The Basics of U.S. Citizenship

All you need to know about the pathways to U.S. citizenship and the purpose of the naturalization process

What is U.S. Citizenship?

Established in 1990, the EB5 Immigrant Investor Program offers foreign nationals a route to permanent U.S. residency with an investment-based EB5 visa. Furthermore, the program allows interested foreign nationals to pursue U.S. citizenship after five years of permanent resident status under the program. While this is one of the best ways to obtain U.S. citizenship, there are other ways to do so. In this piece, we will provide an overview of the different pathways to U.S. citizenship, the benefits of citizenship, and the obligations of U.S. citizens.

Pathways to U.S. Citizenship

Citizenship through Birth

A person is automatically granted U.S. citizenship if they are born in the United States. This is the most common way someone can obtain citizenship.

The following three sections will cover how foreign nationals can gain U.S. citizenship.

Citizenship through Acquisition

It is possible for a child to acquire U.S. citizenship despite being born outside of the country. In these circumstances, at least one parent must be a U.S. citizen and certain conditions must be met.

Citizenship can be acquired through acquisition in the following circumstances:

  • Both parents must be married U.S. citizens at the time of the child’s birth. Additionally, at least one parent must have lived in the U.S. and /or its territories prior to the child’s birth.
  • A child can obtain citizenship through acquisition if only one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of birth. If the child was born on or after November 14th, 1986, the parents must have been married at the time of birth. Moreover, the U.S. citizen parent must have physically resided in the U.S. for at least five years before the child’s birth. Two of these years must have taken place after the U.S. citizen parent’s 14th birthday.
  • A child born before November 14th, 1986, but after October 10th, 1952, can obtain citizenship through acquisition if one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of birth. The parents must have been married at the time of birth as well. The U.S. citizen parent must have physically resided in the U.S. for a minimum of 10 years before the child’s birth. At least five of these years must have been after the parent’s 14th birthday.

Citizenship through Derivation

Dependent children under the age of 18 can obtain U.S. citizenship through derivation when a parent naturalizes. However, this does not apply to step-parents. Moreover, the laws surrounding citizenship through derivation have varied over time; determining if this method is feasible depends on the laws at the time of the parent’s naturalization.

The requirements that must be met for this method are as follows:

  • The child must have lawful U.S. permanent resident status;
  • At least one parent must be a U.S. citizen;
  • The child must be living in the U.S. under the physical and legal custody of a U.S. citizen parent.

Citizenship through Naturalization

Naturalization is the most common way for foreign nationals to obtain U.S. citizenship.

To be eligible for the naturalization process, applicants must be at least 18 years old and fulfill one of the following criteria:

  • Five years of permanent resident status;
  • Three years as a permanent resident who has been married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years; or
  • Qualifying service in the U.S. military.

Pursuing U.S. Citizenship with the EB-5 Visa

The EB5 visa is among the very few immigration programs that grants lawful U.S. permanent resident status; while many other visas allow the holder to live and work in the U.S., they do not provide a route to permanent resident status. Through the EB5 program, investors can obtain permanent resident status in just a few years, which opens the door to citizenship through naturalization. Additionally, the EB-5 visa has fewer requirements compared to other visas. It does not require an applicant to speak English, have business management experience, or meet any educational requirements.

The Naturalization Process

As covered above, naturalization refers to the legal process of acquiring U.S. citizenship. To begin this process, an applicant must meet certain eligibility requirements. Then the foreign national must compile and submit their application, attend an interview, and take an English and a civics test. If an applicant is successful with these steps, they then take the oath of allegiance and become a U.S. citizen.

In this section we will provide an overview of how to become a U.S. citizen.

Eligibility Criteria

Foreign nationals who wish to apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization must fulfill certain eligibility requirements. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the official government organization in charge of naturalization, states that applicants must be:

  • At least 18 years old;
  • A lawful U.S. permanent resident for a minimum of five years before applying;
  • Physically present in the U.S. for a minimum of five years before submitting the application;
  • Able to speak and understand English;
  • Of good moral character. This involves the disclosure of any criminal history.

The Application Process

Prospective U.S. citizens must complete and submit the application package. It is important to remember that once the application is filed, applicants must remain in the United States from the time of filing to naturalization.

The documentation required for the application package includes:

  • Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
  • Proof of U.S. permanent resident status.
  • Two photographs of the applicant that follow United States Citizenship and Immigration Services requirements regarding pose, size, lighting, etc.
  • Marriage status documents, if applicable.
  • Legal name change documents, if applicable.
  • The filing fee.

Those applying on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen must include certain additional items, including:

  • Evidence previous marriages were terminated.
  • Evidence spouse has been a U.S. citizen for at least three years.
  • Evidence of a genuine marriage with a U.S. citizen spouse.

The application fee for Form N-400 is $640. However, most applicants must pay an additional fee of $85 for biometrics services. In this case, the applicant will receive an appointment notice from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and get their fingerprints taken at the appointed location. These filing fees are nonrefundable regardless of application success.

The next step for applicants involves being interviewed and tested. The applicant must attend an interview at their local office to answer questions about their application and background. Applicants must bring a state-issued I.D., proof of permanent resident status, and travel records. Afterward, the applicant takes an English and civics test. If successful, they can move on to the next step.

In the final portion of the naturalization process, applicants will attend a ceremony, return their permanent resident card, and take the oath of allegiance. This marks the completion of the citizenship process and grants U.S. citizenship to the applicant.

The Benefits of Citizenship

While lawful permanent resident status offers various rights to those living in the United States, citizenship grants additional benefits that are not available with permanent resident status alone. In this section, we will break down the benefits of US citizenship.

Protection from Deportation

U.S. citizenship protects the holder and their children from deportation. In contrast, certain criminal convictions can be cause for deportation for individuals with permanent resident status.

Citizenship for Children

One of the eligibility criteria for gaining U.S. citizenship through naturalization requires the applicant to be at least 18 years old. However, it is possible for a foreign national to gain citizenship before they turn 18. When a parent successfully completes the naturalization process, any children under 18 automatically become U.S. citizens as well.

Family Reunification

Those with permanent resident status can petition for their spouses, minor children, and unmarried adult children. However, they cannot do so for any other family members. U.S. citizens can file petitions to reunite with family members such as parents, siblings, and married adult children.

Access to Federal Employment, Benefits, and the Ability to Vote

Certain jobs are only available to U.S. citizens, such as federal employment positions. Citizenship also grants the ability to run for public office. Government benefit programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, are only available to U.S. citizens. And U.S. citizens retain the right to vote and, in federal elections, choose the leaders they want to see representing themselves and their communities.

Freedom to Travel

While those with permanent resident status are allowed to travel abroad freely, they must physically reside in the U.S. for a certain portion of the year to retain their status. In contrast, naturalized citizens can travel abroad with no time restrictions and obtain a U.S. passport, which is not available to permanent residents. Furthermore, U.S. citizens can seek the help and protection of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad during crisis or unrest.

In addition, U.S. citizens may also be able to hold dual citizenship with their home countries. Dual citizenship can make international travel more convenient.

Obligations of U.S. Citizens

Alongside the rights and benefits of citizenship come certain responsibilities. The obligations of U.S. citizens include the following:

  • Citizens are required to pay all applicable income taxes at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Citizens may be summoned to serve as jurors.
  • Male citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with Selective Service. However, registration does not guarantee service in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Benefits of the Naturalization Process

U.S. citizenship grants access to a wide variety of benefits that are otherwise unavailable to those residing in the nation. Citizens can participate in the political process, enjoy federal benefit programs, reunite with family members, and freely travel in and out of the U.S. with no limitations. Of the four fundamental methods of obtaining U.S. citizenship, the citizenship process is the most common for foreign nationals, which can be done with the EB5 visa. The visa offers one of the quickest routes to residency and citizenship available to foreign nationals. Through the EB5 program, holders can obtain permanent resident status and apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years.

As a leader in the EB5 investment field, EB5 Affiliate Network (EB5AN) has helped thousands of investors complete their immigration process. Prospective investors interested in the program can take the next step by booking a call with EB5AN to learn more.

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