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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Biometrics appointment. After the applicant applies, they must attend a biometrics appointment, where authorities take fingerprints and photographs for identification purposes.
- 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.
- 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.
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.