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U.S. Citizenship

United States Citizenship and Naturalization

U.S. citizenship is what gives a person as many rights as the U.S. offers under their laws. Among other rights, a U.S citizen has the right to:

  • Vote;
  • Run for specific offices;
  • Petition for other family members to immigrate to the U.S. in order to become citizens; and
  • Live in other countries without losing their right to return back to the U.S.

Citizenship also imposes a number of responsibilities on a person, such as serving on a jury when ordered to do so, and paying taxes.

Becoming a U.S. also gives citizens many rights and privileges according to applicable federal and state laws. Conversely, citizenship also imposes a number of obligations on a person, such as serving on a jury when ordered to do so and paying taxes.

A person can be or become a U.S. citizen in the following ways:

  • You are born in one of the United States or its territories, such as Guam;
  • Your parents are both U.S. citizens at the time of your birth;
  • You are naturalized to apply for and become a U.S. citizen; and/or
  • Both of your parents are naturalized when you are a minor. 

Citizenship can be acquired through birth, or through naturalization. It is the only way an individual can become a United States citizen if they were not born a U.S. citizen, or if they did not acquire citizenship immediately after they were born. Only those who have a permanent visa, which is also known as a green card, can apply for naturalization.

Naturalization can be a lengthy and complicated process. The applicant is required to submit various forms and documents in order to prove their eligibility before going through the interview process.

A person is considered to be a U.S. citizen by birth if they were born within the boundaries of the United States. This definition includes territories such as:

  • Guam;
  • Puerto Rico; and
  • The Virgin Islands.

Additionally, those who are born abroad may be considered U.S. citizens at birth if both of their parents are U.S. citizens at the time of their birth. This is also true if at least one of their parents lived in the U.S. at some point during their lifetime. An individual may be considered a U.S. citizen at birth if one of their parents is a U.S. citizen, although this is subject to additional requirements.

Citizenship And Naturalization Requirements

Naturalization is the immigration process in which an individual becomes a United States citizen. It is the only way in which an individual can become a United States Citizen if they were not born a U.S. citizen, or if they did not acquire citizenship immediately after they were born.

Only a person who has a permanent visa, which is more commonly known as a green card, may apply for naturalization. Naturalization can be a lengthy and complicated process, as the applicant is required to submit various forms and documents in order to prove their eligibility.

Before applying for citizenship or naturalization, an applicant must meet specific requirements. Keep in mind that these are different from the document requirements associated with the citizenship application form (Form N-400, Application for Naturalization). Generally speaking, in order to be eligible for citizenship, a person needs to meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • The applicant has been a permanent resident for at least 5 years, or has been a permanent resident in the U.S. for at least 3 years and is able to file as the spouse of a U.S. citizen;
  • The applicant was present in the U.S. for half of those years;
  • The applicant is aged eighteen or older;
  • The applicant did not make any other country their permanent home during the time in which they resided in the United States;
  • The applicant has served in the U.S. military and has met various requirements associated with service and citizenship; and/or
  • The applicant meets various other requirements related to being the child of U.S. citizens.

Additionally, those who are born abroad may be United States citizens at birth if both of their parents are U.S. citizens at the time of their birth. The same applies if at least one of their parents lived in the States at some point during their lifetime. Further, a person may be a United States citizen at birth if one of their parents is a U.S. citizen, although this is subject to additional requirements.

There are several requirements to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. Examples include, but may not be limited to:

  • The ability to read, write, and speak English;
  • A knowledge and understanding of United States history and government;
  • Good moral character;
  • An attachment to the ideals of the United States Constitution;
  • A generally favorable disposition towards the United States; and
  • A continued physical presence or residence in the United States for a specified period, which may vary according to visa specifics.

There is no concrete definition of “good moral character” for the purpose of an immigration proceeding. The term has been interpreted to mean that your behavior meets the moral standard of the average citizen in your community. Under this definition, customs and expectations relating to good moral character differ according to locality.

There are various factors that will affect a determination of your moral character. Some examples of poor moral character include, but may not be limited to:

  • Refusing to pay court-ordered child support;
  • Failing to file or to pay income taxes;
  • Neglecting to register for Selective Service if you are required to do so;
  • Lying to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to attain
  • immigration benefits;
  • Driving drunk or habitual drunkenness;
  • Engaging in illegal gambling as a means of earning primary income; and
  • Committing adultery.

An applicant may submit their completed Application for Naturalization, or Form N-400, to the proper USCIS) center. They should also submit any documents and any other additional information which has been requested of them. Something to note is that an applicant should be sure to make copies of their application and all documents submitted for their records. Meaning, the applicant should not send their original documents with their application unless an original signature is required.

The Naturalization Test

As previously mentioned, obtaining U.S. citizenship through naturalization requires taking a naturalization test. It is the final step in becoming a naturalized citizen, before taking the Oath of Allegiance after passing the test. It may also be referred to as the “citizenship exam.” The naturalization test is intended to determine whether an applicant meets the English and Civics requirements in order to be considered a citizen.

The naturalization test is composed of two parts: the English Test, and the Civics Test. The English test is composed of writing, speaking, and reading components. The Civics Test challenges the applicant's knowledge of U.S. history and culture.

The English language component of the exam tests an applicant's English language proficiency. This ability to speak English is determined by a USCIS officer during the applicant's interview. For the reading portion, the applicant must read one out of three sentences correctly. For the writing portion, the applicant must write one out of three sentences correctly.

There may be waivers available for the naturalization test, depending on the applicant's background. These waivers are generally associated with the applicant's age and medical condition. Applicants can be exempt from taking the English proficiency test, but not the civics test, under the following circumstances:

  • They are 50 years or older, have a valid green card, and have lived in the United States for at least 20 years; or
  • They are 55 years or older, have a valid green card, and have lived in the United States for at least 15 years.

The civics portion of the exam tests the applicant's knowledge of U.S. history and government. During the naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will ask 10 civics questions from a list of 100 questions. In order to pass, the applicant must answer 6 of the 10 questions correctly. The questions are not multiple choice. Some examples of commonly asked questions include:

  • Who is the current U.S. President?
  • What is the name of the current Vice President?
  • What is the political party of the current U.S. President?
  • How many U.S. Senators are there?
  • What are the first 10 Constitutional Amendments called?
  • What branch of government does the President head?

All applicants are given two opportunities to pass the naturalization exam. If they fail any of the tests, they may be retested on that portion of the test between 60 and 90 days from the date of their initial interview. If you pass one part of the exam but not the other, they can take the exam they did not pass within the specified time frame.

What Else Do I Need To Know About United States Citizenship?

Depending on when you were born, and which of your parents was a United States citizen, you may have had U.S. citizenship passed to you as previously mentioned. The United States Congress and the United States Supreme Court have changed citizenship laws many times. As such, if you were born during a specific year to one U.S. citizen parent and one non-citizen parent, the laws determining whether you are a citizen can be different than if you were born the year prior.

To reiterate, the naturalization application process may take up to 6 months to complete from the time of application. In order to ensure that your application is not returned to you before it is fully evaluated, it is important to ensure that all requested information is included, such as:

  • The naturalization application;
  • Having current photographs and fingerprints taken;
  • Being interviewed, after which you will know whether your application has been approved; and
  • Taking the Oath of Allegiance.

Honesty is an integral part of the naturalization process. If you have been convicted of a crime, even if that conviction has been expunged, the details of such a charge must be disclosed to the USCIS. If you conceal or falsify information, the USCIS may deny your application.

Your time as a lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) begins on the date that you were granted LPS status. This status is indicated on your Permanent Resident Card, which was previously known as the Alien Registration Card.

The amount of time it takes to become a naturalized citizen varies for each individual applicant, but is generally between 5 to 7 years. This is because each applicant must wait 5 years from the date they received their LPR status before they may file for the naturalization process. Once their application has been filed, it can take up to 2 years to complete the naturalization filing process, including the required interviews and tests.

A person becomes a United States citizen on the date that they take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This Oath is generally administered in a formal ceremony, and the date will be recorded on the citizen's Certificate of Naturalization. 

Renouncing U.S. Citizenship

When an individual renounces their U.S. citizenship it means that they are giving up their status as a lawful U.S. citizen. It also means that they are giving up all of their legal rights and responsibilities as a U.S. citizen as well. A person who renounces their status as a U.S. citizen will no longer be able to enjoy any of the following legal rights or privileges:

  • Run for certain political offices;
  • Live in the United States;
  • Vote in U.S. elections;
  • Work in the United States;
  • Be protected from being deported under U.S. immigration laws;
  • Sponsor close family members who live overseas for citizenship or residency status;
  • Transfer their U.S. citizenship status to any of their children who were born abroad;
  • Invest in specific types of real estate or real property; and/or
  • Receive protection from a U.S. embassy or consulate while traveling abroad.

In addition, the individual will always be required to obtain a U.S. issued visa when traveling or visiting the United States for extended periods of time. In other words, the individual will no longer be allowed to freely travel in or out of the country without a U.S. visa.

It is also important to note that when a person renounces their U.S. citizenship status it will not remove their obligation to pay back any debts they incurred while living in the country as a U.S. citizen.

Lastly, if the individual does not hold dual citizenship, then they will immediately become stateless as soon as they renounce their status as a U.S. citizen. Thus, they should register to become a citizen of another country or else they will be deemed to be stateless. This can be an issue when applying for jobs or benefits.

The Renunciation Process

In order to renounce your U.S. citizenship, you will need to have a second passport, or citizenship of another country. You must bring this with you to the renunciation appointment, as the State Department will deny anyone the right to renounce their U.S. citizenship if they do not bring a second passport.

You must fill out form DS-4079 prior to your appointment, which is a questionnaire for determining the possible loss of U.S. citizenship. According to law, if you wish to renounce your U.S. citizenship, you will need to do so in person by visiting a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

Some examples of necessary documents to renounce include, but may not be limited to:

  • Evidence of your U.S. citizenship, such as your most recent U.S. passport or U.S. birth certificate if you do not possess a U.S. passport;
  • U.S. Consular Report of Birth Abroad, if applicable;
  • Bio-pages of all current foreign passports;
  • Certificates of Naturalization for any country, including the United States, if applicable;
  • Certificates of Citizenship for any country, including the United States, if applicable;
  • Evidence of any name changes, if applicable, such as your marriage or divorce certificates, court orders, or deed polls
  • Completed form DS-4079;
  • Completed Loss of Citizenship Questionnaire; and
  • Completed Informal Loss of Citizenship Acknowledgement, which must be signed and dated and sent as a scanned document.

It is important to note that while there are many benefits to renouncing your U.S. citizenship, it is not without consequence. It is permanent, final, and irrevocable. There are no temporary renunciation avenues, nor are there any options to reacquire your U.S. citizenship. Once you have renounced your U.S. citizenship, you can never resume your U.S. citizenship.

Making A Renunciatory Declaration

If an individual only makes a renunciatory declaration as part of the process for swearing a foreign naturalization oath, then they might not be viewed as fully renouncing their U.S. citizenship. In fact, the U.S. State Department is more willing to accept such forms of renunciatory declarations in present day.

As such, if a person was required to take a renunciatory oath because they needed to gain foreign citizenship in another country and that was the only way to do so even though they did not want to, then this may be an acceptable reason to make a renunciatory declaration. This can happen in foreign nations that do not permit their citizens to gain citizenship in more than one country.

Getting My U.S. Citizenship Reinstated After Renouncing It

Generally speaking, it may be possible for you to have your status as a U.S. citizen reinstated if you renounced it for one or more of the legally permissible reasons. For instance, if you desired to keep your status as a U.S. citizen, but were forced to swear a renunciatory declaration or oath to gain dual citizenship in a foreign country.

In such a scenario, the guidelines of the U.S. State Department for determining a person's intent to maintain U.S. citizenship would retroactively apply to past cases. In order to initiate this type of proceeding, an individual should either:

  • Make direct contact with a U.S. embassy;
  • Speak to an official at a U.S. consulate; or
  • Submit a formal written request to the U.S. Department of State's Office of American Citizen
  • Services and Crisis Management.

As an example, a person may be able to obtain reinstatement of U.S. Citizenship by explaining to an official at a U.S. consulate that the only way they could get dual citizenship in another foreign country was by taking a renunciatory oath or declaration.

This is true even if the person was initially told by a U.S. consulate official that it was not possible for them to obtain dual citizenship. However, the person must provide a valid reason for ignoring the initial response from a U.S. consulate official as well as explain why acquiring dual citizenship was necessary for them.

In addition, the most common way that persons seeking reinstatement of U.S. Citizenship do so is by submitting a request to the U.S. State Department.

In nearly all other instances where a person gives up their U.S. citizenship, it can be very difficult to apply for reinstatement of U.S. citizenship. They will most likely need to go through the entire process again, including the length of time it took to gain U.S. citizenship, depending on why they renounced it in the first place.

Therefore, you may want to consider contacting a local immigration law attorney for further legal guidance on relevant U.S. immigration laws as soon as possible.

Situations That Make It Difficult to Regain U.S. Citizenship

Once a person is formally granted lawful U.S. Citizenship, it is relatively difficult to lose unless that person declares their allegiance or citizenship to a foreign nation. Otherwise, the only other actions that can make it hard to regain lawful U.S. citizenship is if a person does any of the following:

  • Voluntarily commits an act of treason against the United States, such as by carrying out an act of terrorism or enlisting in another country's military that is at war with the U.S.;
  • Works in a policy level position for a foreign government;
  • Acts in a way that would violate the conditions or their intent to maintain their status as a lawful citizen of the United States (e.g., attempts to overthrow the U.S. government);
  • Chooses to run for public office in a foreign nation (this factor may not apply in every situation); and/or
  • Formally renounces their U.S. citizenship either to the Attorney General of the United States or to an official at a U.S. Embassy.

What Else Should I Know About Renouncing U.S. Citizenship?

If you were to renounce your U.S. citizenship before acquiring citizenship of another country, you will be considered “stateless.” People who are stateless have no government protection, and therefore no obligations to any country. However, they often experience difficulty when traveling.

Renouncing your U.S. citizenship comes with consequences that should be carefully considered before making any decisions. Additionally, renunciation can only be undone under especially limited circumstances. Some examples of the consequences of renouncing your U.S. citizenship include, but may not be limited to:

  • Giving up all of your rights and responsibilities as a U.S. citizen;
  • Needing to become a citizen of another nation, or risk becoming “stateless,” as previously mentioned; and
  • You may need a visa in order to visit the United States.

As previously mentioned, once you renounce your U.S. citizenship, you will no longer need to pay U.S. taxes. However, it is important to remember that the U.S. government charges a fee of $2,350 to relinquish citizenship. There may also be exit taxes depending on how you qualify.

There are some differences between a “surrendered” and “relinquished” U.S. citizenship. “Surrendered” is not a defined term in the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”), nor the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”). The term is casually used to describe those who gave up their U.S. citizenship, regardless of the method used to do so.

Those who are said to have relinquished their U.S. citizenship are those who perform an “expatriating act.” This is performed with the intention of relinquishing their U.S. citizenship. Common examples of expatriating acts include:

  • Acquiring another country's citizenship, as previously mentioned;
  • Being a state worker for another country; and
  • Joining the military of another country, as previously mentioned.

Other examples are listed in Section 349 of the INA.

How Can An Immigration Attorney Help Me?

If you have any questions regarding U.S. citizenship, or are experiencing issues associated with the subject, you should consult with an experienced and local immigration lawyer.

They can help you understand current laws and requirements, and determine the best path to citizenship based on your specific needs. Should any issues arise, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.