U. S. Citizenship and naturalization

How does an individual acquire U.S. citizenship?


A person born within the United States is automatically a U.S. citizen. People born outside of the U.S. can acquire U.S. citizenship through their U.S. citizen parents, depending on the applicant’s ability to meet all the eligibility requirements. 

The government defines the regional parameters for natural citizenship as being born within the District of Columbia, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and/or one of the American states. Children born into Native American communities in the U.S. are also given citizenship at birth.

People who don’t fall under the categories mentioned above can become U.S. citizens through a process called naturalization. If one of the parents of a U.S. permanent resident (green card holder) under 18 years old receives citizenship, the U.S. permanent resident minor can apply for what is known as “derived citizenship.”

There are four paths to citizenship

     1. Citizenship Through Birth


Most people in the U.S. have become citizens by birth, which can be referred to as automatic citizenship, the geographical definition for which it applies are described above.

According to the 14th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”


     2. Citizenship Through Derivation (Derived Citizenship)


If an individual is born abroad to parent(s) who are U.S. Citizens through naturalization, the eligibility for automatic citizenship can be reviewed and results may vary based on the year that the applicant was born and whether the applicant was living with the parent. Additional requirements may be applied on a case by case basis. 

To qualify for derived citizenship, the applicant has to be under the age of 18, possess lawful permanent resident status in the U.S., has one or more parents who are naturalized U.S. citizens, and has residence in the U.S. under the custody of a parent who is a U.S. citizen. 

As long as the child meets all the criteria, they are not required to undergo the naturalization process to become a citizen. With derived citizenship, the child will also be eligible to apply for a U.S. passport. 

If you are missing the necessary documents or need assistance navigating U.S. citizenship laws, consult our experienced immigration attorney to help you through the process. 


     3. Citizenship Through Acquisition


Even if the child was born outside of the United States, they can still automatically acquire citizenship if both parents were U.S. citizens and meet the provisional requirements. If only one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth, additional requirements must be met by the parents in order for the child to attain citizenship through acquisition. This can include:

  • Marital status at the time of the child’s birth
  • Physical presence in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth
  • Duration of physical presence in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth
  • Age of physical presence in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth

Another factor that could significantly affect the child’s eligibility for citizenship through this process is whether the child’s birth date falls before or after November 14, 1986 and October 10, 1952. Because immigration laws are constantly changing, it is important to ensure that the correct legislation is being applied when processing an applicant. 

People who become citizens through acquisition and have children also pass along that their children receive citizenship at birth as well. 


4. Citizenship Through Naturalization


The most common process that foreign nationals take to become U.S. citizens is called naturalization

In order to get naturalized, the person should already be a green card holder or have a lawful permanent U.S. residency status for at least three or five years. In addition to those main requirements, the applicant will also have to meet other eligibility terms that include:

  • Applicant is 18 years old at the time of applying
  • Applicant has evidence of continuous residency in the U.S. for one and a half or two and a half or more years during the three or five-year period, respectively, of having a lawful permanent resident status in the U.S.
  • Applicant can read, write and speak English at a basic level (unless they fall into one of the exceptions)
  • Applicant can demonstrate good moral character
  • Applicant is knowledgeable of basic U.S. history and government
  • Applicant can demonstrate loyalty to U.S. Constitutional principles
  • Applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance

The Naturalization Process

To become a U.S. citizen, the applicant must first fall into one of the following three eligible categories: 

  1. Lawful Permanent Resident in the U.S. for five years
  2. Lawful Permanent Resident in the U.S. for three years, during which the applicant was also married to and living with their U.S. citizen spouse
  3. Served in a qualifying role in the U.S. Armed Forces

In order to establish Lawful Permanent Residence in the U.S., the applicant must apply for a Green Card by filling out certain applications. Green Card applications are also based on eligibility categories, so make sure to visit the USCIS website or consult our immigration attorney to find out which route is the best one for you.

In addition to obtaining a Green Card, the applicant will also be required to submit documents that prove they can meet the eligibility terms for naturalization. They may be asked to undergo finger-printing and one or more in-person interviews with U.S. Immigration or the Department of state branches as part of the naturalization process.

Applicants who served in the U.S. military may qualify for citizenship through naturalization as well. This route has unique requirements specifically for the naturalization of members of the Armed Forces. It is recommended that applicants who are eligible for citizenship under this category start their application within 6 months of their service ending.

Obstacles to Citizenship Approval

There are several obstacles an applicant could face through the naturalization process. For example, if the applicant has met all requirements but has either deserted the U.S. military or holds certain ideological beliefs, they may not be granted citizenship. 

Certain criminal or civil offenses may also affect a person’s eligibility in obtaining citizenship through naturalization. An applicant’s failure to pay taxes, child support, or be honest on the citizenship application are all common reasons why applicants get denied. 

In order to avoid an application denial, especially for something preventable like doing well at the U.S. citizenship interview, consult with our experienced immigration attorney today and she will guide you through the entire process.


Dual citizenship

If a person wishes to become a citizen of two countries at the same time, this is called Dual Citizenship; the U.S. government does allow dual nationality but not all countries do. Having dual citizenship comes with its own disadvantages as it may invoke extraneous circumstances on the individual, such as taxation liabilities. 

Therefore, it is very important to consider all citizenship pathways and review the eligibility requirements for each, since different approaches will be necessary for different cases. Those who want to apply for U.S. citizenship should look up the citizenship laws in their country of nationality prior to taking any actions. This is crucial because obtaining an American nationality could automatically revoke the citizenship status they had in a different country. 

Just as there is a process for gaining U.S. citizenship, there is also a way to relinquish it — neither of which is easy to navigate alone. Our immigration attorney has experience with both and can help individuals through the entire process.

Law Offices of Wiliani-Malek


The Law Offices of Wiliani-Malek in Santa Ana offer expert services for those looking to acquire U.S. citizenship, regardless of which pathway they need to take. Applicants who desire a smooth and prompt approval process will be highly satisfied with our services. 

We always consider three important factors for every client’s case: cost, time and security. By analyzing the cost, time and security of each case, we are able to give our clients more options for reaching their immigration goals. At the Law Offices of Wiliani-Malek, our clients’ cases are our number one priority.

With more than two decades of experience, we have earned a sterling reputation for giving personal attention to all our clients at each stage of their U.S. immigration journey. Those who want to become naturalized, but are wondering where to start, should make an appointment with us as soon as possible. Call us now at 714-432-1333!

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