Becoming an American citizen is a dream for many people who are born outside of the United States. However, changing U.S. immigration laws and restrictions have made it more difficult for foreign born people to legally enter the United States and gain American citizenship. While it is more difficult to become an American citizen, there are three legal ways in which a person can become a full-fledged American citizen: naturalization, jus soli (right of birthplace), and jus sanguinis (right of blood).
Jus Sanguinis (Right of Blood)
The first way that a person can obtain American citizenship is jus sanguinis, or right of blood. This method of gaining American citizenship is an automatic method that bases a person’s right to American citizenship on their parents’ citizenship. A child is given American citizenship automatically if at least one of their parents is a legal U.S. citizen at the time of their birth. This is true even if the child is born outside of the U.S. or its territories.
Jus Soli (Right of Birthplace)
The second way that a person can obtain American citizenship is jus soli, or right of birthplace. This is another automatic citizenship method, however, this method is based on where the child is born. If a child is born in the United States they are automatically granted American citizenship regardless of the citizenship of his or her parents. Citizenship is granted to the child even if their mother has entered the United States illegally. The only restriction to gaining American citizenship through this method is placed on children born in the United States to parents who are foreign diplomats at the time of their child’s birth.
For all other situations, naturalization is the most common way that a foreign-born person can try to gain American citizenship. To qualify for naturalization you must meet a number of prerequisites.
The first is an age restriction. In order to apply for naturalization you must be at least 18 years of age.
The second requirement is that you must gain legal admittance to the United States as a permanent resident, and you must live in the United States as a permanent resident for at least five years before applying for naturalization. Or if you are married to, and living with, a U.S. citizen, then you only need to be a permanent resident for three years before applying for naturalization.
In addition to obtaining and maintaining permanent resident status, you must also maintain a physical presence in the United States for thirty out of the sixty month prior to your application for naturalization. Again this amount of time is reduced if you are married to and living with a U.S. citizen. In this case you only need to be physically in the United States for 18 out of the 36 months prior to filing for naturalization.
The next requirement is that you must be of good moral character. You cannot have been charged or convicted of any crime for the five years prior to your naturalization application if you are single, or for the three years prior to your naturalization application if you are married to a U.S. citizen.
In addition to the above requirements you must also be able to read, write, and speak English in order to qualify for naturalization. If you are not able to read, write, or speak English then there are ways to get around this last requirement. For example if you have lived in the United States for at least 15 years and are over 55 then you are exempt from this requirement, or if you have lived in the U.S. for 20 years and are over 50, or if you have a medically verifiable condition that impairs your ability to learn English then you are also exempt from this naturalization requirement.
A firm understanding of U.S. history and government is the sixth requirement for naturalization. You will be required to take an exam to prove your understanding of these topics. There are several review courses that are available to help you study for this comprehensive exam. You can download information from the U.S.C.I.S. website about what will be on the exam, what you should study, and what governmental independent study courses are available.
The final requirement to qualify for naturalization will take place after you have met all of the above requirements, and it is to take the Oath of Allegiance. This oath states that you will support and defend the U.S. Constitution, obey the law, renounce your allegiance to other countries’ governments, and that you will bear arms for the U.S. Armed Forces, or perform services for the American government if circumstances demand it. If the final statement of this oath goes against your fundamental religious beliefs and you are opposed to bearing arms for the Armed Forces, then you may be allowed to take a modified oath of allegiance that does not require you to vow to bear arms or fight in the U.S. Armed Forces.
If you intend to apply for naturalization, then you will need to be able to provide the INS with documentation that proves that you have met all of the requirements that have been set out. This may mean providing them with marriage certificates, car registrations, power bills, birth certificates of you and your spouse, tax returns, and proof that you passed the U.S. history and government exam. In addition to providing documentation that proves that you meet the requirements for naturalization, you must also file a USCIS Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization), USCIS Form G-325A (Biographic Information Sheet), a copy of your Alien Registration Card, and you must submit copies of a recent 2″ by 2″ color photograph of youself. To improve your chances of being approved for U.S. citizenship via any of these methods, proper documentation is needed. Gather the items needed before you start the naturalization application process. For more information about naturalization including a detailed outline of the application process, access to forms, and information about application fees and timelines, please visit the USCIS website at http://uscis.gov.