U.S. citizenship means a lot to many and is a dream for many foreign nationals. U.S. citizenship can be obtained by birth, derivation, or acquisition, and for immigrants from foreign countries through a process called naturalization.
Citizenship by Birth and Citizenship through derivation or acquisition is automatic ways to become a U.S. citizen. If you cannot obtain U.S. citizenship automatically, you also can go for naturalization, a legal process that allows foreign nationals to become U.S. citizens.
Citizenship by Birth
People born on U.S. soil are U.S. citizens. Even if you were born to foreign nationals who had entered the United States on temporary visas or to undocumented immigrants, you will automatically be granted U.S. citizenship, if you were born within the borders of the United States.
Unless you relinquish U.S. citizenship, you may remain anywhere in the country as a U.S. citizen. However, children born to foreign government officials may not be granted U.S. citizenship, even if they are born in America.
Derivation or Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship
You will automatically become a U.S. citizen, if either one of your parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth, even if you were born in a foreign country. Acquisition of U.S. citizenship is a method that grants U.S. citizenship to the children of U.S. citizens, who were born abroad.
You may also derive U.S. citizenship from your parents if your parents had become naturalized U.S. citizens when you were not more than 18 years of age. However, you may derive U.S. citizenship only if you hold a Green Card and live with your U.S. citizen parent who obtained U.S. citizenship through naturalization.
If you acquire or derive U.S. citizenship, you need not appear for the naturalization interview and you need not take the citizenship tests. You may just apply for and obtain a U.S. citizenship certificate as proof of citizenship, by filing Form N-600.
If you were not born in America and if you are ineligible for U.S. citizenship through acquisition or derivation, you can go for Naturalization. This legal process will allow foreign nationals to become U.S. citizens. However, you cannot become a naturalized U.S. citizen easily and you will have to meet a few prerequisites and file a few forms.
You must be a lawful permanent resident and you must have been living in the United States for 3 or 5 years, to qualify for naturalization. There are a few other qualifications as well. You may check if you qualify for U.S. citizenship by taking our free Citizenship eligibility Quiz.
People below age 18 are ineligible to obtain U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Similarly, foreign nationals with criminal backgrounds will not be allowed to become U.S. citizens.
If you believe that you are eligible for U.S. citizenship, you may file the USCIS Form N-400 and you might be required to appear for the citizenship test and interview. After completing the background security checks and after you pass the interview, you need to take the Oath of Allegiance to America in the oath ceremony, where you will be granted a naturalization certificate to make your citizenship status official. This naturalization Certificate acts as proof of your citizenship status.