U.S. citizenship carries tremendous privileges, rights and benefits. That’s why people will sacrifice so much to immigrate to America and seek citizenship. According to a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, “citizenship is a very valuable commodity.

There are four fundamental ways to obtain U.S. citizenship: citizenship by birth in the U.S., citizenship through derivation, citizenship through acquisition, and citizenship through naturalization. Most immigrants in the United States become citizens through the naturalization process. An average of almost one million permanent residents apply for naturalization each year.

Citizenship through Naturalization (obtaining citizenship after an application and exam)

Naturalization refers to the process in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen. For foreign-born persons, naturalization is the most common way to become a U.S. citizen. There are several requirements that must be fulfilled before an individual can apply for citizenship. Generally, applicants must be 18 years old and fall into one of the following three basic eligibility categories:

  • Have been a permanent resident for the past 5 years


  • Currently married to and living with a U.S. citizen and have been married
    to and living with that same U.S. citizen for the past 3 years


  • Currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces (or will be filing your application within 6 months
    of an honorable discharge) and have served for at least 1 year


These are the three most common eligibility categories; the majority of naturalized citizens come through one of the above paths. Find a comprehensive list of eligibility categories in Chapter 2 of USCIS Guide to Naturalization. A permanent resident starts the naturalization process by filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Chapter 2: 

Citizenship through Birth (birth inside the U.S. or its territories)

Under United States law, any person born within the United States (including the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands) is automatically granted U.S. citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that:

“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.”


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