U.S. Citizenship

There are many advantages to becoming a U.S. citizen. U.S. citizens have the right to vote in U.S. federal and state elections; they are eligible to sponsor and bring family members to the U.S. permanently; they can obtain citizenship for their children who are born abroad; and they can travel abroad using a U.S. passport, which entitles them to the protection and assistance of the U.S. government overseas. In addition, U.S. citizens are eligible for federal government and agencies jobs and may be eligible to be elected to office in the U.S. Most importantly, becoming a U.S. citizen is a way to show one’s affinity and commitment to the U.S. U.S. citizens are required to pledge allegiance to the U.S and give up all prior allegiances to any other country or sovereignty. Citizens are required to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and laws and in the absence of a waiver, serve the country if called upon in times of war.

Naturalization

Citizenship may be obtained either by birth in the U.S. or via naturalization (a process by which eligible foreign nationals may obtain U.S. citizenship). Foreign nationals who are admitted to the U.S. on permanent resident status are eligible to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S if he/she fulfills the requirements for naturalization. A review of the requirements is set forth below.

Age Requirements:

An applicant must be at least 18 years old or older at the time of filing for naturalization. Certain exceptions apply which allows a minor child under 18 years old to become naturalized prior to the minor child's 18th birthday.

Residential Requirements:

There are two types of residential requirements that must be met in order to qualify for naturalization. The first requirement is the continuous residence requirement. If an immigrant is not married to a U.S. citizen, he/she must first reside in the U.S. for a continuous period of five (5) years. For the spouse of a U.S. citizen, he or she must reside in the U.S. for a continuous period of three (3) years after lawful admission to the U.S. as a permanent resident and before he/she is eligible to apply for petitioning for citizenship. It is important to note that although an individual may travel outside the United States, to do so for more than six months at a time disrupts the continuous presence requirement. In addition, applicants must also satisfy the physical residence requirement prior to applying for naturalization. For the physical residence requirement, applicants must demonstrate that they have resided in the United States as a permanent resident for half the duration of the continuous presence. Essentially, this means, physical presence of eighteen (18) months out of the three (3) year period for individuals married to U.S. citizens or thirty (30) months out of the five (5) year period for others.

In addition, it bears noting that any period of stay beyond one (1) year outside the U.S. requires the applicant to obtain a re-entry permit from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before the intended date of travel abroad. The re-entry permit is valid for stay up to two (2) years outside the U.S. Finally, it is important to note that individuals who merely travel back and forth to the United States only to preserve his or her permanent residence status may be placed under a great deal of scrutiny by USCIS officers at the port of entry and can ultimately have their permanent residence status revoked.

Spouses of citizens who are assigned abroad by their U.S. employer may be exempt from continuous residence and physical presence requirement. In order to fall under this exemption, the applicant must be (1) a U.S. permanent resident; (2) he/she must be physically present in the U.S. at the time of naturalization; (3) he or she must affirm their intentions to reside in the U.S. upon completion of the citizen spouse's overseas assignment, and in most cases, affirm his or her intentions to reside with the citizen spouse abroad upon completion of the naturalization process. If these conditions are met, the applicant may be eligible to apply for citizenship right after he or she obtains permanent resident status and does not have to wait for the regular period of three (3) or five (5) years after the issuance of permanent resident status.

Language Requirements:

Applicants must pass a test established by USCIS at the time of his/her citizenship interview to demonstrate one’s ability to read, write, speak English and possess knowledge of basic understanding of U.S. history and government (civics).

The applicant's reading and writing proficiency is tested by written examination. The English language requirement does not apply to:

  1. Those who are physically unable to comply due to disability;
  2. Those who are unable to comply due to mental impairment;
  3. Those who are at least fifty (50) years old at the time of filing and have lived in the U.S. as a U.S. permanent resident for at least twenty (20) years (although applicant must take the civics test in his or her native language);
  4. Those who are at least fifty-five (55) years old and lived in the U.S. as a U.S. permanent resident for at least fifteen (15) years (although applicant must take the civics test in his or her native language).

Good Moral Character Requirements:

A naturalization applicant may fail to meet this requirement in the following circumstances:

  1. Involvement in prostitution, alien smuggling, and most criminal activities, particularly those that involve imprisonment for six (6) months or more;
  2. Has committed adultery in a notorious and open manner, as in a case where the adultery has led to the destruction of the marriage;
  3. Failure to properly comply with IRS laws regarding taxes;
  4. Failure to register with the Selective Service when the alien is required to do so;
  5. Has committed and been convicted of certain crimes of “moral turpitude”.

Selective Service Registration:

Selective Service Registration is a way the U.S. government keeps a list of names of men from which to draw in case of a national emergency requiring rapid expansion of the U.S. Armed Forces. Federal law requires all men to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of reaching 18 years of age. Late registrations are accepted; however, a man cannot register once he reaches age 26. Verification is not required of applicants who are 26 years of age or older. Registering with Selective Service does not mean one is joining the military or that one is signing up for the all-voluntary Armed Services. The Selective Service System and the registration requirement for America's young men provide in essence, a backup system to the current all-volunteer military force. USCIS makes registration with Selective Service a condition for U.S. citizenship if the man first arrived in the U.S. before his 26th birthday and if he is not exempt due to his nonimmigrant status in the U.S at the time of arrival. A man who fails to register may, if prosecuted and convicted, face a fine of up to $250,000.00 and/or a prison term of up to five (5) years. Even if not tried, a man who fails to register with Selective Service before turning age 26 may find that he is ineligible for certain federal benefits and privileges. They include:

Student Financial Aid

Federal Job Training and,

Federal Jobs

Dual Citizenship

The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a citizen of two countries at the same time. For example, a child born in a foreign country to U.S. citizen parents may be both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the country of birth. Each country has its own citizenship laws based on its own policy.

A U.S. citizen may acquire foreign citizenship by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship over another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship depending on particular application procedures. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, federal law requires that the person must voluntarily apply for the foreign citizenship, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.

Intent can be shown by the person's statements or conduct. The U.S. government understands that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on U.S. citizens with dual nationality may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. government efforts to assist citizens abroad. Most importantly, there are concerns that a person with dual citizenship may be ambivalent on allegiance to one country versus another country. Most countries permit a person to have dual citizenship, but each country's laws is different and the dual national must familiarize himself with these laws before thinking of pursuing U.S. citizenship.

Please note: Immigration laws and regulations are constantly changing and this article is provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed or relied upon as legal advice under any circumstance. Please refer to our legal disclaimer for additional details.