Citizenship and Naturalization

Many times, it will help people significantly to be citizens of the United States. Sometimes people are put in removal (formerly deportation) proceedings, and have very little hope of not being removed. In these situations, they must explore the possibility whether they are United States citizens through derivative citizenship. Derivative Citizenship is the process whereby the Immigration and Naturalization Service will give you a Certificate of Citizenship proving that you are a U. S. citizen. Additionally, it is usually considerably faster to obtain the Certificate of Citizenship rather than going through the Naturalization process.

There are two ways for a person to become a U.S. citizen. One is by operation of law, eg. birth in the U.S. or birth abroad to U.S. citizens or nationals. The other way is by naturalization, which requires an affirmative application and satisfaction of statutory eligibility requirements. Generally, an applicant must be 18 years of age at the time of filing of Application for Naturalization; however, minors with at least one citizen parent may be naturalized on the application of the parent.

Often people do not realize that they are United States citizens. You may have been born a U.S. citizen, or you may have become a U.S. citizen at the time of your parents' naturalization. Even if your parents were undocumented immigrants, you are a U.S. citizen. It is the physical location of the child at the time of birth and not legal or illegal status of the parent that determines whether the child is a citizen.

Q: Why become a U.S. citizen?

As compared to a permanent resident, a U.S. citizen can:

  1. Vote and hold public office. The right to vote is usually reserved for U.S. citizens. Some cities allow permanent residents to vote in local school board and community board elections but those are rare exceptions. If you become a naturalized citizen, you can hold all public offices except President and Vice-President of the United States.
  2.  Be employed in government jobs not available to permanent residents. Most federal jobs and some state and municipal jobs (such as fire-fighter and police officer) require U.S. citizenship as a condition of employment.
  3. Live outside the U.S. without losing permanent residence. Unlike a permanent resident, a U.S. citizen does not have to worry about the right to return to the U.S. after a lengthy absence abroad. If you are a permanent resident and you spend too much time abroad, you may be considered to have abandoned your U.S. residence. You may lose your right to return.  Avoid danger of being removed for events occurring after naturalization. If you are a U.S. citizen you cannot be removed for violations of law or public policy that occurred after you became a U.S. citizen.
  4. A permanent resident can be removed for a number of reasons, including criminal activity, smuggling, and political activity. Once you become a U.S. citizen you cannot be removed from the U.S. unless you did not have the right to become a U.S. citizen in the first place. In that case, the INS will have to take your citizenship away before they can remove you.

Get a U.S. passport. Sometimes a U.S. citizen can visit countries that citizens of other countries cannot. Some permanent residents become U.S. citizens so that they can travel easily to countries where preciously they needed a visa or were forbidden to go.
Have the right to public benefits. If you become a U.S. citizen, you'll feel better knowing that if you need help from the government, you'll be able to get it.  

Q: How does one become a U.S. Citizen?

In general, in order to become a U.S. Citizen, one must file form N-400 with INS. One is eligible to apply for citizenship after having been a permanent resident for a period of five (5) years, unless permanent residency was based on marriage to a U.S. citizen and that marriage still exists. In that case, a person needs only to wait for a period of three (3) years before applying. One can file the necessary forms and documentation ninety (90) days before meeting the time requirements, i.e., a person can file an application for naturalization four years and nine months after the grant of permanent residency.

Absences from the U.S. during the statutory period may affect a person's eligibility to naturalize. For absences of six months and less, there is no break in continuous residence. An absence of more than six months but less than one year presumes abandonment of continuous residence for naturalization purposes. The alien, therefore, must show that the requirement for continuous residence has been met; he or she must show his/her intent to naturalize by objective evidence. An absence of one year or more breaks continuous residence and so the five-year residency has to start all over. Exceptions are given to employees of certain U.S. government agencies and U.S. companies, and international groups of which the U.S. is a member.

In addition to having been a permanent resident for the requisite period of time, one must be a person of good moral character, having been physically present in the United States for an aggregate total of at least one half of the period required for continuous residency (generally two and one-half years unless permanent residency obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen in which case the period would be one and one-half years). While age and disability exceptions exist, one generally must be able to read, write, and speak basic English and possess an understanding of the basics of U.S. history and government.

To become a U.S. citizen, one must express his/her allegiance to the U.S. by taking an oath of allegiance. One may be denied naturalization if one is, or has been, a member or connected to the communist party or similar organization during the ten years prior to filing a naturalization application.

If you have been a member of one of the groups described above during the ten-year period prior to filing a petition for naturalization, in some cases you may still be naturalized. Your political activity may be forgiven if your membership in the organization ended before you were 16 years of age, or if your membership was involuntary. Involuntary means compelled by law or for the purposes of getting the necessities of life. If you fall into one of these categories, you can be naturalized.

Q: What are potential risks of the Naturalization Process?

When you apply for naturalization, you give the INS the opportunity to review your immigration history. If you have committed an act that may make you removable, consult an immigration law expert before filing your application. Be especially careful if you have been convicted of a crime, or if the INS may think that you obtained your permanent resident status improperly. Some people who are discovered to have committed visa fraud or criminal activity may end up in a lengthy removal process and may eventually be removed from the United States.

Q: What is a Dual Citizenship?

A U.S. citizen may also be a citizen of another country in certain instances. Dual citizenship situations arise because there is no single international norm on the acquisition of citizenship. When you become a U.S. citizen, the U.S. government asks you renounce all other citizenship. Some countries do not recognize this renunciation, and will consider you, a naturalized U.S. citizen, to be a citizen of both countries. If you are worried that you will lose citizenship in another country, check that country's consulate before you naturalize.

If you are already a U.S. citizen and want to become a citizen of another country, you probably can do so without jeopardizing your U.S. citizenship. You can lose your U.S. citizenship if you commit an act of expatriation, such as joining a foreign army or participating in a foreign government.