Naturalization / Citizenship

Overview

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress holds the exclusive power to establish uniform rules of naturalization. As such, individual states do not have the power to confer U.S. citizenship on a foreign national, and Congress may give, qualify or withhold the privilege of citizenship by naturalization as it pleases.

Congress has fulfilled it mandate by enacting the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which sets forth the requirements that foreign citizens must satisfy to naturalize and become U.S. citizens.

What is Naturalization?

Naturalization is the procedure by which the United States confers citizenship upon a foreign national. For those not born in and subject to U.S. jurisdiction, naturalization is the only path for them to become a U.S. citizen.

Who May Naturalize?

The Immigration Act of 1965 allows all persons from all nations equal access to immigration and naturalization. Congress no longer bars foreign nationals from becoming U.S. citizens based on their race. However, persons who are opposed to government or law, who favor totalitarian forms of government, or who desert from the United States armed forces may not naturalize and become U.S. citizens.

What Requirements Must Foreign Nationals Meet to Become U.S. Citizens?

The Immigration and Nationality Act requires persons seeking naturalization to be at least 18 years old, to have resided as a lawful permanent resident for a period of time, to have been physically present in the United States for a period of time, and to have resided within a state or district for at least 3 months. Additionally, applicants must be able to read, write, speak and understand English, and know and understand the fundamentals of U.S. history and the principles and form of the U.S. government. Applicants must be able to show good moral character, meaning that they have not be convicted of murder or an aggravated felony, or have been convicted or involved in various criminal activities during the last five years. Finally, applicants must be attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and possess a favorable disposition toward the United States.

However, some applicants may be exempt from these requirements, such as the residency requirement for persons who served honorably in the U.S. armed forces or the English requirement for persons over 65 years of age who have lived in the United States for over 20 years as lawful permanent resident. On occasion, Congress has also granted asylum to illegal aliens. For example, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 permitted illegal aliens who had been in the country for at least four years to be naturalized.

What Happens During a Naturalization Ceremony?

The final step to becoming a citizen occurs during a naturalization oath ceremony. The ceremony is a public ceremony during which applicants for naturalization take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. The oath requires the applicant to renounce allegiance to any foreign state, to support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and to bear arms, perform noncombatant service, or perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law.