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United States Citizenship: Eligibility and the Application Process

Becoming a United States citizen is an exciting prospect for many undocumented individuals (people residing in the U.S. without authorization from the U.S. government) and Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders) in the United States. Citizenship bestows important rights and eliminates the threat of deportation. This blog post discusses who may already be a citizen, who is eligible for citizenship, the citizenship application process, who may be eligible for a waiver of the application fee of $680, and the risks and benefits of applying for citizenship. Please note that the following is for informational purposes only, and it is important to contact an immigration attorney before making any claim to U.S. citizenship or applying to become a U.S. citizen.

Before even considering whether you may be eligible to apply for citizenship, keep in mind that you may already be a citizen and not know it yet. 



Am I already a U.S. Citizen?

How do you know if you are already a United States citizen? Whether you are already a citizen depends on a number of different factors, including where you were born, whether one or both of your parents was a citizen when you were born or naturalized after your birth, when and how long you and your parents have resided in the U.S., and your immigration status during your residence in the U.S.

If you were born in the United States (unless you were born to a foreign diplomat), then you are a U.S. citizen. Your original birth certificate (or a certified copy) or your U.S. passport (if you have one) serves as proof of citizenship. To obtain a certified copy of your birth certificate, contact the Department of Health Vital Records Office in the state in which you were born. 


If you were born in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or (after November 4,1986) the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, then you are likely a United States citizen. 


If you naturalized (became a citizen) after the age of 18 years, then you are a citizen at this time. Your Certificate of Naturalization serves as proof of citizenship. If your Certificate was lost, mutilated, or destroyed, you may apply for a replacement using Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document. This form should be filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more information, visit the USCIS website at:

Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document.

If you were born to two U.S. citizens, and at least one of your parents resided in the U.S. at some point, then you are likely a U.S. citizen. 


If you were born abroad to one U.S. citizen, then you are likely a citizen if all of the following is true: (1) one of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born, (2) your U.S. citizen parent resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years before you were born, and (3) at least 2 of those 5 years in the U.S. were after your U.S. citizen parent's 14th birthday.


If you became a U.S. citizen through one or both parents, to obtain proof of citizenship, you may either apply for a U.S. passport or file Form N-600 with USCIS. To apply for a passport, visit the U.S. Department of State: Apply for a PassportFor more information about Form N-600, visit the USCIS website at: N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.


Who is eligible to become a U.S. Citizen?

In general, you must meet the following criteria to apply for U.S. citizenship:
           1. Be at least 18 years of age,
           2. have lived as Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) for at least 5 years 
               (beginning on the date listed on your Permanent Resident Card),
           3. have continuously resided in the U.S. as an LPR for at least 5 years,
           4. have been continuously present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the last 5 years,
           5. be able to show good moral character for at least the past 5 years, AND
           6. be able to speak English and have knowledge of U.S. history and government.

Exceptions apply in certain circumstances. For example, the spouse of a U.S. citizen who has been married to and residing with that citizen continuously is only required to have resided in the U.S. as an LPR (green card holder) for 3 years, to have been continuously present in the U.S. for at least 18 months out of the past 3 years, and to be able to show good moral character for the past 3 years.


The requirement of "good moral character" can be tricky. We recommend that you always consult an immigration lawyer if you have had any contact at all with police, been convicted of any crime, had any contact with an immigration official, or been involved in deportation proceedings since you entered the United States.



What is the process to become a U.S. citizen?

Generally the process involves the following steps in the order identified below:
           1. Consult an immigration lawyer to be sure there are no potential bars to citizenship,
           2. file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, with the United States Citizenship and
               Immigration Service (USCIS), and pay the required filing fee of $680 (unless eligible for a 
               fee waiver),
           3. attend a biometrics appointment to be fingerprinted for a background check, and
           4. complete an interview with an immigration officer and take the English and civics exams.


Who is exempt from the English language requirement?

You are exempt from the English language requirement, but are still required to take the civics test, if you are age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) in the U.S. for at least 20 years (the "50/20" exception) OR if you are age 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) in the U.S. for at least 15 years (the "55/15" exception).


Is anyone completely exempt from the civics requirement?

Unfortunately, no one is completely exempt from the civics requirement. However, you will "be given special consideration" regarding this requirement if you are age 65 or older and have been a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) for at least 20 years at the time of filing for naturalization.



Am I eligible for a fee waiver?

You may be eligible for a fee waiver if you or a qualified member of your household are currently receiving a "means-tested benefit," if your household income is at or below 150% of the federal poverty level at the time that you file, OR if you are experiencing a financial hardship that prevents you from being able to pay the fee.

To request a fee waiver, file Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, with the application packet that you submit to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more information, visit the USCIS website at: USCIS - Fee Waiver Guidance.



What are the risks associated with applying for citizenship?

Applying for citizenship is risky if you do not meet the requirements to become a U.S. citizen at the time that you apply. If you apply anyway, you may be alerting the U.S. government that you are present in the U.S. without authorization (i.e. as an undocumented individual) or that you have been convicted of a crime that makes you removable (deportable) under the law as a Lawful Permanent Resident. The government may then initiate removal (deportation) proceedings against you. For those reasons, we highly recommend that you consult an immigration attorney prior to applying for citizenship, especially if you have had any contact with police, have been convicted of any crime, have had any contact with an immigration official, or have been involved in deportation proceedings since your arrival in the United States.


What are the benefits of citizenship?

The benefits associated with citizenship include eligibility to vote, ability to travel with a U.S. passport, priority in petitioning for family members to become Lawful Permanent Residents of the United States (green card holders), eligibility for federal jobs, and eligibility for government aid that is not available to Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders).

To learn more about citizenship, follow the link below:

A Guide to Naturalization

Hurtubise Weber Law assists with citizenship applications, as well as all other types of immigration matters. Visit our website to learn more about immigration law or to schedule a consultation.


Coming Up: Look for our new series of blog entries covering (in detail) the process for becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder), the B-1/B-2 visitor's visa, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the new U.S. Senate Bill on immigration!