Frequently Asked Questions: Citizenship
- How can I become a United States citizen?
- Who is born a United States citizen?
- How do I become a naturalized citizen?
- What are the requirements for naturalization?
- When does my time as a Permanent Resident begin?
- What form do I use to file for naturalization?
- If I have been convicted of a crime but my record has been expunged, do I need to indicate that on my application or tell an INS officer?
- Where do I file my naturalization application?
- Will INS provide special accommodations for me if I am disabled?
- How can I pay my application fee?
- How long will it take to become naturalized?
- Where can I be fingerprinted?
- How do I determine the status of my naturalization application?
- What if I cannot make it to my scheduled interview?
- What do I do if my address has changed?
- If INS grants me naturalization, when will I become a citizen?
- What can I do if INS denies my application?
- Can I reapply for naturalization if INS denies my application?
- What do I do if I have lost my Certificate of Naturalization? What do I use as proof of citizenship if I do not have my certificate?
- Do I need to obtain a new Permanent Resident Card (formerly known as an Alien Registration Card) when INS issues a new version of the card?
- If I am naturalized, is my child a citizen?
- If I am naturalized but the above situation does not apply to me or my child, how can I apply for citizenship for my child?
- How do I register with selective services?
A person may become a U.S. citizen (1) by birth or (2) through naturalization.
Generally, people are born U.S. citizens if they are born in the United States or if they are born to U.S. citizens:
- By being born in the United States: If you were born in the United States (including, in most cases, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), you are an American citizen at birth (unless you were born to a foreign diplomat). Your birth certificate is proof of your citizenship.
- Through birth abroad to TWO United States citizens: In most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if ALL of the following are true: Both your parents were U.S. citizens when you were born; and at least one of your parents lived in the United States at some point in their life. Your record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of your citizenship. You may also apply for a passport to have your citizenship recognized. If you need additional proof of your citizenship, you may file an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600) with INS to get a Certificate of Citizenship. Call the INS Forms Line at 1(800) 870-3676 to request a Form N-600.
- Through birth abroad to ONE United States citizen: In most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if ALL of the following are true: One of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born; Your citizen parent lived at least 5 years in the United States before you were born; and At least 2 of these 5 years in the United States were after your citizen parent's 14th birthday*. Your record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of your citizenship. You may also apply for a passport to have your citizenship recognized. If you need additional proof of your citizenship, you may file an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600) with INS to get a Certificate of Citizenship. *If you were born before November 14, 1986, you are a citizen if your U.S. citizen parent lived in the United States for at least 10 years and 5 of those years in the United States were after your citizen parent's 14th birthday.
If you are not a U.S. citizen by birth, you may be eligible to become a citizen through naturalization. People who are 18 years and older use the "Application for Naturalization" (Form N-400) to become naturalized. Children who are deriving citizenship from naturalized parents use the "Application for a Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600) to become naturalized. Call the INS Forms Line at 1(800) 870-3676 to request a Form N-600.
- Age - Applicants must be at least 18 years old.
- Residency - An applicant must have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence. Lawfully admitted for permanent residence means having been legally accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws. Individuals who have been lawfully admitted as permanent residents will be asked to produce an I-551, Alien Registration Receipt Card, as proof of their status.
- Residence and Physical Presence - An applicant is eligible to file if, immediately preceding the filing of the application, he or she:
- has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence (see preceding section);
- has resided continuously as a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. for at least 5 years prior to filing with absences from the United States totaling no more than one year;
- has been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the previous five years (absences of more than six months but less than one year break the continuity of residence unless the applicant can establish that he or she did not abandon his or her residence during such period)
- has resided within a state or district for at least three months
- has committed and been convicted of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude
- has committed and been convicted of 2 or more offenses for which the total sentence imposed was 5 years or more
- has committed and been convicted of any controlled substance law, except for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana
- has been confined to a penal institution during the statutory period, as a result of a conviction, for an aggregate period of 180 days or more
- has committed and been convicted of two or more gambling offenses
- is or has earned his or her principle income from illegal gambling
- is or has been involved in prostitution or commercialized vice
- is or has been involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the United States
- is or has been a habitual drunkard
- is practicing or has practiced polygamy
- has willfully failed or refused to support dependents
- has given false testimony, under oath, in order to receive a benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
An applicant must disclose all relevant facts to the Service, including his or her entire criminal history, regardless of whether the criminal history disqualifies the applicant under the enumerated provisions.
- have been residing in the United States subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 15 years and are over 55 years of age;
- have been residing in the United States subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 20 years and are over 50 years of age; or
- have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant's ability to learn English.
- support the Constitution and obey the laws of the U.S.;
- renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title; and
- bear arms for the Armed Forces of the U.S. or perform services for the government of the U.S. when required.
In certain instances, where the applicant establishes that he or she is opposed to any type of service in armed forces based on religious teaching or belief, INS will permit these applicants to take a modified oath.
Your time as a Permanent Resident begins on the date you were granted permanent resident status. This date is on your Permanent Resident Card (formerly known as Alien Registration Card).
You should use an "Application for Naturalization" (Form N-400). Call the INS Forms Line at 1(800) 870-3676 to request a Form N-400.
7. If I have been convicted of a crime but my record has been expunged, do I need to indicate that on my application or tell an INS officer?
Yes. You should always be honest with INS regarding all: arrests; convictions (even if they have been expunged); and crimes you have committed for which you were not arrested or convicted. Even if you have committed a minor crime, INS may deny your application if you do not tell the INS officer about the incident.
You should send your completed "Application for Naturalization" (Form N-400) to the appropriate INS Service Center.
Some people with disabilities need special consideration during the naturalization process. INS will make every effort to make reasonable accommodations in these cases. For example, if you use a wheelchair, we will make sure your fingerprint location is wheelchair accessible. If you are hearing impaired and wish to bring a sign language interpreter to your interview, you may do so.
You must pay your application fee with a check or money order drawn on a U.S. bank in U.S. dollars payable to the "Immigration and Naturalization Service." Residents of Guam should make the fee payable to "Treasurer, Guam." Residents of the Virgin Islands should make the fee payable to "Commissioner of Finance of the Virgin Islands." You must send your fee with your application. Remember that your application fee is not refundable even if you withdraw your application or INS denies your case.
The time it takes to be naturalized varies from one local office to another. In 1997, in many places, it took over 2 years to process an application. INS is currently modernizing and improving the naturalization process. Within the next 2 years, INS would like to decrease the time it takes to become naturalized to 6 months.
After INS has received your application, they will notify you of the location where you should get fingerprinted.
You may call the Service Center where you sent your application. INS is working hard to create a toll-free number that applicants may call to check the status of their application.
It is very important not to miss your interview. If you have to miss your interview, you should notify the office where your interview is scheduled by mail as soon as possible. In your letter, you should ask to have your interview rescheduled. Rescheduling an interview may add several months to the naturalization process, so try not to change your original interview date. If you miss your scheduled interview without notifying INS, they will "administratively close" your case. Unless you contact INS to schedule a new interview within 1 year after INS closes your case, they will deny your application. INS will not notify you if they close your case because you missed your interview.
If your address changes, you should call the INS Forms Line (1(800) 870-3676) and request an "Alien's Change of Address Card" (Form AR-11). Complete this form and send it back to INS. This form is pre-printed with INS address on it. It is important to make sure INS has your latest address. If INS does not have a current address for you, you may not receive important information. For example, INS may not be able to notify you of your interview date and time. INS also may not be able to tell you if you need to send or bring additional documents to your interview. Eventually, they hope you will be able to change your address through the INS Telephone Center.
You become a citizen as soon as you take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. In some places, you can choose to take the Oath the same day as your interview. If that option is not available or if you prefer a ceremony at a later date, INS will notify you of the ceremony date with a "Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony" (Form N-445). What should I do if I cannot go to my oath ceremony? If you cannot go to the oath ceremony, you should return the "Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony" (Form N-445) that INS sent to you. You should send the N-445 back to your local office. Include a letter saying why you cannot go to the ceremony. Make a copy of the notice and your letter before you send them to INS. Your local office will reschedule you and send you a new "Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony" (Form N-445) to tell you when your ceremony will be.
There is an administrative review process for those who are denied naturalization. If you feel that you have been wrongly denied naturalization, you may request a hearing with an immigration officer. Your denial letter will explain how to request a hearing and will include the form you need. The form for filing an appeal is the "Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings under Section 336 of the Act" (Form N-336).
In many cases, you may reapply. If you reapply, you will need to complete and resubmit a new N-400 and pay the fee again. You will also need to have your fingerprints and photographs taken again. If your application is denied, the denial letter should indicate the date you may reapply for citizenship. If you are denied because you failed the English or civics test, you may reapply for naturalization as soon as you want. You should reapply whenever you believe you have learned enough English or civics to pass the test.
You may get a new Certificate of Naturalization by submitting an "Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document" (Form N-565) to INS. You may obtain an N-565 by calling the INS Forms Line (1(800) 870-3676). Submit this form with the fee to your local INS office. It may take up to 1 year for you to receive a new certificate. If you have one, you may use your passport as evidence of citizenship while you wait for a replacement certificate.
No, you only need to renew your Permanent Resident Card when it expires.
Usually if children are Permanent Residents, they can derive citizenship from their naturalized parents. This is true whether the child is a child by birth or adoption.* In most cases, your child is a citizen if ALL of the following are true: The other parent is also naturalized OR You are the only surviving parent (if the other parent is dead) OR You have legal custody (if you and the other parent are legally separated or divorced); The child was under 18 when the parent(s) naturalized; The child was not married when the parent(s) naturalized; and The child was a Permanent Resident before his or her 18th birthday.
If you and your child meet all of these requirements, you may obtain a passport for the child as evidence of citizenship. If the child needs further evidence of citizenship, you may submit an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600) to INS to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship. (Note: the child may obtain a passport or Certificate of Citizenship at any time, even after he or she turns 18.)
* All adoptions must be completed by the child's 16th birthday in order for the child to be eligible for any immigration benefit, including naturalization. There is an exception for adopted children under the age of 18 who are adopted with or after a natural sibling by the same adoptive parents.
In many cases, citizens may apply for citizenship for their children:
- Children by birth or adoption who are Permanent Residents - If both parents are alive and still married to each other, but only one parent is a citizen, you may apply for citizenship for your child using an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600). The child must meet ALL of the following requirements at the time he or she takes the Oath of Allegiance (Note: the Oath may be waived if the child is too young to understand it): The child is under 18; AND The child is not married; AND The Child is a Permanent Resident; AND The child is in legal custody of the parent who is a citizen.
- Children by birth or adoption who are NOT Permanent Residents - If at least one of the child's parents is a citizen, the parent may apply for citizenship for the child using an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600). The child must meet ALL of the following requirements at the time he or she takes the Oath of Allegiance. Note: the Oath may be waived if the child is too young to understand it): The child is under 18; and The child is not married; and The child is lawfully present in the United States in a non-resident status (e.g., with a B-2 or F-1 visa); and The child is in legal custody of the parent who is a citizen; The citizen parent has lived at least 5 years in the United States and at least 2 of these 5 years in the United States were after the citizen parent's 14th birthday. In some cases, a child may have a parent who is a U.S. citizen but who has not lived in the United States for at least 5 years, 2 of which were after the citizen parent's 14th birthday. In these cases, the U.S. citizen parent may apply for citizenship for the child using an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600). The child must meet ALL of the following requirements at the time he or she takes the Oath of Allegiance (Note: the Oath may be waived if the child is too young to understand it): The child is under 18; The child is not married; The child is lawfully present in the United States in a non-resident status (e.g., with a B-2 or F-1 visa); A U.S. citizen parent has a parent (the child's grandparent) who is also a U.S. citizen; The child is in legal custody of the U.S. citizen parent whose parent is also a U.S. citizen; The U.S. citizen grandparent lived at least 5 years in the United States; and At least two of these years in the United States were after the citizen grandparent's 14th birthday.
Selective Service registration allows the United States Government to maintain a list of names of men who may be called into military service in case of a national emergency requiring rapid expansion of the U.S. Armed Forces. By registering all young men, the Selective Service can ensure that any future draft will be fair and equitable.
Federal law requires that men who are at least 18 years old, but not yet 26 years old, must be registered with Selective Service. This includes all male non-citizens within these age limits who permanently reside in the United States. Men with "green cards" (lawful permanent residents) must register. Men living in the United States without INS documentation (undocumented aliens) must also register. But men cannot register after reaching age 26. Failure to register for the Selective Service may (in certain instances) make you ineligible for certain immigration benefits, such as citizenship.
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