The difference between US citizenship and naturalization

On Behalf of | Sep 17, 2023 | Citizenship And Naturalization |

When it comes to becoming a citizen of the United States, there are two primary pathways: U.S. citizenship by birth and naturalization.

Each method involves specific qualifications and processes.

US citizenship by birth

U.S. citizenship by birth is very straightforward. If a person is born on U.S. soil, the United States automatically considers them a citizen. This principle, known as “jus soli,” means “right of the soil” in Latin. It applies regardless of the immigration status of the person’s parents.

If a person is born abroad to U.S. citizen parents, they also get U.S. citizenship at birth.


Naturalization is the process through which foreign-born individuals become U.S. citizens. In the past decade, the United States naturalized 7.6 million people as citizens.

This process involves several steps:

  1. To be eligible for naturalization, an individual must meet specific requirements, including being a permanent resident for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen), demonstrating good moral character and possessing a basic understanding of U.S. history and government.
  2. The first step in the naturalization process is submitting Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization. This form collects detailed information about the applicant’s background, residence and eligibility.
  3. Biometrics appointment. After the applicant applies, they must attend a biometrics appointment, where authorities take fingerprints and photographs for identification purposes.
  4. Interview and civics test. Authorities schedule an interview for the applicant with a USCIS officer. This interview tests the applicant’s English language proficiency and knowledge of U.S. government and history.
  5. Oath of allegiance. If the applicant passes the interview and meets all other requirements, authorities invite them to a naturalization ceremony. There, they take the Oath of Allegiance, officially becoming a U.S. citizen.

Key differences

While U.S. citizenship by birth is automatic and requires no formal application process, naturalization is a deliberate choice made by individuals who have already obtained permanent residency.

Whether a person becomes a U.S. citizen through birthright or naturalization, the common thread is the shared commitment to the values and ideals that define the United States of America.