U.S. Citizenship is obtained either by birth, derivation or naturalization. One may become a U.S. citizen either at birth or after birth. A person may derive or acquire U.S. citizenship at birth. Persons who are born in the United States and subject to United States jurisdiction are citizens at birth. Persons who are born outside of the United States may be U.S. citizens at birth if one or both parents were U.S. citizens at their time of birth. Persons who are not U.S. citizens at birth may become U.S. citizens through naturalization. Naturalization is the conferring of U.S. citizenship after birth by any means whatsoever. In most cases, a person may not be naturalized unless he or she has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence.
A Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) 18 years or older who has completed 5 years in permanent resident status (only three years needed for those married to U.S. citizens) and has maintained the required physical presence, continuity of residence, and standards of good moral character may become a citizen through naturalization. The LPR must also have satisfactory examination results in U.S. government, history, and civics and also should have the ability to speak, read and write English. An exemption is given to the English language testing requirement if: the LPR has lived as a permanent resident (green card holder) for 20 years in the United States and is 50 years of age or older at time of filing for naturalization OR is 55 years of age or older at time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident (green card holder) for 15 years in the United States. These are commonly referred to as 50/20 or 55/15 exceptions. Even if the LPR qualify under the 50/20 or 55/15 English exceptions, he or she must take the civics test. The LPR may be permitted to take the civics test in his or her native language (must bring their interpreter fluent in both English and the native language for the interview), but only if his or her understanding of spoken English is insufficient to conduct a valid examination in English. Special consideration is given if the LPR is 65 or older and has been a permanent resident for at least 20 years at the time of filing for naturalization. An exception to the English and civics naturalization requirements is given if the LPR has a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment and is unable to comply with those requirements. The LPR must submit Form 648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions.
Naturalized U.S. citizens obtain some rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship including voting in Federal elections, travelling with a U.S. Passport, running for elective office where citizenship is required, participating on a jury, applying for federal and certain law enforcement jobs, obtaining certain State and Federal benefits, obtaining citizenship for minor children born abroad, and most importantly bringing family members to the United States.
Citizenship Through Parents
Citizenship through parents can be obtained in two general ways:
A Citizen at Birth
A child born outside the U.S. is a citizen at birth if both parents were U.S. citizens at the time of birth. The parents should have been married at the time of birth of the child and at least one parent lived in the U.S. or its territories prior to the child’s birth. However, if one parent is a U.S. citizen at the time of birth and the birthdate is on or after November 14, 1986, then besides the parents being married at the time of birth, the U.S. citizen parent should have been physically present in the U.S. or its territories for a period of at least five years at some time in his or her life prior to the birth, of which at least two years were after his or her 14th birthday. Exception to physical presence requirement is given to U.S. citizen parent if he or she has been serving honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces or employed with either the U.S. Government or with certain international organizations. In case where the birthdate of the U.S. citizen parent is before November 14, 1986 but after October 10, 1952, then physical presence is ten years of which at least five of which should have been after his or her 14th birthday.
A Citizen After Birth But Before Child Turns 18 Years of Age
A child born outside the U.S. is a citizen after birth and if the child was under 18 or not yet born on February 27, 2001, then at least one parent must be a U.S. citizen; the child is currently under 18 and residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent pursuant to lawful admission for permanent residence. If the child was under 18 from December 24, 1952 to February 26, 2001, then the child should have been residing as a Green Card holder in the U.S. and both parents naturalized before the child’s 18th birthday. If one parent had died, then the surviving parent should have naturalized before the child turned 18. Where parents had legally separated, then the parent maintaining legal and physical custody should have naturalized before the child turned 18. If the child was born out of wedlock and paternity had not been established by legitimation, then the mother should have naturalized before the child turned 18. As long as the child meets all the conditions before his or her 18th birthday, it does not matter the order in which the child meets the conditions.