Most people become U.S. citizens by:

  • Birth, either within the territory of the United States or to U.S. citizen parents, or
  • Naturalization, the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship.

Additionally, any child under the age of 18 who is adopted by a U.S. citizen and immigrates to the United States will acquire immediate citizenship according to the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) passed by Congress in 2000.

Becoming a U.S. citizen provides you with new rights and privileges. Citizenship also brings with it important responsibilities. For a list of these rights and responsibilities, please see below:

  Rights of U.S. citizens

  Responsibilities of U.S. citizens

  • Vote in federal elections
  • Serve on a jury
  • Bring family members to the United States
  • Obtain citizenship for children born abroad
  • Travel with a U.S. passport
  • Run for federal office
  • Become eligible for federal grants and scholarships
  • Support and defend the Constitution
  • Serve the country when required
  • Participate in the democratic process
  • Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others
  • Participate in your local community

You may be eligible for naturalization if you have lived in the United States for at least 5 years as a permanent resident (or 3 years if married to and living with a U.S. citizen).

To apply for U.S. citizenship, applicants must:

  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing the Application for Naturalization, Form N-400
  • Have been lawfully admitted to the United States
  • Have resided as a permanent resident in the United States for at least 5 years (or 3 years if you meet all eligibility requirements to file as a spouse of a U.S. citizen)
  • Have demonstrated continuous permanent residence
  • Have demonstrated physical presence
  • Have lived for 3 months in the USCIS district or state where the Application for Naturalization is filed
  • Demonstrate good moral character
  • Show an attachment to the U.S. Constitution
  • Be able to read, write, speak, and understand basic English (with limited exceptions)
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of U.S. civics (history and government)
  • Take the oath of allegiance to the United States

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizenship at birth to almost all individuals born in the United States or in U.S. jurisdictions, according to the principle of jus soli. Certain individuals born in the United States, such as children of foreign heads of state or children of foreign diplomats, do not obtain U.S. citizenship under jus soli.

Certain individuals born outside of the United States are born citizens because of their parents, according to the principle ofjus sanguinis (which holds that the country of citizenship of a child is the same as that of his / her parents). The U.S. Congress is responsible for enacting laws that determine how citizenship is conveyed by a U.S. citizen parent or parents according to the principle of jus sanguinis. These laws are contained in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

In addition, each year, many people adopt children from outside the U.S. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA) grants most of these children the ability to become U.S. citizens when they immigrate to the United States.

If you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship under special provisions provided for in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Generally, service in the U.S. Armed Forces means service in one of the following branches:

  • Army,
  • Navy,
  • Marine Corps,
  • Air Force,
  • Coast Guard,
  • Certain Reserve components of the National Guard, and
  • Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve

Recent changes in the relevant sections of the INA (Sections 328 and 329) make it easier for qualified military personnel to become U.S. citizens if they choose to file a naturalization application.