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How can I become a United States citizen?

A person may become a U.S. citizen (1) by birth or (2) through naturalization.

Who is born a United States citizen?

Generally, people are born U.S

. citizens if they are born in the United States or if they are born to U.S. citizen parents.

1. By being born in the United States

If you were born in the United States (including, in most cases, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), you are an American citizen at birth (unless you were born to a foreign diplomat). Your birth certificate is proof of your citizenship.

2. Through birth abroad to TWO United States citizens

In most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if ALL of the following are true:

  • Both your parents were U.S. citizens when you were born; and
  • At least one of your parents lived in the United States at some point in their life.

     Your record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of your citizenship. You may also apply for a passport to have your citizenship recognized. If you need additional proof of your citizenship, you may file a Form N-600, "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" to get a Certificate of Citizenship.

In most cases, an applicant for naturalization must be a permanent resident (green card holder) before filing.  Except for certain U.S. military members and their dependents, naturalization can only be granted in the United States.

Who May Qualify for Naturalization?

You May Qualify for Naturalization if:

  • You have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years and meet all other eligibility requirements.
  • You have been a permanent resident for 3 years or more and meet all eligibility requirements to file as a spouse of a U.S. citizen.
  • You have qualifying service in the U.S. armed forces and meet all other eligibility requirements.
  • Your child may qualify for naturalization if you are a U.S. citizen, the child was born outside the U.S., the child is currently residing outside the U.S., and all other eligibility requirements are met.  

When does my time as a Permanent Resident begin?

     Your time as a Permanent Resident begins on the date you were granted permanent resident status. This date is on your Permanent Resident Card (formerly known as Alien Registration Card).

What form do I use to file for naturalization?

     You should use an "Application for Naturalization" (Form N-400).

If I have been convicted of a crime but my record has been expunged, do I need to indicate that on my application or tell an Immigration officer?

Yes. You should always be honest with USCIS regarding all:

  • Arrests (including those by police, Immigration Officers, and other Federal Agents);
  • convictions (even if they have been expunged); and
  • crimes you have committed for which you were not arrested or convicted.

       Even if you have committed a minor crime, USCIS may deny your application if you do not tell the Immigration Officer about the incident.

Where do I file my naturalization application?

     You should send your completed "Application for Naturalization" (Form N-400) to the appropriate USCIS Service Center. For information about the Service Center that serves your area, please refer to the instructions for Form N-400. Remember to make a copy of your application. DO NOT send original documents with your application unless the checklist on page 34 states that an original is required.

What is the fee for processing an application?

The current fee information you can find here.                           

How long will it take to become naturalized?

     The time it takes to be naturalized varies from one local office to another. USCIS reportes that it takes, on average, between 6 and 9 months to become naturalized. USCIS continues to improve the naturalization process.

 What if I cannot make it to my scheduled interview?

     It is very important not to miss your interview. If you have to miss your interview, you should notify the office where your interview is scheduled by mail as soon as possible. In your letter, you should ask to have your interview rescheduled. Rescheduling an interview may add several months to the naturalization process, so try not to change your original interview date. If an emergency arises and you absolutely cannot make your appointment, call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 to request rescheduling. The NCSC will record the information, and pass it on to the local office, which will make the final decision whether to reschedule your appointment. If you miss your scheduled interview without notifying USCIS, we will "administratively close" your case. Unless you contact USCIS to schedule a new interview within 1 year after USCIS closes your case, we will deny your application. USCIS will NOT notify you if we close your case because you missed your interview.

 If USCIS grants me naturalization, when will I become a citizen?

     You become a citizen as soon as you take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. In some places, you can choose to take the Oath the same day as your interview. If that option is not available or if you prefer a ceremony at a later date, USCIS will notify you of the ceremony date with a "Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony."

What can I do if USCIS denies my application?

   There is an administrative review process for those who are denied naturalization.  If you believe you have been wrongly denied naturalization, you may request a hearing with an immigration officer.  Your denial letter will explain how to request a hearing and will include the appeal form.

Can I reapply for naturalization if USCIS denies my application?

      In many cases, you may reapply. If you reapply, you will need to complete and resubmit a new N-400 and pay the fee again. You will also need to have your fingerprints and photographs taken again. If your application is denied, the denial letter should indicate the date you may reapply for citizenship. If you are denied because you failed the English or civics test, you may reapply for naturalization as soon as you want. You should reapply whenever you believe you are sufficiently prepared to pass the English and/or civics test.

If I am a U.S. citizen, is my child a U. S. citizen?

     A child who is born in the United States, or born abroad to a U.S. citizen(s) who lived in (or came to) the United States for a period of time prior to the child’s birth, is considered a U.S. citizen at birth.

A child who is:

  • born to a U.S. citizen who did not live in (or come to) the United States for a period of time prior to the child’s birth, or
  • born to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent or two alien parents who were naturalized after the child’s birth, or
  • adopted and is permanently residing in the United States

can become a U.S. citizen by action of law on the date on which all of the following requirements have been met:

  • The child was lawfully admitted for permanent residence*; and
  • Either parent was a United States citizen by birth or naturalization**; and
  • The child was still under 18 years of age; and
  • The child was not married; and
  • The child was the parent’s legitimate child or was legitimated by the parent before the child’s 16th birthday (Stepchildren or children born out of wedlock who were not legitimated before their 16th birthday do not derive United States citizenship through their parents.); and
  • If adopted, the child met the requirements of section 101(b)(1)(E) or (F) and has had a full and final adoption; and
  • The child was residing in the United States in the legal custody of the U.S. citizen parent (this includes joint custody); and
  • The child was residing in the United States in the physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.

     If you and your child meet all of these requirements, you may obtain a U.S. passport for the child as evidence of citizenship. If the child needs further evidence of citizenship, you need submit an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600) to USCIS to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship. If the child meets the requirements of Section 101(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act as an adopted child, you may submit an “Application for Certificate of Citizenship on Behalf of an Adopted Child” (Form N-643). (Note: a child who meets these requirements before his or her 18th birthday may obtain a passport or Certificate of Citizenship at any time, even after he or she turns 18.)

*NOTE – Children who immigrate in the “IR - categories must have had an immigrant petition filed on their behalf before their 16th birthday. All adoptions for any other type of immigration benefit, including naturalization, must be completed by the child's 16th birthday, with one exception: A child adopted while under the age of 18 years by the same parents who adopted a natural sibling who met the usual requirements.

**NOTE – The “one U.S. citizen parent” rule only applies to children who were under age 18 on or after February 27, 2001. For children claiming automatic citizenship prior to this date, the individual in certain cases would have to establish that the parent or parents who were not U.S. citizens by birth had naturalized (or that the naturalizing parent was separated or legally divorced and had legal custody of the child).

If I am a U.S. citizen, but my child does not meet the requirements listed above, can I still apply for citizenship for my child?

     If a child regularly resides in the United States and is not a lawful permanent resident, he or she cannot acquire citizenship automatically until he or she is granted lawful permanent residence. If a child who has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence fails to qualify for citizenship under the provisions of law, the child may apply for naturalization by filing an N-400 after reaching 18 years of age, provided that he or she has the required 5 years of lawful permanent residence.

U.S. citizens may apply for citizenship for their children by birth or adoption who do NOT regularly reside in the United States, if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The child is under 18 years of age; and
  • The child is not married; and
  • The child regularly resides outside the United States; and
  • The child is temporarily present in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission and is maintaining such lawful status; and
  • The child is in legal and physical custody of a parent who is a U.S. citizen; and
  • The child is the U.S. citizen’s legitimate child, or was legitimated before the child’s 16th birthday (stepchildren or children born out of wedlock who were not legitimated before their 16th birthday are not eligible for this procedure); and
  • If adopted, the child meets the requirements of section 101(b)(1)(E) or (F) and had a full and final adoption; and either of the following is true:
    • The citizen parent has lived at least 5 years in the United States and at least 2 of which were after the citizen parent’s 14th birthday; or
    • If the child’s citizen parent has not lived in the United States for at least 5 years, 2 of which were after that parent's 14th birthday, the citizen parent currently has a parent (the child's grandparent) who:
      • is also a U.S. citizen; and
      • lived in the United States for 5 years, at least 2 of which were after the citizen grandparent's 14th birthday; and
      • is still living at the time of the adjudication of the application and the taking of the Oath.

     If the foregoing conditions are met, the citizen parent can apply for a certificate of citizenship in behalf of a legitimate or legitimated child using an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600) or, in the case of an adopted child, an “Application for Certificate of Citizenship on Behalf of An Adopted Child” (Form N-643). If the citizen parent is relying on the grandparent’s physical presence in the United States, the citizen parent should also submit Form N-643, Supplement A. Both the citizen parent and the child must appear at an interview with an Immigration officer in the United States. The child must meet ALL of the required conditions at the time when he or she takes the Oath of Allegiance (Note: the Oath may be waived if the child is too young to understand it).

If the U.S. citizen who transmitted citizenship to a child through one of the scenarios described above or who could have applied for naturalization and the issuance of a Certificate of Citizenship through the procedure described above has died, can the child still obtain a Certificate of Citizenship?

     A person who became a U.S. citizen through one of the scenarios described above can be issued a Certificate of Citizenship at any time in his or her life as long as he or she has not gone through the difficult procedure of renouncing U.S. citizenship. If the person has not yet reached their 18th birthday, a legal guardian can file the application. If the person has reached their 18th birthday, either the person or a legal guardian can file the application.

      A child who could have been the beneficiary of an application filed through the procedure described above, except for the death of a U.S. citizen parent, can become a U.S. citizen and can be issued a Certificate of Citizenship, if the following conditions are met:

  • The application must be filed within five years of the death of the U.S. citizen parent; and
  • The application must be filed by either a U.S. citizen grandparent or a U.S. citizen legal guardian; and
  • The child is under 18 years of age; and
  • The child is not married; and
  • The child regularly resides outside the United States; and
  • The child is temporarily present in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission and is maintaining such lawful status at the time of the interview and adjudication of the application; and
  • The person in whose legal and physical custody the child lives with outside the United States does not object to the application; and
  • The child was the U.S. citizen’s legitimate child, or was legitimated before the child’s 16th birthday (stepchildren or children born out of wedlock who were not legitimated before their 16th birthday are not eligible for this procedure); and
  • If adopted, the child meets the requirements of section 101(b)(1)(E) or (F) and had a full and final adoption; and
  • The citizen parent has lived at least 5 years in the United States, and at least 2 of which were after the citizen parent’s 14th birthday; or
  • If the child’s citizen parent has not lived in the United States for at least 5 years, 2 of which were after that parent's 14th birthday, at the time of the citizen parent’s death the citizen parent had a parent (the child's grandparent) who:
    • was also a U.S. citizen; and
    • at the time of the citizen parent’s death had lived in the United States for 5 years, at least 2 of which were after the citizen grandparent's 14th birthday.

     Once all of the requirements have been met, any U.S. citizen grandparent or duly appointed U.S. citizen legal guardian can file an application on behalf of an eligible child. The child must be residing outside the United States in order to be eligible for this benefit, but the applicant can reside in or outside the USA. Although the cutoff date for applications pursuant to Section 322 of the INA filed by a citizen grandparent or by a citizen legal guardian is five years after the death of the citizen parent, the joint interview of the applicant and the child beneficiary can be conducted at any Immigration Office in the United States that conducts these interviews at any time while the child is still under the age of eighteen years.

How do I register with selective services?

     Selective Service registration allows the United States Government to maintain a list of names of men who may be called into military service in case of a national emergency requiring rapid expansion of the U.S. Armed Forces. By registering all young men, the Selective Service can ensure that any future draft will be fair and equitable.

     Federal law requires that men who are at least 18 years old, but not yet 26 years old, must be registered with Selective Service. This includes all male non-citizens within these age limits who permanently reside in the United States. Men with "green cards" (lawful permanent residents) must register. Men living in the United States without Immigration documentation (undocumented aliens) must also register. But men cannot register after reaching age 26.

Why Do I Need to Register with the Selective Service?

Failure to register for the Selective Service may (in certain instances) make you ineligible for certain immigration benefits, such as citizenship.

If you would like to register online for Selective Service, please click on this link.

If you would like to confirm that you or someone else are registered with Selective Service, please click on this link.  

If you would like answers to frequently asked questions about Selective Service, please see Selective Service System's "Frequently Asked Questions" Webpage.

I lost my Naturalization Certificate and I need to travel outside the U.S., how can I obtain proof of my citizenship so that I can apply for a U.S. passport with the Department of State?

You should file Form N-565 (Application for Replacement Naturalization Citizenship Document) with your local office to replace the lost certificate. You may also contact the Department of State for information on where to obtain a passport.

 

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING

The information contained herein does not establish an attorney-client relationship and does not constitute legal advice.  Prior results depend on a number of factors unique to each matter and do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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