There are four main paths an immigrant to the U.S. can take to citizenship. These are citizenship by naturalization, by marriage, through a parent, or through the military. Each of these four has its own requirements and application process.

What is Citizenship Through Naturalization?

Naturalization is the process of becoming a U.S. citizen for those born outside the country and is the most common method of obtaining citizenship for a foreign national. In order to be eligible for citizenship through naturalization, you must:

  • Be a green card holder or have had a permanent resident status for at least five years
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have had continuous residence in the U.S. for at least two and a half years during the required five-year period
  • Be able to speak, read, and write in English
  • Demonstrate that you are of good moral character
  • Have a knowledge of U.S. history and government
  • Demonstrate loyalty to the U.S. Constitution
  • Take the Oath of Allegiance

If you can fulfill all these requirements, you can apply for naturalization using form N-400.

What is Citizenship Through Marriage?

If you are married to a U.S. citizen but are not a citizen, you may be eligible for a green card. To be eligible, you will need to prove that your relationship is genuine and was not entered into solely for immigration purposes. If your application is accepted and you are given a green card, you are free to apply for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. However, the requirements for this are slightly different for those who seek citizenship through marriage. They are that you have:

  • Been a lawful permanent resident for at least three years before you applied for citizenship
  • Lived with your spouse in the United States during those three years
  • Had continuous residence in the U.S. during all three years

Along with these, you must also fulfill the other naturalization requirements, excluding the ones that pertain to the length of time you must have been in the United States.

What is Citizenship Through a Parent?

If both your parents are U.S. citizens, you are automatically entitled to citizenship, no matter where in the world you were born. However, if just one of your parents is a citizen, you will need to go through the process to gain citizenship. In order to qualify:

  • Your parents must have been married a the time of your birth
  • The parent who is a U.S. citizen must have been in the United States for at least five years at any point prior to your birth if you were born after November 14th, 1986, or ten years if you were born before.
  • If you were born after November 14th, 1986, at least two of these years must have been after their 14th birthday, and at least five if you were born before.

If your parent fulfills these requirements, you can apply for citizenship using form N-600.

What is Citizenship Through the Military?

Those who have served in the U.S. military are eligible to become citizens through naturalization. The specific requirements depend on whether you served during peacetime or a period of hostility.

Those who served during a period of hostility can apply for naturalization immediately without first needing to become a permanent resident. If you served during peacetime, you would have needed to have served for at least one year before you could apply for citizenship and must first obtain a green card.

For any questions you have on paths to citizenship, call an experienced Californian immigration attorney now at (408) 740-3474.