U.S. citizenship provides many rights, but also involves many responsibilities. Thus, the decision to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization is important. In most cases, a person who wants to naturalize must first be a permanent resident. By becoming a U.S. citizen, you gain many rights that permanent residents or others do not have, including the right to vote. To be eligible for naturalization, you must first meet certain requirements set by U.S. law.

What are the basic requirements to apply for naturalization?

The process of applying for U.S. citizenship is known as naturalization. In order to be eligible for naturalization, you must first meet certain requirements required by U.S. immigration law.
Generally, to be eligible for naturalization you must:

  • Be age 18 or older; and
  • Be a permanent resident for a certain amount of time (usually 5 years or 3 years, depending on how you obtained status); and
  • Be a person of good moral character; and
  • Have a basic knowledge of U.S. government (this, too, can be waived due to permanent physical or mental impairment); and
  • Have a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States; and
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic English.

There are exceptions to this rule for someone who at the time of filing:

  • Is 55 years old and has been a permanent resident for at least 15 years; or
  • Is 50 years old and has been a permanent resident for at least 20 years; or
  • Has a permanent physical or mental impairment that makes the individual unable to fulfill these requirements.

When can I apply for naturalization?

You may be able to apply for naturalization if you are at least 18 years of age and have been a permanent resident of the United States:

  • For at least 5 years; or
  • For at least 3 years during which time you have been, and continue to be, married to and living in a marriage relationship with your U.S. citizen husband or wife; or
  • Have honorable service in the U.S. military. Certain spouses of U.S. citizens and/or members of the military may be able to file for naturalization sooner than noted above.

Citizenship Through Parents

If you were born outside of the U.S., you may have automatically acquired U.S. citizenship through your parents or grandparents. You may be a U.S. citizen and not even know it.

How do you determine if you “acquired” U.S. citizenship at birth through a parent, or if you obtained derivative citizenship as a minor through your parent(s)? We simplify the complex laws regarding the acquisition and derivation of U.S. citizenship through parents and grandparents so that they are understandable to non-lawyers.

Derivative citizenship laws are one of the most complex areas of immigration law, and Congress has amended these laws multiple times.