How does someone become a U.S. citizen?

There are four basic ways to become a U.S. citizen. The most common way is to be born in the United States. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that all persons born in the United States or United States territories are citizens of the United States.

The second method of becoming a U.S. citizen are children who have been born abroad to a one or two U.S. citizens. This method is constantly evolving depending on changing laws and regulations. The current rules state that children born abroad automatically become U.S. citizens if (1) both parents are U.S. citizens and at least one parent “has had a residence” in the United States or U.S. territories before birth or (2) one parents is a U.S. citizen, before the birth, has been physically in the U.S. or its territories for a total of five years with a minimum of two after the age of fourteen. These rules do not apply to step-children or most adopted children. There are additional complications for children born out of wedlock which are also constantly changing.

The third method of becoming a U.S. citizen is through naturalization. The foreign national must have first obtain U.S. permanent residency and have maintained their permanent resident status for five continuous years before applying for naturalization. This waiting period is reduced to three continuous years if the foreign national received his/her permanent resident status through a marriage with the U.S. citizen and is still married to the U.S. citizen sponsor. The naturalization process requires that the foreign national is of good moral character, pass a civics exam, and has a basic understanding of English.

The fourth method of becoming a U.S. citizen is as a derivative citizen through parent’s naturalization or citizenship. Children residing in the United States as permanent residents will automatically become citizens if one parent naturalizes and obtains U.S. citizenship. The child needs to be under the age of 18 and not married. These children can apply certificates of citizenship to document their U.S. citizen status. This rule has also been modified multiple times in the past and the alien needs to review the rules in effect at the time of their birth.

If you have any questions concerning any of the above methods, please schedule a consultation with our office to discuss your options.


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Category: US Immigration

About the Author (Author Profile)

Mr. Robert R. Virasin is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles with a Bachelor Degree in Political Science, Mr. Virasin completed his Juris Doctorate at the University of Houston and a Masters of Laws (Business) from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. Mr. Virasin is a member of the State Bar of Texas and is a licensed U.S. attorney with over 15 years of legal experience. Robert is a regular contributor and author of a number of immigration related articles.