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Become a U.S. Citizen - The Basics


Over 250,000 people apply for citizenship every year mostly through Naturalization, the primary method of acquiring U.S. citizenship.  

Citizenship gained through Naturalization is in almost all respects the same as citizenship gained through other means.  There are some restrictions, however, the presidency is limited to "natural born" citizens, and naturalized persons must have been citizens for a proscribed number of years before they may serve as federal senators or representatives.  Citizenship obtained by naturalization may be revoked through denaturalization proceedings of the naturalization was improperly obtained.  In all other respects, however, the rights of citizens "are the same dignity and coextensive" with those of other citizens.  Some people are able to apply for derivative citizenship.

 

There are 5 basic requirements    

In order to successfully apply for US Citizenship you must comply with the following requirements.

Residency

There are different rules for the residency period. It depends on whether you received you Green Card though marriage to a US citizen or whether you received it though some other means.  If you received you Green Card though marriage to a US citizen then you will need to have been a lawful permanent resident for three (3) years.  For all other applicants you will need to have been a lawful permanent resident for a period of five (5) years.

Absences out of the Unites States

Count the exact days you were out before you file.   You may save time and money.  If you apply under the 3-year rule, then you will have to have physically resided in the U.S. for a period of 18 months, and during this time never remained out of the U.S. for a period of greater than 6 month. .  If you apply under the 5-year rule, then you will have to have physically resided in the U.S. for a period of 30 months, and during this time never remained out of the U.S. for a period of greater than 6 month.

Reading and Writing simple English
Some people may take the test in their own language.  Some people may not have to take the test

Good Moral Character
Even the smallest infraction should be disclosed.

Knowledge of US History and Government

During your naturalization interview, a USCIS Officer will ask you questions about your application and background. You will also take an English and  civics test unless you qualify for an exemption or waiver. The English test has three components: reading, writing, and speaking. The civics test covers important U.S. history and government topics. See below to learn more about the test and the free study tools available to help you prepare.

Speaking Test

Your ability to speak English will be determined by a USCIS Officer during your eligibility interview on Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Reading Test

You must read one out of three sentences correctly to demonstrate an ability to read in English.

Writing Test

You must write one out of three sentences correctly to demonstrate an ability to write in English.

Civics Test

There are 100 civics questions on the naturalization test. During your naturalization interview, you will be asked up to 10 questions from the list of 100 questions. You must answer correctly at least six (6) of the 10 questions to pass the civics test.

You have two opportunities to take the English and civics tests per application. If you fail any portion of the test during your first interview, you will be retested on the portion of the test that you failed within 90 days.

Study Tools

To help you prepare, USCIS offers free study resources for both the English and civics tests.

Documents Required for All Citizenship Cases    

Bring the applicable items listed below to your naturalization (citizenship) interview. All document should be in the original or a certified copy. Any documents in a foreign language must be accompanied by a translation in English. The translator must certify that he/she is competent to translate and that the translation is accurate.  Failure to do so will postpone you citizenship application.

DOCUMENTS REQUIRED FOR ALL CITIZENSHIP INTERVIEWS:

* Your alien registration card

* Photo identification (state driver's license or state identification card).

* Your passport(s) and any travel documents issued by the I.N.S.

* If you have ever been arrested, you must bring complete arrest report(s), certified court disposition(s), probation report(s) (if applicable), including records that may have been sealed or expunged. If a record or document is no longer available, you must submit documentation from the appropriate agency as to its unavailability.

* Copies of recent years tax returns. Please bring copies of any correspondence relating to payment arrangements, and copies of any returns for which you claimed to be a non-resident.

* If you are a male and between the ages of 18 and 31, please bring proof you registered with the Selective Service System between the ages of 18 and 26. (Selective Service System telephone number: 1-847-688-6888 or 1-847-688-2576). Note: If you failed to register with the Selective Service System before you reached age 26, you must do the following: 1. Request and complete the Selective Service System's QUESTIONNAIRE form. Answer the questions fully, MAKE A COPY, and return the form to the Selective Service System. 2. You will then receive an ADVISORY LETTER from the Selective Service. 3. Bring the copy of the QUESTIONNAIRE and the ADVISORY LETTER to your interview.

* If you are unable to take the full oath of allegiance, please bring a letter from your church explaining how your religious beliefs prevent you from taking the full oath.

* If you have minor children residing outside of your home, please bring evidence of your payment of financial support, such as canceled checks, money order receipts and bank drafts showing your payment record, along with copies of any court or government orders relating to the required payment.


Citizenship Based on Marriage to a U.S. Citizen    


THE FOLLOWING ADDITIONAL ITEMS MUST BE PRESENTED IF YOU ARE APPLYING AS A SPOUSE OF A U.S. CITIZEN.

* Proof that your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for more than three years, such as birth certificate, naturalization certificate, certificate of citizenship, or U.S. passport.

* Your marriage certificate.

* Proof of termination of ALL prior marriages of both you and your spouse (if any).

* Evidence of bona fide marriage - bring any documents which would assist in establishing the validity of your marriage such as (but not limited to) joint tax returns, deed , lease agreements or home ownership documents, credit accounts, joint tax returns, proof of joint ownership of other property such as investments, stocks, bonds, automobiles, life insurance, health insurance.

* Birth certificates of your children.

Rights of US Citizens    

Resident aliens (Green Card Holders) in most instances are granted equal rights to those enjoyed by United States citizens. However, there are some basic differences between these two statuses.

When your application for U.S. citizenship has been approved and you have been sworn in, you will be able to sponsor your mother, father, sister, brother and married children.  Becoming a U.S. citizen permits you to qualify for government jobs and receive government financial assistance, if necessary.  U.S. citizenship allows you to retire, move back to your home country and receive US retirement benefits without having to return to the US.  You will be able to enter the US without any difficulties and will have diplomatic protection through out the world.  And most importantly you can vote.  In the American democracy your vote is your voice. It is the way the government can hear what you have to say. With your vote comes the political power that green card holders don't have.  Citizens have a voice and basically that's what democracy is all about. In addition the following rights:

1.  RIGHT TO TRAVEL AND LIVE OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES

An American citizen is free to live in a foreign country for as long a period as he or she wishes and for any purpose without jeopardizing his/her status as a citizen.  Freedom of movement and travel is protected by the United States constitution.  A green card holder may not remain outside the United States for a period of over one year without risking loss of his green card.

2.  RIGHT TO ENTER AND LIVE IN THE UNITED STATES

 An alien, even a green card holder can be denied entry into the United States on any ground specified by congress. Similarly, an alien can be deported and expelled. A citizen, on the other hand, cannot be barred from entering the United States. For example, a Green Card holder, if convicted, let's say for sale of cocaine will most likely be deported and not permitted to return to the United States. But a citizen will not be deported and will be able to travel in and out of the country without any problem.

3.  DIPLOMATIC PROTECTION

A citizen may obtain a United States passport.  With this passport comes diplomatic protection.  As the citizen owes allegiance to the United States so to is he entitled to the protection of the nation.

Like many other countries the United States maintains diplomatic posts throughout the world.  Should a United States citizen encounter difficulties in his travels he can contact the United States consulate.  The assistance provided by the United States to it's citizen is that it will assure that the United States citizen will receive fair and proper treatment by the foreign country, that its laws and procedure are observed, and that the foreign country conforms to the criteria of reasonableness and fairness as is customary in the international community.

4.     RIGHT OF TRANSMISSION OF CITIZENSHIP TO CHILDREN ABROAD.

5.   RIGHT OF TRANSMISSION OF LEGAL RESIDENCY to your spouse and unmarried children and married children.  You can also sponsor you parents. As a citizen the process moves much faster.

6.    GREEN CARDS ARE NOT FOREVER: Stay out of the U.S. longer than one year and you can lose it.  Get in trouble with the law you and you can find your­self back home in the old country for good.

7.     POLITICAL RIGHTS ‑‑ such as voting, running for high political offices, and right to work in certain public employment.
   

Liabilities of US Citizens    


1.  TAXES - generally a United States citizen may be subjected to income tax on all income both in the United States and throughout the world.  Non‑resident aliens generally are required to pay taxes on income earned in the United States only.

2.  MILITARY SERVICE - American citizens must register for military service and serve if called and qualified no matter where they reside,  even if their residence is outside the United States.

 3. AMENABILITY TO AMERICAN LAWS Under certain circumstances American laws may apply to United States citizens living abroad and may have to appear in a United States court to respond to a subpoena and may be held liable to punishment for contempt for failure to respond to such subpoena. These cases are generally limited to criminal activities in the high seas or in a foreign country.

 

EXTRADITION

Under a treaty and only through diplomatic channel can an American be extradited to the United States.

DERIVATIVE CITIZENSHIP

Generally, people are born U.S. citizens if they are born in the United States or if they are born to U.S. citizens:


    (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 US  citizens    

In most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if ALL of the following are true:
bullet    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 an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600) with INS to get a Certificate of Citizenship. Call the INS Forms Line at 1-800-870-3676 to request a Form N-600.


     (3) Through birth abroad to ONE United States citizen    

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

  • One of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born; and
  • Your citizen parent lived at least 5 years in the United States before you were born; and
  • At least 2 of these 5 years in the United States were after your citizen parent's 14th birthday*.


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 an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600) with INS to get a Certificate of Citizenship.


*If you were born before November 14, 1986, you are a citizen if your U.S. citizen parent lived in the United States for at least 10 years and 5 of those years in the United States were after your citizen parent's 14th birthday.
 
    (4) By Qualifying under the Child Citizenship Act  2000    

On October 30, 2000, President Clinton signed into law H.R. 2883, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. Read more about this.


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  • Child Citizenship Act - How to Get a Certificate of Citizenship for Your Child
  • What is Dual Nationality or Dual Citizenship?
  • How to Replace your certificate of citizenship or naturalization - includes forms and instructions
  • Child Citizenship Act - How to Get a Certificate of Citizenship for Your Child
  • Child Citizenship Act of 2000 - Automatic Citizenship for Children of U.S. Citizens born abroad.
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