How to Become a U.S. Citizen
In this Legal Guide, Attorney Carl Shusterman (INS Attorney 1976-82) explains how to become a US citizen through naturalization, and how to acquire US citizenship through your parents and grandparents.
Our 3 US Citizenship Videos at the end of this Legal Guide explain each process in more detail.
How to Become a US Citizen through Naturalization
To be eligible to become a US citizen through naturalization, you must:
1. Be a lawful permanent resident of the United States for 5 years, or 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen for a minimum of the 3 years (although there are certain exceptions to this requirement for persons who have honorable service in the U.S. Armed Forces);
2. Be physically present in the United States for over 50% of the required residency period;
3. Be a person of good moral character;
4. Take an oath of loyalty to the United States;
5. Be able to speak, read and write simple words and phrases in the English language (although there are certain exceptions to this rule); and
6 Pass a test in US history and government.
In general, the naturalization process includes the following steps:
1. Determine if you are already a U.S. citizen.
2. Determine your eligibility to become a U.S. citizen.
3. Prepare Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
4. Submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
5. Go to the biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment.
6. Complete the interview.
7. Receive a decision from USCIS on your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
8. Receive a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance.
9. Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
10. Understand your rights and responsibilities as a U.S. citizen.
Once you become a citizen of the United States, you may sponsor your spouse, parents, sons and daughters as well as your brothers and sisters for lawful permanent residence in the U.S.
How to Acquire US Citizenship through Your Parents and Grandparents
If you were born outside of the U.S., how can your acquire US citizenship through your parents or grandparents?
What if you were born abroad to U.S. citizen parents? You probably are a U.S. citizen, but you need to get some paperwork to prove this. Or what if you were born abroad and only one of your parents was a U.S. citizen at the time? That’s a little trickier. How do you determine if you “acquired” U.S. citizenship at birth through a parent, or if you obtained derivative citizenship as a minor through your parent(s)? We simplify the complex laws regarding acquisition and derivation of US citizenship through parents and grandparents so that they are understandable to non-lawyers.
There are 4 Nationality Charts that attorneys use to assist them in such cases. These charts are difficult to find on the USCIS website so we replicate them here so that you can use them to begin your research.
Derivative citizenship laws are one of the most complex areas of immigration law, and Congress has amended these laws multiple times. Fortunately, Attorney Shusterman spent several years as an INS Citizenship Attorney in the 1970s adjudicating N-600 derivative citizenship applications. This experience proved invaluable. Since he entered private practice in 1982, he has helped hundreds of clients obtain U.S. citizenship through their parents and grandparents.