U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND NATURALIZATION
Questions and answers about the required immigration forms, the application process, the U.S. Citizenship test and much more.
How can I become a U.S. citizen?
You may become a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization.
Who is born a U.S. citizen?
Generally, people are born U.S. citizens if they are born in the United States or if they are born to a U.S. citizen or citizens. Births abroad must be reported to the local embassy before the child turns 18 years old and a local birth certificate with the biological parents' names must be obtained or you may start your certificate of citizenship application at any time. Reporting the birth is a simpler and less expensive process.
(1) If you were born in the United States: Normally you were a U.S. citizen at birth.* (Including, in most cases, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and after November 4, 1986, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) You should document this by registering your birth with the local hospital and obtaining a U.S. birth certificate.
(2) If you were born abroad in-wedlock to two U.S. citizens: And at least one of your parents lived in the United States at some point in his or her life, then in most cases you are a U.S. citizen.
(3) If you were born abroad in-wedlock to one U.S. citizen and one foreign-citizen: In most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if all of the following are true:
- One of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born;
- Your citizen parent lived at least 5 years in the United States or its outlying possessions before you were born; and
- At least 2 of those 5 years in the United States were after your citizen parent's 14th birthday.**
(4) If you were born abroad out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen father:
In most cases you are a citizen if you can the following are true and provable:
- You have a biological relationship with your father;
- Your father had U.S. nationality at the time of your birth;
- Your father was physically present in the U.S. or its outlying possessions prior to your birth for five years, at least two of which were after reaching 14 years old;
- Your father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support until you reach 18 years of age; and
- While you are under 18 years of age: your birth must be registered under the law of your residence (such as a local birth certificate with your father's name), your father must acknowledge paternity with writing under oath, or paternity must be established by a competent court.
(5) If you were born out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen mother:
Register your birth with the local U.S. embassy or consulate before your 18th birthday or apply for a citizenship certificate. You are eligible for citizenship if:
- Your mother was physically present in the U.S. or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year prior to the person's birth, and
- Your mother is genetically related to you (cannot be a surrogate carrier without genetic relationship).
* The exception is persons who were born not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, such as children of foreign diplomats.
** If you were born before November 14, 1986, you are a citizen if your U.S. citizen parent lived in the United States for at least 10 years and 5 of those years in the United States were after your citizen parent's 14th birthday.
How do I report a birth abroad?
In the case of children born to U.S. citizen(s) abroad, the child must be legitimated by the country in which they were born. This is usually done by acquiring a local birth certificate for the child and reporting the birth to the local United States embassy or consulate. After the birth is reported, the family will receive a "Consular Report of Birth" which designates the child as a U.S. citizen. The Consular Report of Birth may be obtained for a fee of $100 and a passport for the child costs $105.
Visit the website of your local embassy for country-specific information. The information should be located under a tab titled "report birth abroad."
How do I become a naturalized citizen?
If you are not a U.S. citizen by birth or did not acquire/derive U.S. citizenship through U.S. citizen parents before your 18th birthday, you may still be eligible to become a citizen through the naturalization process. Eligible persons who are not children of U.S. citizens use the Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) to apply for citizenship. Children of U.S. parents use the Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600) to document their citizenship. Qualified children who reside abroad use the "Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate under Section 322" (Form N-600K) to document their naturalization. You qualify for naturalization if:
- You have been a permanent resident for at least five years and meet all other eligibility requirements,
- You are the spouse of a U.S. citizen and have been a permanent resident for at least three years and have met all other eligibility requirements,
- You have served in the U.S. armed forces which qualifies you for citizenship and meet all other eligibility requirements, or
- You are the child of a U.S. citizen and were born outside of the U.S., are currently residing outside of the U.S., and you meet all other eligibility requirements.
What are the basic requirements to apply for naturalization?
Generally, to be eligible for naturalization you must:
- Be age 18 or older;
- Be a green card holder for a certain amount of time (usually 5 years but less for some individuals);
- Have lived within the state from which you are applying for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing your application;
- Be a person of good moral character under the principles of the Constitution with the best interest of the country and the people within it under guidance of reigning law;
- Have a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States; and
- Be proficient in reading, writing and speaking basic English and have an understanding of U.S. history and government (civics).
When can I apply for naturalization?
You may be able to apply for naturalization if you are at least 18 years of age and have been a permanent resident of the United States:
- For at least 5 years; or
- For at least 3 years during which time you have been, and continue to be, married to and living in a marriage relationship with your U.S. citizen spouse; or
- Have served honorably or are currently serving in the U.S. military, with at least 1 year of service, and you apply for citizenship while in the military, or within 6 months of discharge*; or
- Have at least one U.S. citizen parent and were born abroad in which case you should apply for a Certificate of Citizenship.
*Certain spouses of U.S. citizens, and those who served in the U.S. military during a past war or are serving currently in combat may be able to file for naturalization sooner than noted above.
What form do I use to file for naturalization?
You should use an Application for Naturalization (Form N-400).
If I have been convicted of a crime but my record has been expunged, do I need to write that on my application or tell a USCIS officer?
Yes, always be honest with USCIS about all:
- Arrests (even if you were not charged or convicted);
- Convictions (even if your record was cleared or expunged);
- Crimes you have committed for which you were not arrested or convicted; and
- Any countervailing evidence, or evidence in your favor concerning the circumstances of your arrests, and/or convictions or offenses that you would like USCIS to consider.
Even if you have committed a minor crime, USCIS may deny your application if you do not tell the USCIS officer about the incident. Note that unless a traffic incident was alcohol or drug related, you do not need to submit documentation for traffic fines and incidents that did not involve an actual arrest if the only penalty was a fine less than $500 and/or points on your driver's license.
Where do I file my naturalization application?
You should send your completed "Application for Naturalization" (Form N-400) to the appropriate USCIS Service Center as listed on the filing instructions. Remember to make a copy of your application. Do not send original documents with your application unless the filing instructions state that an original is required. Always make copies of documents that you send to USCIS.
Will USCIS help me, or make accommodations for me, if I have a disability?
If you have a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment that would prevent you from passing the English and civics portion of the naturalization process, then you may file for an exception using Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions.
If you require additional accomodations such as a wheelchair accessible building then you may contact USCIS and make a request.
What is the fee for processing an application?
The USCIS filing fee for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization is $595.00* and the biometric services fee for having your fingerprints taken is $85.00.** Send the $680.00 total fee with your application to USCIS. Pay the fee with a check or money order drawn on a U.S. bank payable to the Department of Homeland Security. Do not use the initials DHS or USDHS. Do Not Send Cash. Residents of Guam should make the fee payable to the "Treasurer, Guam," and residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands should make the fee payable to the "Commissioner of Finance of the Virgin Islands." If required, USCIS may also take your photograph and signature as part of the biometric services. Remember that your application fee is not refundable even if you withdraw your application or if your case is denied.
* If you are applying for naturalization based on your own service in the Armed Forces of the United States, no filing fee is required.
** If you are 75 years or older, or if you are filing on the basis of your service in the Armed Forces of the United States, or if you are filing from abroad, do not send the biometric services fee for fingerprinting with your application.
How long will it take to become naturalized?
The time it takes to be naturalized varies by location. USCIS is continuing to modernize and improve the naturalization process and would like to decrease the time it takes to an average of 6 months after the Form N-400 is filed.
Where can I be fingerprinted?
After your application is received, USCIS will tell you where to get fingerprinted.
What if I cannot go to my scheduled interview?
You should avoid missing your interview as it is a very important part of the naturalization process. If you absolutely must miss it, you must write or call the office where your interview is to take place and ask that your interview be rescheduled.
If you miss your interview without notifying USCIS, your case will be "administratively closed" until you schedule another interview which must be completed within a year or your application will be denied.
What do I do if my address has changed?
It is important that USCIS has your most current address. If USCIS does not, you may not receive important information from them. For example, USCIS may not be able to notify you about the date and time of your interview or about additional documents you may need to send or bring.
If you move after filing your "Application for Naturalization" (Form N-400), call USCIS Customer Service at 1-800-375-5283 or file a Change of Address online to change your address on your pending Form N-400. You must also file Form AR-11, Alien's Change of Address Card, to change your address in the USCIS master database. You must file the Form AR-11 within 10 days of your move. Every time you move, you are required by law to inform USCIS of your new address. You should also notify the U.S. Postal Service of your new address to help ensure that any mail already on its way may be forwarded to you.
Can I change my name when I naturalize?
You may change your name during your Naturalization Ceremony if your ceremony takes place in a court in which case you may request the judge to formally and legally change your name. Or, if you have already legally changed your name, you may present evidence of this to USCIS so that your naturalization certificate will reflect your new legal name.
If USCIS grants me naturalization, when will I become a citizen?
After your application has been accepted and after you take the Oath of Allegiance at your Naturalization Ceremony, you will be a citizen of the United States. USCIS will notify you of the date and location for your Naturalization Ceremony or, in some places, you may take the Oath the same day as your interview.
What should I do if I cannot go to my oath ceremony?
You may notify USCIS that you cannot attend the ceremony by mailing a letter saying you cannot attend along with the "Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony" (Form N-445) that you received at your local USCIS office. Your local USCIS office will reschedule you and send you a new "Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony" (Form N-445) to tell you when your ceremony will be.
What can I do if USCIS denies my application?
If your N-400, Application for Naturalization, was rejected for what you believe to be wrongful reasons you may then request a hearing with an immigrant officer. With your decision letter you will have received a letter explaining why your application was denied as well as Form N-336, Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings under Section 336 of the INA. You must file this form within 30 days of receiving your decision letter. Can I reapply for naturalization if USCIS denies my application? To reapply, you must submit a new application and repay the applications fees. Your application decision letter will indicate when you are eligible to reapply. Persons who were denied due to failing the English or civics test may reapply at any time.
What do I do if I lose my Certificate of Naturalization?
To replace your certificate, simply file Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document.
What do I use as proof of citizenship if I do not have my certificate?
If you have one, you may use your United States passport as evidence of citizenship while you wait for a replacement certificate. It is strongly recommended that you apply for a passport as soon as you become a U.S. citizen.
What is Dual Citizenship?
A dual citizen is a citizen of two countries at the same time. While dual citizenship is available between certain nations, the U.S. government does not endorse the policy due to problems that may occur because of it. However, the U.S. does recognize dual citizenship and you may apply for it if the laws of the countries' permit. There are benefits to dual citizenship as well as the potential for problematic situations to arise. A dual citizen may live and work freely in the countries of which he/she is a citizen without the need of obtaining a visa. A person with dual citizenship is subject to the laws of both countries of which he/she is citizen. In some cases these laws may contradict one another which could cause problems for the dual citizen.
U.S. CITIZENSHIP FOR MILITARY PERSONNEL
Questions and answers about how serving in the U.S. Military relates to obtaining U.S. Citizenship, and much more.
What is the eligibility for naturalization for military personnel?
If you have honourably served in the U.S. military for a period of one year or more, you may be eligible for naturalization. Qualifying military branches include the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, certain Reserve components of the National Guard, and Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.
Who qualifies for naturalization for U.S. military personnel?
General requirements for eligibility include the following:
- Good moral character
- Proficiency in the English language
- Knowledge of U.S. government and history ("civics")
- An allegiance to the United States by taking an Oath of Allegiance
Military naturalization applicants are exempted from many of the traditional naturalization requirements under Sections 328 and 329 of INA.
What is Section 328, INA?
INA is the Immigration and Nationality Act which dictates U.S. immigration law. Section 328 applies specifically to members of the U.S. military who are currently serving or have been honourably discharged. Section 328 outlines the requirements for naturalization for said persons.
These requirements are:
- Honourable services for one or more year(s).
- To have lawful permanent resident status.
- To file your application for naturalization while serving or within six months of being honourably discharged.*
*If you do not meet this requirement, you still are eligible to apply for naturalization but must meet the general requirement of continuous residence in the United States for a period of at least five years and residence in the state from which are applying for at least three months prior to applying.
What is Section 329, INA?
INA is the Immigration and Nationality Act which dictates U.S. immigration law. Section 329 is specifically for members of the military who are serving or have served during times of conflict. On July 3, 2002, former president George W. Bush authorized that all noncitizens who had served honorably in the U.S. armed forces on or after September 11, 2001 be eligible for citizenship. The order also includes veterans of the designated past wars and conflicts listed below.
- World War I
- A period beginning September 1, 1939 and ending December 31, 1946
- A period beginning June 25, 1950, and ending July 1, 1955
- A period beginning February 28, 1961 and ending on a date designated as the termination of Vietnam hostilities
- Any period which the President by Executive order designates as a period in which the U.S. military was or is engaged in military operations involving armed conflict with a hostile foreign force
U.S. CITIZENSHIP FOR CHILDREN
Questions and answers about the U.S. Citizenship laws for children, place of birth and how that affects their U.S. Citizenship, information you need to know about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and much more.
If I am a U.S. citizen, is my child a U.S. citizen?
All children born in the United States are automatically granted citizenship. It is best practice to register the birth of a child by acquiring a U.S. birth certificate before the children turns 18 years of age.
Children born abroad to a U.S. citizen are granted citizenship if certain requirements are met. If the requirements are met, then the parent(s) should register the birth of the child locally (with a local birth certificate) and report the birth to the local consulate or embassy before the child reaches 18 years of age. You may also apply for a U.S. passport for the child at this time. Requirements differ according to the citizenship and marital status of the biological parents. Below the requirements are listed per scenario.
Children born abroad whose parents meet the below requirements but whose births were not reported to the local consulate or embassy before the child turned 18 years of age should apply for citizenship using Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.
- The child was born abroad in-wedlock to two U.S. citizens:
And at least one of the parents lived in the United States at some point in his or her life, then in most cases the child is a U.S. citizen.
- If the child was born abroad in-wedlock to one U.S. citizen and one foreign-citizen:
In most cases, the child is a U.S. citizen if all of the following are true:
- One of the parents was a U.S. citizen when the child was born;
- The citizen parent lived at least 5 years in the United States or its outlying possessions before the child was born; and
- At least 2 of those 5 years in the United States were after the citizen parent's 14th birthday.**
- If the child was born abroad out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen father:
In most cases the child is a citizen if you can prove the following are true and provable:
- The child has a biological relationship with his/her father;
- The father had U.S. nationality at the time of the child's birth;
- The father was physically present in the U.S. or its outlying possessions prior to the child's birth for five years, at least two of which were after reaching 14 years old;
- The father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support until the child reaches 18 years of age; and
- While the child is under 18 years of age: the child's birth must be registered under the law of your residence (such as a local birth certificate with your father's name), the father must acknowledge paternity with writing under oath, or paternity must be established by a competent court.
- If the child was born out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen mother:
Register the birth with the local U.S. embassy or consulate before the child's 18th birthday or apply for a citizenship certificate. The child is eligible for citizenship if:
- The mother was physically present in the U.S. or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year prior to the child's birth, and
- The mother is genetically related to the child (cannot be a surrogate carrier without genetic relationship).
* The exception is persons who were born not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, such as children of foreign diplomats.
** If the child was born before November 14, 1986, the child is a citizen if his/her U.S. citizen parent lived in the United States for at least 10 years and 5 of those years in the United States were after his/her citizen parent's 14th birthday.
If I am a U.S. citizen, but my child does not meet the requirements listed above, can I still apply for citizenship for my child?
Yes. There are three circumstances in which a child of a U.S. citizen may become a citizen if the above requirements have not been met. These circumstances are:
- The U.S. citizen parent did not live (or come to) the U.S. for the required period of time prior to the child's birth, or
- The child is born to a parent or parents who naturalize after the child's birth, or
- The child is adopted.
If your child fits into one of the above then he/she may apply for citizenship once the following requirements are met:
- The child becomes a lawful permanent resident of the United States; and
- Either parent is a U.S. citizen by birth or becomes one through naturalization; and
- The child is under 18 years of age; and
- The child is unmarried; and
- The child is the parents' biological, legitimated* child and is legitimated before the child's 16th birthday;
- If the child is adopted, then the adoption met the requirements of section 101(b)(1)(E) or (F) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and the adoption is finalized; and
- The child is residing in the United States under legal custody of a U.S. citizen parent.
*To legitimate a child can be as easy as having both biological parents' names on the child's birth certificate. A child that is not legitimated before the age of 16 may not claim citizenship through a U.S. citizen father.
I am a U.S. Citizen, how do I immigrate an adopted or prospective adopted child or help my adopted child become a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident?
There are three ways to immigrate an adopted child or adopted a foreign-citizen orphan child - the Orphan (non-Hague) Adoption Process, the Hague Adoption Process, and the Immediate Relative Process. Each process is listed below.
- Orphan (Non-Hague) Adoption Process
- Find a licensed adoption service provider that is located in the United States
- Sign an Adoption Services contract
- Successfully complete a home study
- Meet any parent education requirements (mandated by state of residency or voluntarily provided by agency)
- File Form I-600A, Application of Advance Processing of Orphan Petition, with USCIS (optional but may help expedite the process)
- Successfully adopt or obtain legal
- File Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative, with USCIS
- USCIS or consular officer in the child's country of residence completes form I-604, Determination on Child for Adoption
- File for an IR-3 or IR-4 category visa for the child by submitting Form DS-230 to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate which your case is assigned to and schedule a visa interview.
- The embassy or child issues the child a visa and he/she may travel to the United States.
- Hague Adoption Process
- Find an accredited (by the Department of State's designated Accrediting Entities) and licensed Adoption Service Provider that is located in the United States.
- Sign an Adoption Services contract
- Successfully complete a home study
- Complete 10 hours of parent education
- File Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country, with USCIS before being matched with a child
- Submit your home study and fingerprints with your application
- Once the I-800A is accepted you will be matched with a child
- Review the matched child (you will be provided with a social and medical history) and make the final decision to adopt by submitting Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative
- File for an IH-3 or IH-4 category visa for the child by submitting Form DS-230 to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate which your case is assigned to
- Adopt or Obtain legal custody of the child after the designated consular sends an Article 5 Letter to Foreign Central Authority
- Attend a visa interview, receive a Hague Certificate, and have the child issued a visa. Once the visa is issued, the child may travel to the United States.
- Immigrant Relative Process
This process is not limited to individuals who have been or are going to be adopted by U.S. citizens but is also available to U.S. permanent residents. For this process, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitions for their adopted family member using Form I-130, Petition for Immigrant Relative. If the petition is approved, the foreign-citizen adopted relative may file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, to apply for permanent residence or form DS-230 to apply for a visa to the United States.
To be eligible for the Immediate Relative Process, the child must have been adopted before his/her 16th birthday* and the petitioning family member must submit evidence of a full and final adoption. Also the parent must have had legal and physical custody of the child for at least two years while the child was a minor.
*The adopted child may have been 17 or 18 years old at the time of the adoption if he/she was the sibling of a child adopted by the same parent(s) and who immigrated as an orphan based on an adoption by the same parent(s).
Who is an orphan?
To be considered an orphan under U.S. immigration law, a child must meet very specific conditions:
- Have no parents, or a single parent who is unable to care for the child and has declared, in writing, for the child to be, irrevocably, released for emigration or adoption.
- Be under the age of 16 at the time the I-600 petition is filed. Child aged 16 or 17 may qualify if he/she is the biological sibling of an adopted child or child who will be adopted who is under the age of 16.
Who can file an orphan petition?
You must be a U.S. citizen and, if unmarried, be at least 25 years old prior to filing Form I-600. You may file Form I-600A at age 24. If you are married, you and your spouse must go through the immigration and adoption process together. You must meet the processing requirements, which are designed to protect the orphan. For example, each adult member (18 years of age) of your household will need to be fingerprinted, and USCIS will conduct background and criminal checks on all household members. A "home study" or home visit will also be required by a licensed adoption agency or a home study agency.
How old can an orphan be and still be eligible under this program?
Adoptions that are not processed through the Orphan (non-Hague) program must be completed before the child is 16 years old in order for the child to obtain any benefits as a child under immigration law. If you adopt through the orphan program, the I-600 must be properly filed before the child turns 16 years old.
The only exception to this provision is if the child being adopted is the biological brother or sister of a child that you have already adopted. In this case, the sibling adoption must be completed before that child turns 18 years old.
What happens after the Form I-600 orphan petition is approved?
After the I-600 is approved, USCIS will notify the U.S. Embassy or consulate so they can issue the proper visa for the child to enter the United States. After the I-600 is approved, you can travel overseas and complete the adoption there, or you can bring the orphan to the United States and complete the final adoption here. Regardless of whether or not you complete the adoption overseas, the U.S. Embassy or consulate will issue the child an immigrant visa, and the child will enter the United States as a permanent resident.
- If you complete the final adoption before the child enters the United States, and you and your spouse have personally seen the orphan prior to or during the adoption proceedings abroad, then the child will automatically become a U.S. citizen when admitted with the immigrant visa. The child will be automatically processed to receive a Certificate of Citizenship instead of a Permanent Resident Card.
- If you wait to complete the final adoption in the United States, the child will become a permanent resident when admitted with the immigrant visa. The child will automatically become a U.S. citizen as long as you finalize the adoption and apply for Certificate of Citizenship before the child turns 16 years old. After you finalize the adoption, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship for your newly adopted child using Form N-600, Application for Certification of Citizenship.
Who can file an immediate relative petition on behalf of an adopted child?
If you adopt a child, but did not go through the orphan adoption process, then the child is considered to be your child for immigration purposes when you meet the following requirements:
- The adoption must be finalized before the child turns 16 years old (or 18 if you also adopted a biological sibling of the child before the sibling was 16 years old); and
- The child must have lived with you for at least 2 years, either before or after adoption; and
- The child must have been in your legal custody for at least 2 years, either before or after adoption.
How can my adopted child become a U.S. citizen?
Once your adopted child qualifies as your child for immigration purposes, you can file an I-130 relative petition. Your adopted child will automatically become a U.S. citizen if the child becomes a permanent resident and the adoption is completed and a Form N-600 is filed before the child reaches 16 years of age. If your adopted child turns 18 years old before he or she becomes a permanent resident, then your child may apply for naturalization using Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, after being a permanent resident for 5 years.
When all of these requirements have been met, you can file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for the child.