US Citizenship can be acquired either at birth or by naturalization, if you have your green card for at least 5 years (3 years if you are a spouse of a US citizen). You become a US citizen at birth if you were born on the US territory or certain territories under the United States jurisdiction, or if you were born abroad, but at least one of your parents was a citizen of the United States.
People, who have foreign diplomatic officers as parents, don’t become US citizens by birth in the USA. Тhis rule does not apply to employees of foreign diplomatic missions who don’t hold diplomatic passports. The rules on citizenship are not retroactive. In order to know whether the person is qualified to become a US citizen at birth, you are supposed to apply the rules in force at the time the person was born.
You can also become a US citizen after birth. In most cases it can be done by naturalization. You can apply for naturalization, if you are at least 18 years old and you have a continuous residence in the United States as a US permanent resident for at least 5 years or 3 years if you are a spouse of the United States citizen. Continuous residence means that within those 5 or 3 years you did not leave the USA for trips of 6 months or longer.
During those 5 or 3 years you had to be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months (18 months if you are applying as a US citizen’s spouse). You also must live in the USCIS district or State where you are applying for at least 3 months before you apply for naturalization.
To be qualified for naturalization you also have to demonstrate your good moral character. It generally means that you should not be involved in any behavior related to violation of the law with an exception of traffic incidents, which are not alcohol or drug related and don’t involve an arrest or a fine for $500 or more.
To be qualified to become a US citizen you must be able to understand English language, read, write and speak simple words and phrases in English. You also must know the fundamentals of the history, principles and form of government of the USA. You have to demonstrate your knowledge of those requirements by passing the English and civics tests.
There are certain exceptions from the tests requirements based on applicants’ disability or age and time as permanent resident in the United States. Based on age and time requirements you can skip the English language test and take the civics test in the language of your choice. The exceptions based on age/time are the following:
- You have to be over 50 years old and have lived in the US as a permanent resident for at least 20 years.
- You have to be over 55 years old and have lived in the US as a permanent resident for at least 20 years.
- You have to be over 65 years old and have lived in the US as a permanent resident for at least 20 years (in this case you can study all the 100 questions for the civics test in advance).
There are a lot of advantages to become a U.S. citizen:
- Status – you become a US passport holder. Wherever you travel abroad, you will be supported by the US Embassies and Consulates in case you need help.
- Travel freedom – you can travel as long as you want with no restrictions.
- Vote – you can elect representatives on the federal, state and local level.
- Run for office or apply for government employment – a lot of government positions require US citizenship.
- Federal benefits – There are some federal benefits that are available only to US citizens.
- Avoid deportation – a US citizen cannot be deported.
- Sponsor your family for green cards – you can sponsor your family members including parents and siblings for green cards. Your children under the age of 18 who are living with you will become US citizens along with you.
The question of dual citizenship arises when a person becomes a citizen of two countries at the same time. Each country applies its own laws on citizenship. As a result some persons become dual citizens according to the laws of different countries. For instance, a child born in the USA to foreign parents may be both a US citizen (by birth) and a citizen of the country of citizenship of the parents.
When you become a US citizen, you not necessarily lose your current citizenship. The US laws neither mention dual citizenship, nor demand to make a choice between the two citizenships. The US authorities recognize the dual citizenship, but don’t encourage it, because of the problems that may arise as a result of conflicts with laws of foreign countries.