United States citizens enjoy many benefits not granted to lawful permanent residents. U.S. citizens have the right to vote and to hold public office, and may qualify for various jobs from which permanent residents are barred, including many aerospace and defense jobs, federal government jobs and employment as a peace officer.
Furthermore, U.S. citizens are able to petition for permanent residence for their spouses, parents, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters, whether single or married. Permanent residents, on the other hand, are restricted to petitioning for their spouses and unmarried sons and daughters. U.S. citizens also enjoy the travel privileges made possible by a U.S. Passport. Most importantly, U.S. citizenship, unlike permanent residence, is very difficult to revoke. For example, while a permanent resident can be deported or removed from the United States based on a criminal conviction (even a very old one), this severe penalty cannot be applied to citizens.
One becomes a citizen by being born in the U.S., by being born abroad to parents who are citizens, or by naturalization. Obtaining citizenship through naturalization requires that the citizen meet the following requirements:
Applicants for naturalization must be at least 18 years old.
In general, applicants for naturalization must have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residents and must have resided in the U.S. as permanent residents for a minimum of five years prior to filing, with no single absence from the U.S. of more than one year. Furthermore, applicants must have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the previous five years (absences of more than six months but less than one year shall disrupt the applicant's continuity of residence unless the applicant can establish that he or she did not abandon his or residence during such period). In addition, applicants must have resided within a state or district for at least three months prior to applying for naturalization. Those who are married to U.S. citizens or have served in the armed forces of the U.S. may, under certain conditions, qualify for naturalization after only three years of residency. The residency requirement is waived altogether for certain members of the armed forces who have served during period of hostilities, for spouses of U.S. citizens working abroad for the government or other designated employers, and for children who are petitioned by a parent. The law requires that an applicant be physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the residency period that applies to his or her case.
The applicant must renounce his allegiance to his country of birth and pledge loyalty to the U.S. Despite this renunciation, however, many other countries, including Canada and Great Britain, recognize the dual citizenship.
Generally, an applicant must show that he or she has been a person of good moral character for the statutory period (typically five years or three years if married to a U.S. citizen or one year for Armed Forces expedite) prior to filing for naturalization. However, the Service is not limited to the statutory period in determining whether an applicant has established good moral character. A person cannot be found to be a person of good moral character if, during the last five years, he or she was convicted of an aggravated felony, a crime involving moral turpitude, two or more offenses for which the total sentence imposed was 5 years or more, any controlled substance offense (except for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana), any offenses resulting in an aggregate period of imprisonment of at least 180 days, or two or more gambling offenses. In addition, anyone who earns his or her principal income from illegal gambling, has been involved in prostitution or smuggling illegal aliens into the United States, has been a habitual drunkard, practiced polygamy, willfully failed or refused to support dependents, or has given false testimony under oath in order to receive a benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act, cannot be considered a person of good moral character.
An applicant must disclose all relevant facts to the Service, including his or her entire criminal history, regardless of whether the criminal history disqualifies the applicant under the enumerated provisions. Each applicant is required to submit fingerprints and an application listing biographical information. The fingerprints are sent to the FBI, which informs the Service about whether the applicant has a criminal record. Since some applicants with a criminal record and those who obtained their green cards through false pretenses may be susceptible to deportation/removal, it is critical for such individuals to consult with an attorney before applying for naturalization.
All applicants for naturalization must be able to speak, read, write and understand simple words and phrases in the English language. Some longtime, elderly permanent residents and applicants with certain disabilities are exempt from the English requirement.
Applicants are required to pass a short examination regarding the history and government of the U.S. Applicants exempt from this requirement are those who, on the date of filing, have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant's ability to learn U.S. History and Government. Furthermore, applicants who have been residing in the U.S. subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 20 years and are over the age of 65 will be afforded special consideration in satisfying this requirement.