Becoming A U.S. Citizen
Becoming a U.S. citizen gives permanent residents new rights and privileges. Citizenship
also brings with it new responsibilities. This section offers some reasons
to consider becoming a U.S. citizen and describes what you need to do to
become a citizen.
To become a citizen, you must be willing to swear your loyalty to the United
States. You must give up your allegiance to any other country. You must
agree to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. When you become a
citizen, you accept all of the responsibilities of being an American. In
return, you get certain rights and privileges of citizenship.
Why Become a U.S. Citizen?
Permanent residents have most of the rights of U.S. citizens. But there are many important
reasons to consider becoming a U.S. citizen. Here are some good reasons:
|• Showing your patriotism. Becoming a citizen is a way to demonstrate your
commitment to your new country.
• Voting. Only citizens can vote in federal elections.
• Serving on a jury. Only U.S. citizens can serve on a jury. Serving on a
jury is an important responsibility for U.S. citizens.
• Traveling with a U.S. passport. A U.S. passport enables you to get
assistance from the U.S. government when overseas, if necessary.
• Bringing family members to the U.S. U.S. citizens generally get priority
when petitioning to bring family members permanently to this country.
• Obtaining citizenship for children born abroad. In most cases, a child
born abroad to a U.S. citizen is automatically a U.S. citizen.
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• Becoming eligible for federal jobs. Certain jobs with government agencies
require U.S. citizenship.
• Becoming an elected official. Many elected offices in this country require
• Meeting tax requirements. Tax requirements may be different for U.S.
citizens and permanent residents.
• Keeping your residency. A U.S. citizen’s right to remain in the United
States cannot be taken away.
• Becoming eligible for federal grants and scholarships. Many financial aid
grants, including college scholarships and funds given by the government for
specific purposes, are available only to U.S. citizens.
• Obtaining government benefits. Some government benefits are available only
to U.S. citizens.
Naturalization: Becoming a
The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is called “naturalization.” You can
apply for naturalization once you meet the following requirements:
Live in the U.S. for at least 5 years as a permanent resident (or 3 years if married to
and living with a U.S. citizen).
Be present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the past 5 years (or 18
months out of the past 3 years if married to and living with a U.S.
Live within a state or district for at least 3 months before you apply.
You may have to follow different rules if:
• You, or your deceased parent, spouse, or child, have served in the U.S.
• You are a U.S. national.
• You obtained permanent residence through the 1986 amnesty law.
• You are a refugee or asylee.
People 18 years or older who want to become citizens should get Form
M-476, A Guide to Naturalization. This guide has important
information on the requirements for naturalization. It also describes
the forms you will need to begin the naturalization process.
To see if you are eligible to apply for naturalization, see Form M-480,
Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet at the end of
A Guide to
Naturalization. Use Form N-400 to apply for naturalization. There is
a fee to file Form
are available at
http://www.uscis.gov or by calling the USCIS Forms Line at
• You have a U.S. citizen spouse who is
regularly stationed abroad.
• You lost U.S. citizenship under prior law because of marriage to a
• You are an employee of certain types of companies or nonprofit
Consult A Guide to Naturalization for more information. You may also
wish to consult an immigration attorney or other qualified professional.
CONTINUOUS RESIDENCE (CR) AS A
||If you leave
the U.S. for:
||To keep your
status you must:
|More than 6
you continued to live, work, and/or have ties to
the U.S. (e.g. paid taxes)
while you were away.
|More than 1
cases, you must begin your continuous residence over. Apply for a
re-entry permit before you leave, if you plan to return to the U.S. as a
Requirements for Naturalization
The general requirements for naturalization are:
1. Live in the U.S. as a permanent resident
for a specific amount of time (Continuous
2. Be present in the U.S. for specific time periods (Physical Presence).
3. Spend specific amounts of time in your state or district (Time in
District or State).
4. Behave in a legal and acceptable manner (Good Moral Character).
5. Know English and information about U.S. history and government (English
6. Understand and accept the principles of the U.S. Constitution (Attachment
to the Constitution).
RESIDENCE FOR NATURALIZATION PURPOSES:
EXEMPTIONS FOR 1-YEAR
If you work for the U.S. government, a recognized U.S. research
institution, or certain U.S. corporations, or if you are a member of the
clergy serving abroad, you may be able to preserve your continuous
residence if you:
Have been physically
present and living in the U.S. without leaving for at least one year after
becoming a permanent resident.
2. Submit Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for
Naturalization Purposes, before you have been outside the U.S.
for one year. There is a fee to
file Form N-470.
For more information, contact the USCIS Forms Line at: 1-800-870-3676 and
ask for Form N-470, Application to
Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes. You can also get the
form on the USCIS website at
A re-entry permit (Form I-131) and the Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes (Form N-470) are
not the same. A re-entry permit lets you re-enter the U.S. as a permanent resident if you have been outside of the U.S. for more than
12 months. Form N-470 lets certain people maintain their continuous residence for naturalization purposes if they will be outside the U.S.
for more than 12 months.
1. Continuous Residence
“Continuous residence” means that you must live in the U.S. as a permanent resident
certain period of time. Most people must be permanent residents in continuous residence for
5 years (or 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen) before they can begin the
naturalization process. For refugees, this means 5 years from the date you
arrived in the U.S., which is usually the date you obtained permanent resident
those granted asylum status in the U.S., this period begins one year before
you got permanent resident status. The date on your Permanent Resident Card is the date
your 5 years begins. If you leave the United States for a long period of
time, usually 6 months or more, you may “break” your continuous residence.
If you leave the United States for 1 year or
longer, you may be able to return if you have a re-entry permit. You should
apply for this re-entry permit before you depart the United States. See Maintaining Your
Permanent Resident Status for information
on how to apply for a re-entry permit. In most
cases, none of the time you were in the United States before you left the
country will count toward your time in continuous residence. This means that
you will need to begin your continuous residence again after you return to
the United States, and you may have to wait up to 4 years and 1 day before
you can apply for naturalization.
Be aware that absences from the United States while your naturalization
application is pending could cause problems with your eligibility,
especially if you accept employment abroad.
|EXEMPTIONS FOR MILITARY
If you are on active-duty status or were recently discharged from the
U.S. Armed Forces, the continuous residence and
physical presence requirements may not apply to you. You can find more information in the
M-599 Naturalization Information for Military Personnel brochure. Every
military base should have a point-of-contact to handle your
naturalization application and certify a Form N-426, Request for
Certification of Military or Naval Service. You must submit Form N-426
with your application forms. To get the forms you need, call the USCIS
Forms Line at: 1-800-870-3676 and ask for the Military Packet. You can
find the M-599 and Form
2. Physical Presence in the United States
“Physical presence” means that you actually have been present in the United
States. If you are a permanent resident at least 18 years old, you must be physically
present in the United States for at least 30 months during the last 5 years
(or 18 months during the last 3 years, if married to a U.S. citizen) before
you apply for naturalization.
3. Time as a Resident in District or State
Most people must live in the district or state where they apply for
naturalization for at least 3
months. Students can apply for naturalization either where they go to school
or where their family lives (if they depend on their parents for support).
Q: What is the difference between “physical presence” and “continuous
A: “Physical presence” is the total days you were inside the United
States and does not include the time you spend outside the U.S. Each day
you spend outside the U.S. takes away from your "physical presence"
total. If you are away from the U.S. for long periods of time or if you
take many short trips outside the U.S., you may not meet your “physical
presence” requirement. To count your “physical presence” time, you
should add together all the time you have been in the United States.
Then subtract all trips you have taken outside the United States. This
includes short trips to Canada and Mexico. For example, if you go to
Mexico for a weekend, you must include the trip when counting how many
days you spent out of the country.
“Continuous residence” is the total time you have resided as a permanent resident
the United States before applying for naturalization. If you spend too
much time outside the United States during a single trip, you may break
your “continuous residence.”
4. Good Moral Character
To be eligible for naturalization, you must be a person of good moral
character. A person is not considered to be of “good moral character” if
they commit certain crimes during the 5 years before they apply for
naturalization or if they lie during their naturalization interview.
If you commit some specific crimes, you can never become a U.S. citizen and
will probably be removed from the country. These crimes are called “bars” to
naturalization. Crimes called “aggravated felonies” (if committed on or
after November 29, 1990),
including: murder, rape, sexual abuse of a child, violent
assault, treason, and trafficking in drugs, firearms, or people are some
examples of permanent bars to naturalization. In most cases, immigrants who
were exempted or discharged from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces because
they were immigrants and immigrants who deserted from the U.S. Armed Forces
are also permanently barred from U.S. citizenship.
BEHAVIORS THAT MIGHT
SHOW A LACK OF GOOD MORAL CHARACTER
• Drunk driving or being drunk most of the time.
• Illegal gambling.
• Lying to gain immigration benefits.
• Failing to pay court-ordered child support.
• Committing terrorist acts.
• Persecuting someone because of race, religion, national origin,
political opinion, or social group.
You also may be denied citizenship if you
behave in other ways that show you lack good moral character.
are temporary bars to naturalization. Temporary bars usually prevent you
from becoming a citizen for up to 5 years after you commit the crime. These
• Any crime against a person with intent to harm.
• Any crime against property or the government involving fraud.
• 2 or more crimes with combined sentences of 5 years or more.
• Violating controlled substance laws (e.g., using or selling illegal
• Spending 180 days or more during the past 5 years in jail or prison.
Report any crimes that you committed when you apply for naturalization. This
includes crimes removed from your record or committed before your 18th
birthday. If you do not tell USCIS about them, you may be denied citizenship
and you could be prosecuted.
5. English and Civics
In general, you must show that you can read, write, and speak basic English.
You also must have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government (also
known as “civics”). You will be required to pass a test of English and a
test of civics to prove your knowledge.
Many schools and community organizations help people prepare for their
citizenship tests. You can find examples of test questions in A
Guide to Naturalization. You can get materials to help you study for these
tests and practice tests on the USCIS website at
6. Attachment to the Constitution
You must be willing to support and defend the United States and its
Constitution. You declare your “attachment” or loyalty to the United States
and the Constitution when you take the Oath of Allegiance. You become a U.S.
citizen when you take the Oath of Allegiance.
People who show they have a physical or developmental disability that makes them unable to understand the meaning of the oath
do not have to take the Oath of Allegiance.
If you have a pending naturalization
application and you move, you must notify USCIS of your new address. You can
call 1-800-375-5283 to report your new address. You must also file Form
AR-11 with DHS (see "Give Your New
Address to DHS" in the Your Rights and Responsibilities
as a Permanent Resident section for
EXEMPTIONS TO THE
ENGLISH AND CIVICS REQUIREMENTS
|Some people who
apply for naturalization have different test requirements because of
their age and the length of time they have lived in the U.S.
|If you are:
permanent resident in the
|You do not
||You must take
|Over age 50
in your language
|Over age 55
in your language
|Over age 65
civics test in your language
If you do not have to
take the English test, you must bring your own translator for the civics
test. If you have a physical or mental disability, you may not have to
take either test if you file Form N-648, Medical Certification for
Disability Exceptions, with your application. To get more information,
contact the USCIS Forms Line at: 1-800-870-3676 and ask for Form N-648 or
get a copy from the USCIS website at http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/formsfee/forms/n-648.htm.
If USCIS approves your application for naturalization, you must attend a
ceremony and take the Oath of Allegiance. USCIS will send you a Form N-445,
Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony, to tell you the time and date of
your ceremony. You must complete this form and bring it to your ceremony.
If you cannot go to your ceremony, you can reschedule your ceremony. To
reschedule, you must return Form N-445 to your local USCIS office along with
a letter explaining why you cannot attend the ceremony.
You will return your Permanent Resident Card to USCIS when you check in at
the Oath ceremony. You will no longer need your card because you will get a
Certificate of Naturalization at the ceremony.
You are not a citizen until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance. An
official will read each part of the Oath slowly and ask you to repeat the
words. After you take the Oath, you will receive your Certificate of
Naturalization. This certificate proves that you are a U.S. citizen.
The Oath of Allegiance ceremony is a public event. Many communities hold
special ceremonies on Independence Day, July 4th, of each year. Check to see
if your community holds a special July 4th citizenship ceremony and how you
can participate. Many people bring their families and celebrate after the
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The federal government observes the following official holidays. Most
federal offices are closed on these days. If a holiday falls on a Saturday,
it is observed on the preceding Friday. If a holiday falls on a Sunday, it
is observed on the following Monday. Many employers also give their
employees a holiday on these days.
New Year's Day
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
3rd Monday in January
3rd Monday in February
Last Monday in May
1st Monday in September
2nd Monday in October
4th Thursday in November
Federal Departments and Agencies
If you are not sure which department to call about a question, start by
(or 1-800-333-4636) to ask where to call. People who
have difficulty hearing can call 1-800-326-2996. You can also visit
http://www.FirstGov.gov for general
information about federal departments and agencies.
Department of Education (ED)
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202
For hearing impaired:
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1801 L Street NW
Washington, DC 20507
For hearing impaired:
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20201
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
For hearing impaired: 1-800-767-1833
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Department of Housing and Urban Development
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20410
For hearing impaired: 202-708-1455
Department of Justice (DOJ)
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
For hearing impaired: 1-800-829-4059
Selective Service System (SSS)
Registration Information Office
PO Box 94638
Palatine, IL 60094
For hearing impaired: 1-847-688-2567
Social Security Administration (SSA)
Office of Public Inquiries
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235
For hearing impaired: 1-800-325-0778
Department of State (DOS)
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
About The Author
The Office of Citizenship of the USCIS works to promote an understanding of the civic principles on which this nation was founded and increase public awareness of the benefits and responsibilities associated with U.S. Citizenship.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.
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