When it comes to how to become a U.S. citizen, you have four avenues:
- Citizenship through parents
- Citizenship through marriage
- Citizenship through military
- Citizenship through naturalization
The length of time required to become a citizen depends on the avenue you pursue. Most immigrants become U.S. citizens through naturalization.
When it comes to immigration laws, it’s always best to get the advice of an immigration lawyer near you or an immigration law firm like High Swartz. An immigration lawyer can help guide you through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) process and applications to avoid mistakes.
Becoming a U.S. Citizen Through Your Parents
If you’re born in the United States, you automatically gain citizenship. In addition, U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands, also confer citizenship.
You can become a U.S. citizen when born outside of the country as long as your parent or parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth. If only a single parent owns U.S. citizenship, that parent must have been physically present in a state or territory for at least fives year before your birth.
Under either of the conditions above, the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution grants your citizenship rights, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
How to Become a U.S. Citizen Through Marriage
If you’re married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply for a green card to establish lawful permanent residence in the United States. Doing so requires submission of Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Again, it may be best to speak with an immigration lawyer to help you complete the form correctly.
You’ll need to speak with an interviewing officer to ensure the validity of your marriage. Afterward, you’ll need to meet these residency requirements:
- You must have a green card for at least three years before applying for naturalization.
- During those three years, you must be a continuous resident of the United States. You must also prove you were physically present in the country for at least a year and a half.
- Your spouse must have been a U.S. citizen for those three years, and you must have lived as a married couple the entire time.
- You must also live for three months in the state or USCIS district handling your application.
Once you’ve met the above conditions, you’ll become eligible to apply for naturalization.
How to Become a U.S. Citizen Through Military Service
If you served honorably in the military, your requirements for eligibility vary depending on whether your military service occurred during a hostile or peacetime period. With the former, eligibility requirements include:
- If you served during a hostile period, you might apply for naturalization immediately.
- You must have completed your military service honorably.
- Your residency requirements may not apply.
During peacetimes, conditions include:
- You served honorably for at least one year.
- You obtained a green card.
- You applied while you were still in the service or within six months of separation.
Meeting the above requirements allows you to apply for naturalization. But, first, talk to an immigration lawyer to confirm your eligibility.
Becoming a U.S. Citizen Through Naturalization
For foreign-born persons, naturalization presents the most common route for becoming a U.S. citizen. However, it requires meeting requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
You can see if you’re eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship by using this eligibility tool.
The starting point for applying is having a green card. You’ll also need to meet residency and personal requirements.
At the end of the fiscal year, the USCIS had 82,261 pending applications for naturalization. So, as you might expect, the process itself can be extended – 12-18 months. The number of applicants received by the USCIS, which office you file with, and whether you completed the form correctly impacts timing.
You can avoid delays but work with an immigration lawyer near you to complete your application correctly.
Get in Touch with an Experienced Immigration Law Firm
Immigration laws are complex and demand meeting numerous requirements. That's why it pays to have an experienced immigration lawyer near you like the attorneys at High Swartz.
Our immigration lawyers can help you with your visa application, applying for a green card, and navigating the naturalization application and process complexities. They can also support you with various legal services, including family law, workers' compensation, employment discrimination, and much more.
Get the legal counsel you deserve. Talk with our lawyers near you in our Doylestown and Norristown law offices.