United States citizenship is something many people hope for, but is not something that is easily achieved. There are several ways to become a citizen. Most people assume that you must be born in the U.S. to become a citizen. While that is one pathway, there are others. Overall though, the options for becoming a U.S. citizen are rather limited.
Being a natural citizen means that a person is automatically eligible for citizenship due to the circumstances of birth or parentage. There are several types of natural born citizens.
- Born on U.S. soil. If a child is born inside the United States or its territories, that child is a citizen automatically. It doesn’t matter if the parents are citizens or not. Children born in the U.S. who then leave the country for many years do not lose their citizenship, no matter how long they live elsewhere. This rule about citizenship does not include children born to government officials or diplomats from other countries; children born to them are not U.S. citizens.
- Born of U.S. parents living abroad. If one or both of a child’s parents are U.S. citizens (who meet certain requirements such as residence in the U.S. or other factors), the child can acquire U.S. citizenship. The parents must apply to the embassy or consulate for a Consular Report of a Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States. Once that is issued, the child is a citizen and can obtain a passport.
- Adopted overseas. A foreign-born child who is adopted by U.S. parents automatically and legally becomes a U.S. citizen after being legally adopted by the parents or after living with them in the U.S. for two years.
Naturalization is the other pathway to citizenship. To become a naturalized citizen, a person over age 18 must follow a series of steps, after first having become a permanent resident of the U.S.
- Determine eligibility to apply for naturalization by completing the Department of Homeland Security’s Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet.
- File the Application for Naturalization.
- Make an appointment for a biometrics test, an interview and a citizenship test (which includes a written civics test as well as a reading, writing and speaking evaluation).
- Take the oath of allegiance at a citizenship ceremony if your application is accepted.
There are different rules for naturalization for children under age 18. If the child has a green card and both parents became citizens before the child turned 18, the child automatically becomes a citizen.
Dual citizenship occurs when a person is legally a citizen of two countries at the same time. For example, a child may be born to English parents living in the U.S. The child automatically is a U.S. citizen due to having been born on U.S. soil, but the child can also be a U.K. citizen since both parents are U.K. citizens.
To become a U.S. citizen, a person must be born in the U.S., born to U.S. parents, adopted by U.S. parents from overseas or become a citizen through the naturalization process.
Brette Sember, JD is a former attorney and mediator. She is the author of more than 40 books, many of them self-help legal guides. She writes regularly for many outlets about law. Her web site is www.BretteSember.com