I get this question all the time from many different people, both U.S. citizens, visitors from abroad, permanent residents, even strangers on a plane. Here is my three minute elevator speech, which you can read, study, and share with others, on how to become a U.S Citizen:
A person can become a U.S. citizen in a few different ways:
- By being born in the United States;
- By being born outside the United States to U.S. citizen parents;
- By applying for citizenship through a process called “naturalization.”
This article focuses on the third of these three options. If you have a question about the first two, i.e. birth in the U.S. or birth to parents who are U.S. citizens, you should contact an immigration lawyer to get the whole picture.
The process for becoming a U.S. citizen for people who weren’t born in this country is called, “naturalization.”
Generally speaking, to be eligible for citizenship, you must:
- Be 18 years of age or older; Be at least 18 years of age;
- Be a permanent resident for a certain amount of time (usually 5 years or 3 years, depending on whether you got your green card through work or marriage);
- Have a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;
- Be a person of “good moral character”;
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English; and,
- Understand U.S. government and history (there’s an English and civics test at the citizenship interview).
Exceptions for Becoming a U.S. Citizen
There are exceptions to these rules to account for many variations in people’s circumstances. For instance, you may not be required to take the civics or English test if you are a certain age or if you are unable to study for the test due to a disability.
There are also certain timing exceptions if you are in the U.S. military or are married to a U.S. citizen who is.
What Should You Do if You Want to Become a Citizen?
If you meet, or believe you meet, the above requirements, you should contact an immigration lawyer to help with the application. And if you think you don’t meet the above requirements because, for example, you were arrested for shoplifting when you were sixteen, or entered the U.S. illegally and have since married a U.S. citizen, or maybe you got your green card but then returned to your home country for a while, you should still contact an immigration lawyer, because there are exceptions to many of the rules about this process. The United States is glad to help people become citizens and will make an exception in certain circumstances to make this possible. Also, the process can be more complicated than you think, and you can save yourself a lot of time and worry by working with a good immigration lawyer through this process. Contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck if you have any questions.