Ways to Become a U.S. Citizen
U.S. citizenship carries tremendous privileges, rights and benefits. That’s why people will sacrifice so much to immigrate to America and seek citizenship. According to a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, “citizenship is a very, very valuable commodity.” If you’re a permanent resident, our Citizenship Cost Calculator can show you how much you will save over a lifetime by becoming a U.S. citizen.
There are four fundamental ways to obtain U.S. citizenship: citizenship by birth in the U.S., citizenship through derivation, citizenship through acquisition, and citizenship through naturalization. Most immigrants in the United States become citizens through the naturalization process. An average of almost one million permanent residents apply for naturalization each year.
Citizenship through Naturalization (obtaining citizenship after an application and exam)
Naturalization refers to the process in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen. For foreign-born persons, naturalization is the most common way to become a U.S. citizen. There are several requirements that must be fulfilled before an individual can apply for citizenship. Generally, applicants must be 18 years old and fall into one of the following three basic eligibility categories:
These are the three most common eligibility categories; the majority of naturalized citizens come through one of the above paths. Find a comprehensive list of eligibility categories in Chapter 4 of USCIS Guide to Naturalization. A permanent resident starts the naturalization process by filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
Citizenship through Acquisition (through U.S. citizen parents after birth but before age 18)
In some circumstances, a child automatically “acquires” citizenship even though that child was born outside the United States. At least one parent needs to be a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth and several other conditions must be met. When this child marries and has children, those children may also acquire U.S. citizenship at birth. The ways a child can become a U.S. citizen through acquisition generally include:
To obtain official documentation from the U.S. government that a person acquired U.S. citizenship through one of the above methods, the applicant must file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.The laws have changed several times over the years. You’ll need to research the law that was in effect on the date of the child’s birth (and the parents’ birth, if grandparents were U.S. citizens). You can also learn more on the USCIS website. It is recommended that you seek the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney that can guide you through this process.
Citizenship through Derivation (naturalization of one’s parents)
When a parent naturalizes, his or her children (under the age of 18 and living with the parent at the time) may “derive” U.S. citizenship automatically, provided they are also permanent residents. What’s more, a child who gets U.S. citizenship through derivation does not have to participate in a naturalization ceremony. Generally, foreign-born children under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if three requirements are met:
The laws on the automatic naturalization of children have varied over the years. Making a determination if the law applies to you is dependent on the law that existed when your parent’s naturalization took place. Therefore, it is recommended that you seek the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney that can guide you through this process. For more information, read Derivation of U.S. Citizenship for Children.
Citizenship through Birth (birth inside the U.S. or its territories)
Under United States law, any person born within the United States (including the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands) is automatically granted U.S. citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”