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Citizenship in the United States

Who are US citizens?

Citizenship in the United States is acquired when a person is born of parents who are citizens of the US. If one or both of your parents are US citizens, then you are a US citizen, too. It does not matter if you were born within US territory or outside US territory. If you have a parent who is a US citizen, you are a US citizen, as well. If you were born in another country but one or both of your parents are US citizens,

If you were born within the territory of the US, even if neither of your parents are US citizens, you are considered a US citizen, too. This is because the US follows the jus soli principle. It is a principle of constitutional law that recognizes as citizens all persons born within the territory of the US as citizens of the US.

This means, by implication, that if you were born outside the territory of the US and neither of your parents are US citizens, you are not a US citizen. It also means that even if you have lived for a very long time in the US, if you were not born in the US and neither your parents were US citizens, you cannot be a US citizen. Here’s a diagram that will help you understand the principles:


Who can be US citizens?

Indeed, a person who was born outside the United States and born to parents who are not US citizens is not a US citizen but such a person can still become a US citizen through the legal process called naturalization.


What is naturalization?

Naturalization is a legal process. It begins when a person enters the United States legally on an immigrant visa. An immigrant visa allows him or her to gain permanent legal residence (under INA Section 318) in the US. Once a person has entered the US on an immigrant visa continuously resides in the US for at least five years, and continuously resides in the state or district for at least three months, he or she may file an application for naturalization. Only permanent legal residents of the US can apply for naturalization.

By implication, this means that if you entered the US on a non-immigrant visa, even if you continuously reside in the US for five years, you cannot be considered a permanent legal resident. If you enter the US legally but your visa has expired, even if you reside for years in the US, you still cannot be considered a permanent legal resident. If you entered the US without a visa and you have stayed in the US for years, you are not considered a permanent legal resident who can be a naturalized citizen.

There have been periods of amnesty declared in the past where those who initially entered the US legally on a non-immigrant visa but stayed on without proper legal documents were allowed to apply for proper documentation and apply for permanent legal residence status. There are no amnesties at this time.
Does permanent legal residency mean I can’t ever leave the US?

No. The requirement to reside continuously in the US does not mean that a permanent legal resident in the US can no longer go on business or vacation abroad. The requirement for continuous residence means that a permanent legal resident may leave the US as long as he or she stays at least 6 months in a year within the territory of the US.


What are the requirements for naturalization?

In order to apply for naturalization, a person must be at least 18 years old, and able to read, write and speak English. One must be a lawful resident of the US for a minimum of five years and be able to show proof of being physically present in the United States for at least 30 months within those five years. A lawful resident is a holder of an Alien Registration Card (Form I-551).

A person who wishes to apply for naturalization would also need to show that he or she possessed good moral character during the period of residency in the US (INA Sec. 316 (a)). This means that the applicant for naturalization must not have been convicted of any criminal charge. There are instances when permanent legal residents have been stopped for DUI or DWI and they paid the fine for it. Payment of the fine is an admission of guilt and it is a conviction for a crime.

Lastly, the applicant for naturalization must renounce all allegiances to other countries and declare under oath his or her willingness to support and defend the US Constitution. For those applying for naturalization with the N-400, an interview is conducted by US Immigration officials and a citizenship test is given. The citizenship test consists of 10-25 questions.


What are the benefits and responsibilities of acquiring US citizenship by naturalization?

Upon obtaining citizenship by naturalization, the naturalized citizen has the right to live, work, engage in business, study, and live in the United States. The citizen has the obligation to obey all just laws and the Constitution of the US, to pay accurate federal and state taxes, serve in the armed forces in times of war, serve on a jury when called to do so, and exercise the right to vote. Male citizens who are at least 18 years old must register with the Selective Service System.

Free information regarding naturalization is available from the US Citizenship and Immigration services. The USCIS is the federal agency that oversees lawful migration into the United States. It is an office under the Department of Homeland Security. Click her to go to the USCIS website.

The Immigration Forum is also a great source of information. You can post questions on the forum and the community members will give you answers. News and updates on immigration and immigration reform are available from here.
What is derivative citizenship?

When a naturalized citizen has minor children at the time of the naturalization, the children under 18 years of age do not need to file a separate application for naturalization. The minor children are presumed to acquire derivative citizenship. Minor natural or biological children as well as legally adopted children of naturalized citizens are given derivative citizenship.

For derivative citizenship to attach by operation of law, the minor child should have at least one parent who is an American citizen by birth or by naturalization. The individual asking for the recognition of his or her derivative citizenship must be a minor, aged below 18 years of age at the time of the application. The applicant for derivative citizenship must be in the legal and physical custody of the American parent and must have been lawfully residing in the United States with the parent who has been naturalized.

Derivative citizenship applies both to biological children or adopted children of the parent who has become a US citizen. A US citizen who adopts a minor child who was born outside the US or parents who were not US citizens must apply for an IR4 visa for their child after a judicial hearing in the same proceeding as the application for adoption. The finality of the adoption decree will be attached to the IR4 visa petition.

The US citizen seeking to adopt a minor child an apply for derivative citizenship for the minor child needs to prove that the minor child is a legal permanent resident of the US. Proof of the legal permanent residence in the US of the minor child may be done by the filing of an N-600 or Application for Certificate of Citizenship.