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), people achieve U.S. citizenship in three main ways: by being born in the U.S.; by naturalizing; or through one’s parentage (derivative citizenship, citizenship by acquisition, and INA § 322 citizenship).
Citizenship Through Naturalization
Whereas people under the age of 18 who acquire or derive U.S. citizenship through their parents are normally granted Certificates of Citizenship, permanent residents who apply for and are granted citizenship receive Certificates of Naturalization.
What is Naturalization?
Naturalization is the process through which lawful permanent residents over 18 become citizens of the United States. Most adult foreign nationals who want to acquire U.S. citizenship first need to obtain an immigrant visa and live as a permanent resident for a specific length of time before they can apply for naturalization.
The precise requirements for naturalization depend on your exact situation. For instance, most Green Card holders must be permanent residents for five years before they qualify for citizenship; however, Green Card holders who marry U.S. citizens qualify after just three years of marriage.
In general, permanent residents must meet the following requirements
to qualify for citizenship through naturalization:
- Be 18 or older
- Have permanent residency for the required period (depending on the specific situation)
- Be able to demonstrate good moral character according to the principles of the U.S. constitution
- Be able to demonstrate literacy in the English language
- Be able to demonstrate fundamental knowledge of the country’s history, government, and foundational principles
- Be willing to take an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S.
Permanent residents who meet these requirements can submit an Application for Naturalization (N-400 form), along with supporting documentation, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, then interview with a USCIS officer to verify their eligibility. Citizenship is formally achieved only after swearing an Oath of Allegiance in a naturalization ceremony.
Citizenship Through Parentage
Under the Child Citizenship Act, a child under 18 (whether biological or adopted) can automatically derive citizenship from one citizen parent, so long as they meet certain requirements.
Requirements for derivative citizenship:
- The parent must be a born citizen or become naturalized before the child’s 18th birthday
- The child must live in the U.S.
- The child must be in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent
Although children who meet these requirements “automatically” become citizens, the parent must still file specific documentation to record and verify their child’s citizenship status.
Another way many children born outside the U.S. achieve citizenship is through acquisition. Whereas children who derive citizenship do so after they’re born, children who acquire citizenship do so at birth based on one or both parents’ citizenship status.
There are specific cases in which foreign-born children might not automatically qualify for citizenship (for instance, if they were not in their citizen parent’s legal custody at birth). In these situations, the parent must apply for citizenship on behalf of their child according to certain rules outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA § 322).
The citizenship process is complex and highly dependent on your exact situation. If you are seeking naturalization for yourself or for a loved one, we invite you to speak with our team at Magnolia Immigration Law. We can guide you each step of the way, from determining your eligibility to preparing you for USCIS interviews. Our citizenship lawyers have been doing this for two decades, so we know what it takes to smoothly progress through the citizenship application process. We can help with family-based visas, employment visas, and more.