What Are Possible Pathways to Citizenship?

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How Do You Become a U.S. Citizen?

Many foreign nationals in and outside the U.S. desire to become U.S. citizens for many reasons. For some, like those from war-torn countries or places of unrest, becoming U.S. citizens will afford them the opportunity to live a better life. Others may seek U.S. citizenship because of the country’s many business and personal opportunities.

For those who are already lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in the U.S., American citizenship offers a higher level of rights and benefits under the law. For instance, as a lawful permanent resident, you cannot participate in federal elections or own a U.S. passport. These restrictions disappear once you become a U.S. citizen.

If you belong to any of these categories, you might have questions about how to become a U.S. citizen. Generally, by the U.S. citizenship laws, there are two ways a person can become a citizen – by acquisition or through the naturalization process. In this guide, we explain how these two pathways work to help you see that U.S. citizenship is an attainable goal. Read on to learn more.

The Pathways to U.S. Citizenship

Citizenship By Acquisition

Citizenship by acquisition is a citizenship pathway allowing individuals to automatically acquire U.S. citizenship because their parents are U.S. citizens. You qualify for citizenship under this category if any of the following applies to you

  • You were born in the U.S., and at least one of your parents is a U.S. citizen

  • You were born abroad, and at least one of your parents is a U.S. citizen

  • At least one of your parents became a naturalized citizen while you were under 18.

If you were born abroad or your parent became a citizen after birth, you must apply for a Citizenship Certificate by filing Form N-600 with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Citizenship Certificate will serve as proof of your legal status from the moment you receive it. Feel free to contact an immigration attorney if you have questions about the application process.

Citizenship By Naturalization

The naturalization process allows individuals who have attained lawful permanent resident status (green card holders) to obtain citizenship once they fulfill the requirements of the immigration laws. The categories of persons who qualify for naturalization as green card holders include the following:

Green Card Holders for at Least Five Years

If you have been a green card holder for at least five years, you may apply for naturalization if you meet certain requirements, including the following:

  • You are at least 18 years old.

  • You have maintained continuous residence in the U.S. ( for at least five years) immediately before your application.

  • You have been physically present in the U.S. (for at least thirty months out of five years) before filing your application.

  • You have lived for at least three months in the state from where you filed your application.

  • You are a person of good moral character.

  • You show a devotion to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.

  • You can read, write and speak basic English.

  • You know and understand the fundamentals of the history, principles, and organizational structure of the U.S. government.

  • You are prepared to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

The U.S. permits dual citizenship. Therefore, you are not required to abandon citizenship of your home country unless you decide to do so voluntarily.

Spouses of U.S. Citizens

If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply for naturalization if you have been a lawful permanent resident for at least three years. To succeed with your application, you’ll need to meet several requirements, including the following:

  • You must have resided in the U.S. continuously for at least three years after becoming a lawful permanent resident.

  • You must have lived in a “marital union” with your citizen spouse in the last three years before filing your application and while your application is pending.

  • You are at least 18 at the time of filing your application.

  • Have lived for at least three months in a state with jurisdiction over your residence.

  • You continuously reside within the U.S. from the date of filing until you naturalize.

  • Were present in the U.S. for at least 18 months out of the three years.

  • You can read, write and speak English.

  • You know and understand the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of the U.S. government.

  • You are prepared to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

Naturalization Through Military Service

You may qualify for citizenship if you currently serve or have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least one year.

Those who qualify for naturalization under this category are exempt from many of the usual naturalization requirements. For example, they do not need to be lawful permanent residents for a long time before they qualify, as long as they have LPR status at their naturalization interview.

But you’ll still need to meet other requirements before or during the application process to naturalize under this category. They include the following:

  • You must be at least 18 years old.

  • You must submit Form N-426 (Request for Certification of Military Service) while filing your application.

  • You must demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the English language and U.S. history/government unless you secure an exemption.

  • If you have left the armed forces, you must provide evidence to show that you were honorably discharged.

Posthumous Citizenship for Deceased Members of the Armed Forces

Individuals who died in active military service during certain periods of hostility may be eligible for posthumous citizenship.

The deceased individual’s spouse, child, or parent may also be eligible for naturalization based on posthumous citizenship if they are already lawful permanent residents. However, they must meet all the other naturalization conditions except for the continuous residence or physical presence requirements in the U.S.

To get this benefit, the deceased’s family must file Form N-644, Application for Posthumous Citizenship, within two years of death. When the application is approved, the USCIS will issue a Certificate of Citizenship in the deceased’s name, establishing that they were a U.S. citizen on the date they died.

Can Undocumented Immigrants Become U.S. Citizens?

If you’re an undocumented immigrant, you might be able to become a U.S citizen. But first, you’ll need to become a lawful permanent resident. The most common pathways to lawful permanent residence for undocumented immigrants are through the asylum and refugee immigration programs.

There may be other humanitarian immigration programs that could help you obtain a permanent resident card and eventually become a U.S. citizen. Consider reaching out to a skilled immigration attorney to learn your options.

Get Help With the Citizenship and Naturalization Process From Experienced Immigration Lawyers at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law

The journey toward U.S. citizenship could be long and complex. The many requirements, documentation, and procedures involved make it difficult to navigate, even for those whose eligibility is not in question. But, professional legal guidance and support can make the process easier and improve your chances of success.

At Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, we are devoted to helping our clients navigate the citizenship process and help their immigration applications succeed. So, if you have further questions about the pathways to citizenship, do not hesitate to reach out to us. Let our Naturalization & Citizenship Lawyer help evaluate your options and help you create a suitable strategy that would lead to your goals one step at a time.