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How Do You Become A US Citizen?

For many people all around the world, living the American dream is their ultimate goal. Moving to the US provides people with the chance to seize opportunities for themselves and their family that may not be available in their home countries. The first step in the journey to American citizenship is getting to the US, but there are still many other things you have to do before you can secure citizenship. 

Most immigrants make it to the US by getting a green card which makes them permanent legal residents in the US. From here, they can work on getting citizenship in the country.

There are four ways to become a citizen of the United States, and they include:

  • Citizenship by birth
  • Citizenship through acquisition 
  • Citizenship through derivation 
  • Citizenship through naturalization

Today, we will go through each of these paths to help you better understand how you can become a US citizen. 

What is the most common way to become a US citizen?

If you were not born in the US, the most common way to become a US citizen is by having a green card first for a few years and then applying for naturalization. 

Let's take a closer look at the four ways in which you can become a US citizen. 

There are 4 ways to becoming a US citizen

1. Birth

The first way of becoming a US citizen is to be born in the US. If you're born in the US, you have an automatic claim to US citizenship. You'll also gain US citizenship if you're born in one of the territories, including:

  • Puerto Rico 
  • Guam
  • US Virgin Islands
  • Northern Mariana Islands

The following three paths to becoming a US citizen are suitable for those born outside of the US. 

2. Acquisition

On some occasions, a child might acquire US citizenship, even if they were born outside of the US. 

This can occur if:

  • Both parents are US citizens
  • One parent is a US citizen

A few other conditions need to be met, but the main one is that at least one of the child's parents is a citizen of the United States at the time of the child's birth. 

When this child then marries and has children, their children can also get US citizenship through acquisition. 

3. Derivation

When a parent gains US citizenship through naturalization, any children they have under the age of 18 can derive US citizenship automatically. However, they must be living with their parents at the time and be permanent residents of the United States. 

A child that gets US citizenship through derivation doesn't have to participate in a naturalization ceremony and does not need a naturalization certificate. To prove US citizenship, all the child has to do is to apply for a US Passport.

Any child not born in the United States who's under 18 years of age will be able to get citizenship to the United States if these requirements are met:

  • They have US lawful permanent resident status (have a green card)
  • Have at least one parent who is a US citizen
  • They live in the United States under the legal custody of a US citizen parent

4. Naturalization

This is how a person who was not born in the US becomes a US citizen voluntarily. 

It's the most common way to become a US citizen if you weren't born in the United States and there are approximately 22 million naturalized citizens in the United States. Several requirements also need to be met before an individual can apply for citizenship this way. 

Applicants must be over the age of 18 and fall into one of these categories:

  • Five years as a permanent resident
  • Three years as a permanent resident and lived in marital union with a US citizen for at least three years 
  • Has served in the US Armed Forces 

You must also:

  • Have an ability to read, write and speak English
  • Have an understanding of the history and the government in the United States
  • Have a good moral character
  • Have an attachment to the principles of the US Constitution
  • Have a favorable disposition toward the United States

One of the most important parts of gaining citizenship through naturalization is a green card. Every year 860,000 green card holders apply for citizenship by naturalization.

Having a green card means you're a legal permanent resident of the United States, which means you'll be able to live and work freely across the country. Also, you will be allowed to re-enter the US after temporary foreign travel.

How do you get a green card?

There are a few ways to acquire a green card to work and live in the United States. 

Here are three ways in which you can get a green card. 

1. You have a relative living legally in the US

A green card holder or US citizen can sponsor: 

  • A spouse
  • An unmarried child under 21
  • Parents 

The wait time to get a green card for these relatives varies but is generally more or less one year.

A US citizen can also sponsor:

  • Siblings
  • Unmarried children over the age of 21 (can also be sponsored by a green card holder)
  • Married adult children 

However, the wait time to get a green card for these types of relatives can be several years. 

2. You have a qualifying job offer

If you move to the US for a job offer, your sponsoring employer can help you get a green card.

3. You are a refugee or asylee

If you are legally in the US as a refugee or an asylum seeker and have been in the US for a year, you can petition for a green card.

If you want to find out more about how you can get a green card for you and your family, then take a look at our previous blog on the subject. 

Is it Hard to Become a US Citizen?

Navigating through the complex processes of becoming a US citizen can be incredibly difficult at times. 

The path you take to becoming a US citizen can often be time-consuming if you are unfamiliar with the processes and paperwork involved.

When it comes to the immigration process, we recommend seeking out the help of professionals so you know you're completing your application correctly. This will help you avoid any mistakes and make the process easier and faster for you. 
The team at Meimaris Law would love to help you on your journey to becoming a US citizen. If you need any help navigating the difficulties of immigration, then feel free to get in touch with us today.

Immigration advice when you need it.

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