How to become a citizen

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Updated: 4/13/2007 3:36 pm
You can only become a U.S. citizen by law or by birth. If you were born on American soil or born abroad to U.S. citizens, you generally aren’t required to do anything to obtain your citizenship as you acquire it automatically. If you weren’t born an American Citizen and you wish to obtain U.S. citizenship, you must do so through a process known as naturalization. In order to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen, you must first find out if you meet the required conditions set out by the Immigration and Naturalization Act. To be eligible, the Act requires that you be at least 18 years old and a lawful permanent resident or green card holder without any pending or outstanding deportation order. You must also have resided continuously in the United States for at least five years immediately preceding the date you choose to file your application for naturalization. The residency requirement is reduced to three years if you’re married to a U.S. citizen or have served in the United States Military. You’ll need to continue to reside in the United States until your citizenship is granted. You’ll also be required to demonstrate an ability to read, write, speak, and understand basic English, and possess a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. history and government. If you meet all the requirements, you may file your application for citizenship using form N-400 (N-four hundred) at the appropriate Immigration and Naturalization Service Center. You may file the N-400 (N-four hundred) up to three months before you meet the residency requirement described above. You’ll need to include the required filing fee, two photos, and a completed fingerprint chart. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS (I-N-S), will send your fingerprint chart to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to check if you’ve committed a crime that may disqualify you from obtaining citizenship. Once your application is processed, you’ll be scheduled to meet with an INS officer for an interview. During the interview, you’ll be required to take a literacy test to assess your knowledge of English, and you’ll be asked a series of five or 10 questions in English about U.S. history and government. In the event that you fail these tests, you’ll be given a second chance to pass within 90 days. Upon completion of the interview, INS examiners are required to approve or disapprove your naturalization within 120 days. If approved for citizenship by the INS, you’ll be invited to a swearing in ceremony where you’ll take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States as a new American citizen. Children under the age of 18, including adopted children, a green card and at least one U.S. citizen parent may be automatically naturalized upon the application of the U.S. citizen parent by completing form N-600 (N-six hundred). Keep in mind that special exceptions to the general requirements for citizenship exist for the disabled, members of the military, veterans, senior permanent residents, and spouses and children of U.S. citizens living abroad. Citizenship achieved through naturalization carry many benefits, including the ability to run for most public office positions and the right to vote and receive public benefits.
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