“Citizenship” refers to the status of being a United States Citizen. “Naturalization” refers to the legal process of applying for and being granted the status of a United States Citizen by the government.
Eligibility for Citizenship: In the United States, a “Citizen” is a person who is a member of the political community, owes allegiance to the United States, and is entitled to the enjoyment and protection of civil rights under state and federal law.
There are THREE basic ways that a person can attain Citizenship in the United States:
(1) By birth in the United States: The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside”. Thus, if you were born within the jurisdictional boundaries of the U.S., you are automatically deemed a U.S. citizen.
(2) Acquisition of Citizenship at birth: If you were born outside of the United States you may have acquired U.S. citizenship at birth if:
Both of your parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth and at least one of them actually resided in the U.S. for any length of time prior to your birth
One of your parents was a U.S. citizen at the time of your birth and was physically present in the U.S. for 5 years before your birth. IF you were born prior to November 14, 1986, your U.S. citizen parent must have been physically present in the U.S. for at 10 years prior to your birth.
(3) Through the Naturalization of Parents. Even if you were born outside the U.S., you may become a U.S. citizen automatically when either or both of your parents are “naturalized” (become U.S. citizens) if:
You were under 18 years of age and were a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) of the U.S. when your parent was naturalized;
One of your parents is a U.S. citizen and one is an alien and your alien parent is naturalized or if both of your parents are naturalized at the same time.
HOWEVER, if one of your parents is deceased, your parents are divorced, or your parents are separated, you will become a U.S. citizen when the parent who has legal custody over you is naturalized.
GENERAL REQUIREMENTS FOR NATURALIZATION: To be eligible for naturalization, you must establish that:
(1) You are at least 18 years of age;
(2) You were previously admitted as a lawful permanent resident of the U.S.;
(3) You have resided continuously within the U.S. for a period of at least five (5) years after the time you were admitted for permanent residence;
(4) You were physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months of the five years after the time you were admitted for permanent residence (NOTE that 30 months is half of 5 years). However, if you obtained your permanent resident status through your U.S. citizen spouse, this requirement is shortened to only 3 years, provided that you are married and living together with your U.S. citizen spouse during such 3 year period up to and including the date of the citizenship examination. Certain exceptions also may apply if you are (a) the spouse of a U.S. citizen employed abroad; (b) an alien member of the armed forces of the U.S.; or (c) a member of a refugee group;
(5) You resided at least 3 months in a State or INS district having jurisdiction over your place of residence, and in which you are filing your application;
(6) You resided continuously within the U.S. from the date that you filed your application for naturalization until the date you are naturalized;
(7) You were (for the past 5 years) and still are a person of “good moral character”, who is attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and are favorably disposed towards the order and happiness of the United States;
(8) You were not a member of the Communist Party or any other totalitarian party and have not advocated communism or the establishment of a totalitarian dictatorship during the 10 year period preceding the filing of your application for Naturalization;
(9) You have not broken any U.S. immigration laws and you have never been ordered to leave the U.S.;
(10) You must demonstrate that you have an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write and speak English. NOTE, you do not have to satisfy this requirement if you: (a) are over 50 years of age and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years after you obtained your green card; (b) are over 55 years of age and have lived in the U.S. for 15 years after you obtained your green card; or (c) you are unable to take the test because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments which has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months (not including cognitive deficits resulting from illegal drug use).
(11) You must pass an examination concerning the fundamentals of U.S. government and history. NOTE, you do NOT have to take this test if you cannot demonstrate such knowledge because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments which has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months (not including cognitive deficits resulting from illegal drug use).
(12) You must take an oath in which you promise to: (a) renounce and give up your allegiance to any foreign country to which you are or were ever a citizen or subject; (b) support, defend, and bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and laws of the U.S.; (c) bear arms on behalf of the U.S. when required by law; (d) perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the U.S. when required by law; and (e) perform work or national importance under civilian direction when required by law.
NOTE that some countries do not recognize your renunciation of citizenship. This will result in your being a “dual citizen” of U.S. and of the country whose citizenship you renounced when taking your oath of allegiance to the U.S. Some of the countries which allow for and recognize dual citizenship are Mexico, Israel, France, Columbia and the Dominican Republic.
Time for filing an Application for Naturalization. An application for Naturalization may be filed up to 90 days prior to the completion of the required period of residency listed in section (3) above, which may include the 3 month period of residence required to establish jurisdiction under section (5) above.
If you have questions about whether you qualify for Naturalization or if you need representation or assistance with your N-400 Application for Naturalization, call South Florida Immigration Lawyer Sean D. Hummel at (954) 385-3111.