United States Citizenship Basics
Generally speaking, children born within the United States or its territories, except those born to foreign diplomats, are citizens by virtue of their place of birth. Children born to U.S. citizens—whether in the U.S. or abroad—are also natural born citizens.
Foreign nationals who desire U.S. citizenship must apply for it through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and undergo the naturalization process. Upon successfully completing this process, a foreign national becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States along with any children under age 18 (called “derivation” of citizenship).
Immigrants who obtain permanent resident status through participation in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program are eligible to apply for citizenship five years after they were granted their initial conditional permanent resident status.
Rights and Privileges of U.S. Citizenship
United States citizenship comes with various rights and privileges:
Citizens have the right to vote in local, state, and federal elections.
Naturalized citizens are able to run for local, state, and federal elected offices except the offices of president and vice president.
Children born to U.S. citizens are classified as natural born citizens regardless of where they are born.
Citizens may obtain U.S. passports, which, in many cases, enables them to travel overseas without the need for visas.
Citizens enjoy access to U.S. government assistance while abroad.
Citizens enjoy better access to federal employment opportunities—most government agencies only employ citizens.
Citizens enjoy access to top-tier higher education and may be eligible for in-state tuition when applying to public colleges and universities.
The families of citizens often experience faster processing when immigrating to the United States.
Responsibilities of U.S. Citizenship
Along with the rights and privileges granted by U.S. citizenship, citizens accept a number of responsibilities:
- Citizens are required to pay all applicable income tax at the federal, state, and local level.
- Citizens are afforded the right to vote and run for elected office, but this is also a civic responsibility. All citizens are encouraged to vote and participate in the political process.
- Citizens may, at times, be summoned to serve as jurors.
- All male citizens from age 18 to 25 must register with Selective Service. Registration does not necessarily entail service in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Becoming a U.S. Citizen through Naturalization
Naturalization refers to the process by which an applicant obtains citizenship according to the requirements set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
In order to be eligible for naturalization, a foreign national must meet one of the following criteria:
- Has held permanent resident status for at least five years
- Has held permanent resident status for at least three years and is applying for naturalization as the spouse of a U.S. citizen
- Has served in the U.S. Armed Forces
Foreign nationals who meet any of the criteria above are able to apply for naturalization, which requires submitting Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, to USCIS. Within this application, they must prove they meet one of the eligibility requirements listed above and demonstrate that they possess good moral character by disclosing any criminal history.
The basic fee associated with filing Form N-400 is currently $595. An additional fee of $85 is required for biometric services that include conducting a background check as well as photographing and fingerprinting the applicant. For applicants under age 14 and over age 79, the biometrics fee is waived.
Depending on the USCIS location, processing times for N-400 applications generally range from four to six months. After an applicant’s Form N-400 has been processed by USCIS, he or she will be interviewed and must pass a U.S. civics and English language test.
Upon approval, the applicant will be given a ceremony date, and during the ceremony, he or she must take the Oath of Allegiance. Through this oath, the prospective citizen swears allegiance to the United States, swears to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and the nation’s laws, and swears to serve the country when necessary.