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Citizenship and Naturalization

Contents

    Being a U.S. citizen gives you many rights and protections. There are different ways to become a citizen.

    U.S. Citizenship

    If you are born on U.S. soil, you are automatically a citizen at birth. If you were born outside of the U.S., you can become a citizen in one of three ways:

    • Acquisition – You were born abroad to at least one U.S. citizen parent;
    • Derivation – One of your parents naturalizes (becomes a citizen) before you turn 18 and you are living in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident (LPR, or green card holder) with that parent;
    • Naturalization – You apply for citizenship after age 18 while being an LPR.

    No matter how you become a citizen, all citizens have the same rights and responsibilities. The one exception is naturalized citizens cannot be president of the U.S. No citizen can be deported or have their citizenship revoked (canceled) unless they got their citizenship by fraud.

    Acquisition – Being Born Abroad to a U.S. Citizen Parent

    If both your parents were U.S. citizens and married when you were born, you are automatically a citizen if at least one of your parents lived in the U.S. or its territories any time before your birth.

    If you were born on or after November 14, 1986, and your parents were married but only one of them was a citizen at the time of your birth, there is a physical presence requirement for your citizen parent. That parent must have lived in the U.S. or its territories for at least five years before your birth. Two of those five years must have been after your citizen parent’s 14th birthday. If your citizen parent lived abroad for any of the following reasons, their time abroad will be counted toward the physical presence requirement:

    • Serving honorably in the U.S. armed forces
    • Being employed with the U.S. government
    • Being employed with certain international organizations

    If your citizen parent was abroad while they were an unmarried member of your grandparent’s household, their time abroad could count toward the physical presence requirement if your grandparent was doing one of the three things listed above.

    If your parents were not married when you were born, there are different requirements. If your mother was a U.S. citizen when you were born, she must meet the physical presence requirements listed above in order for you to be eligible for citizenship through her.

    If your father was a U.S. citizen when you were born, but your mother was not, here are the requirements in order for you to be a citizen:

    • Your blood relationship to your father must be established by clear and convincing evidence;
    • If your father is still alive, he must agree (or have agreed) in writing to provide financial support for you until you turn 18;
    • While you are under 18, one of the following must happen
    • Your father claims to be your legal father under the laws of the country where you were  a resident,
    • Your father acknowledges his paternity in writing under oath, or
    • Your father’s paternity is established by court; and
    • Your father meets the same physical presence requirements as if he were married to a noncitizen (see the Acquisition section above for more information on the physical presence requirements).

    To claim your citizenship through acquisition if you are inside the U.S., you need to complete and file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. While the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website offers instructions about completing the application, you may want to talk to an immigration lawyer before you file it. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find immigration lawyers and legal services in your area.

    If you are outside the U.S., you will need to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

    Derivation – A Parent Naturalizes Before You Turn 18

    The other way of becoming a U.S. citizen through your parent(s) is if—while you are a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR, or green card holder)— your parent is or becomes a citizen after your birth but before you turn 18. There are two different age categories.

    If you were born after February 28, 1983 and you are (or were) an LPR living in the U.S. with at least one citizen parent who has (or had) physical and legal custody of you, you could be a citizen based on your parent.

    If you were born before February 28, 1983, and both your parents were married to each other and naturalized before your turned 18, you could be a citizen based on your parents. If one of your parents died, your surviving parent must have naturalized before you turned 18. If your parents were divorced or legally separated, the parent who has physical and legal custody of you must have naturalized before you turned 18. If your parents were not married when you were born, and your father’s paternity has not been established, your mother must have naturalized before you turned 18.

    To claim your citizenship through derivation, you can complete and file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship,or you can apply for a U.S. passport with the Department of State. While the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website offers instructions about completing the N-600 application, you may want to talk to an immigration lawyer before you file it. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find immigration lawyers and legal services in your area.

    Citizenship through Adoption

    Adoption by a U.S. citizen parent generally grants citizenship to the adopted child, so long as the child was younger than 18 when adopted. There are some cases when the adoption had to be complete before the child turned 16. To learn more about how adoption affects citizenship, you may want to talk to an immigration lawyer. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find immigration lawyers in your area. You can also learn more by visiting the USCIS webpage on immigration and adoption.

    Naturalization – Applying for Citizenship After Being an LPR

    To be eligible to apply for citizenship, you must meet all of the following requirements:

    • Be an LPR
    • Be at least 18 years old
    • Be a person of good moral character
    • Have physical presence and continuous residence in the U.S. for a certain amount of time
    • Have basic knowledge of U.S. civics (some exceptions apply)
    • Be able to read, write, and speak English (some exceptions apply)
    • Pay the $725 fee or qualify for a full or partial fee waiver
    • ·Be ready to take the U.S. Oath of Allegiance

    Generally, you must have been an LPR for at least five years before you can apply to become a citizen. If you are an LPR married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply to become a citizen after three years of LPR status and marriage to your U.S. citizen spouse that you live with. To learn more about citizenship through marriage, read Naturalization for Spouses of U.S. Citizens on the USCIS website.

    There is no requirement to become a U.S. citizen if you are an LPR. LPRs can remain LPRs indefinitely. While there are benefits to becoming a citizen, that does not mean that this is appropriate for everyone. For some, applying for citizenship could result in being sent to deportation proceedings based on their prior immigration history or criminal conduct. If you have questions about whether becoming a citizen is right for you, speak with an experienced immigration lawyer. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find immigration lawyers and legal services near you. 

    If you have served honorably in the U.S. military, and have been an LPR for at least three years, you may be able to apply to be a citizen. To learn more about immigration benefits for members of the U.S. armed forces, read Military on the USCIS website.

    U.S. Civics Test

    One of the requirements for naturalization is a basic knowledge of U.S. civics (government and history). You will meet with a USCIS officer who will ask you up to 10 questions about U.S. civics. The officer can choose from any of 100 civics questions provided by the USCIS. You must be able to answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly.

    You do not have to meet the basic U.S. government knowledge requirement if you have a mental or physical impairment that affects your ability to learn and remember this knowledge. The impairment must have lasted for at least 12 months or be expected to last at least that long. ​The impairment must be “medically determinable,” meaning it must be diagnosed based on clinical or laboratory techniques. Being elderly or unable to read alone will not qualify as an impairment.​

    If you believe your impairment should exempt you from the basic knowledge requirement, complete and submit Form N-648​, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions. Submit the form with the naturalization application.​ A licensed medical professional must complete the form.

    English Test

    As part of the naturalization process you must take an English test. The English test has three parts: reading, writing, and speaking. Your ability to speak English will be determined by a USCIS officer during the entire interview. For the reading portion, you must read one out of three sentences correctly. For the writing test, you must write one out of three sentences correctly. Several study tools are available to help you prepare. USCIS has study materials for the English Test that include the specific words that you will need to be able to read and write.

    Depending on your age and time as a permanent resident, you may be exempt from the English Test. You may be exempt if one of the following scenarios is true on the date you submit your application to USCIS:

    • You are at least 55 years old and have been an LPR for at least 15 years;
    • You are at least 50 years old and have been an LPR for at least 20 years; or
    • You have a physical or mental impairment (review the U.S. Civics Test section above to learn more about the impairment exception).

    If you are exempt from the English test, you may have the interview and civics test in the language of your choice. You must bring your own interpreter, though. USCIS will not pay for an interpreter for you. 

    The Naturalization Process

    To apply to become a U.S. citizen, the first step is to complete and file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. If you would like help completing the application, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center may be able to help you for free.

    You will need to submit a filing fee and biometric fee (fingerprints) with you application. If your income is less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, you may qualify for a partial or full fee waiver. To apply for a partial fee waiver, you need to complete Form I-942 and submit it to USCIS. To apply for a full fee waiver, you can submit Form I-912. You can find out what the current fees are on the Filing Fee section of the USCIS Application for Naturalization page.

    After you submit your application, USCIS will send you a notice for a biometrics appointment. At this short appointment, your fingerprints will be taken and sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) so it can run a criminal background check. Show up to the location at the time and day stated on your notice.

    USCIS will schedule an interview with you after your background checks are complete. The interview is where you will take the English and U.S. civics tests. You will also go through the rest of the submitted application. To learn more about the interview, go to USCIS Naturalization Interview page.

    After the interview, USCIS will send you a written notice about your application. USCIS can grant, continue, or deny your application. If it grants your application, you will need to take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony before you are officially a citizen.

    If your application is continued, that means you may need to submit more information to USCIS. Your application can also be continued if you fail the civics or English test.

    Your application will be denied if evidence in your record shows you are not eligible to become a citizen. You can be denied for several reasons. Some examples of why you can be denied are:

    • Failure to demonstrate good moral character, which includes criminal and non-criminal conduct
    • Failure to meet the presence requirement(s)
    • USCIS believes you lied or committed fraud at some point in the past and this has not been waived

    Your application can also be denied if you fail the civics and/or English test a second time.

    If you believe USCIS made a mistake in denying your application, you can request a hearing. You will need to submit N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings. Instructions and information about fees can be found on the USCIS page. However, you may want to talk to an immigration lawyer before you request a hearing. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find immigration lawyers and legal services in your area.

    Dual Nationality

    Having dual nationality means a person is a citizen (national) of two countries at the same time. A dual U.S. national owes allegiance to both the U.S. and the foreign country. Both countries have a right to enforce their laws and policies, particularly when a dual national travels to that country. For example, a U.S. national must use their U.S. passport to enter the U.S. The same may be true for another country. Dual nationals are also able to avail themselves of the rights and protections of both countries. For example, a dual U.S. national is able to vote in U.S. elections.

    Dual nationality can happen automatically or by choice. An example of automatic dual nationality is a child born abroad to U.S. citizen parents. If the country where the child is born gives that child automatic citizenship, the child will be a dual U.S. national through acquisition (getting U.S. citizenship through their parents).

    When you naturalize in the U.S., you take an oath to give up allegiance to all other countries. Therefore, in the eyes of the U.S., naturalized citizens are viewed only as U.S. citizens. Sometimes, U.S. law may affect the law of your other/prior country of nationality.  For example, when someone naturalizes they may lose the nationality of the country of birth depending on the laws of that country. You should review your country’s citizenship laws to see what effects becoming a U.S. citizen mean for you. Many countries have this information on their embassy and consulate websites.