Citizenship & Naturalization

A person may become a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization. Generally, people born in the United States (including in most cases Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are an American citizen at birth. Your birth certificate is proof of your citizenship.

You may also be considered a citizen by birth outside of the United States, under either of two circumstances:

  • Birth abroad to two (2) U.S. citizens. In most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if: (1) both your parents were U.S. citizens when you were born; and (2) at least one of your parents lived in the United States at some point in their life.
  • Birth abroad to one (1) U.S. citizen. In most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if: (1) one of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born; (2) your citizen parent lived at least 5 years in the United States before you were born; and (3) at least 2 of these 5 years in the United States were after your citizen parent’s 14th birthday.

Your record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of your citizenship. You may also apply for a passport to have your citizenship recognized. If you need additional proof of your citizenship, you may file an Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600) with the U.S. Citizenship & Naturalization Services (CIS).

How do I become a naturalized citizen?

If you are not a U.S. citizen by birth, you may be eligible to become a citizen through naturalization. People over the age of 18 use a Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) to become a naturalized citizen, while children who derive citizenship from naturalized parents use a Form N-600 (Application for a Certificate of Citizenship) to become naturalized. You may obtain these forms online from CIS here (Form N-400) and here (Form N-600).

The general requirements to become a naturalized U.S. citizen are as follows: an applicant must be at least 18 years old and have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence; (2) continuous residence and physical presence in the United States for at least 5 years and 30 months, respectively, before seeking naturalization; (3) good moral character; (4) attachment to the U.S. Constitution; (5) ability to read, write, speak and understand words in ordinary usage in the English Language; (6) demonstrated fundamental knowledge and understanding of the U.S. government and history; and (7) taking an oath of allegiance. For more information about the requirements to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, click here.

While many naturalization or citizenship applications are filed without the assistance of an attorney, fully and properly completing the application, navigating the application process, properly responding to information requests, and overcoming evidentiary hurdles that can arise in certain cases can be complex and require specialized legal knowledge. Often, hiring qualified legal counsel can be the difference between the grant of citizenship and a denial as mistakes made in the initial filing or when responding to subsequent requests for information by CIS can be difficult to overcome.

How long does it take CIS to decide my application?

By law, CIS generally has 180 days from the date of an application for naturalization to render a decision. You be able to file a mandamus petition in federal court seeking an order requiring CIS to make a decision after this time period has passed.

You may call the Service Center where you sent your application or go online to check on the status of your application.

What happens after CIS grants a naturalization application?

You become a citizen as soon as you take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. In some places, you may be allowed to take the oath the same day as your interview. If that option is not available, CIS will notify you of the ceremony date with a Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony (Form N-445).

If you cannot go to the oath ceremony, you should return the Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony back to your local office along with a letter stating why you cannot attend the ceremony. Be sure to keep a copy of the notice and your letter. Your local CIS office will reschedule and send you a new Form N-445 to tell you when your ceremony will be.

Some people with disabilities need special consideration during the naturalization process. CIS will make every effort to make reasonable accommodations in these cases. For example, if you are hearing impaired you may bring a sign language interpreter to your interview.

What if CIS denies my application?

There is an administrative review process for a denial of naturalization. If you feel that you have been wrongly denied naturalization, you may request a hearing with an immigration officer. Your denial letter will explain how to request a hearing and will include the form you need. The form for filing an appeal is a Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (Form N-336). If you receive a denial, you should promptly consult with a qualified immigration attorney to help you fully understand and protect your rights.

In many cases, you may reapply to become naturalized if CIS denies your initial application. If you reapply, you will need to complete and resubmit a new N-400 and pay the fee again. You will also need to have your fingerprints and photographs taken again. If your application is denied, the denial letter should indicate the date you may reapply for citizenship. If you are denied because you failed the English or civics test, you may reapply for naturalization as soon as you believe you have learned enough English or civics to pass the test.

What do I use as proof of citizenship if I do not have my certificate of naturalization?

You may get a new Certificate of Naturalization by submitting an Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document (Form N-565) to CIS along with the required fee. If you have one, you may use your passport as evidence of citizenship while you wait for a replacement certificate.

Citizenship for foreign-born children.

Usually if children are permanent residents, they derive citizenship from their naturalized parents. This is true whether the child is one by birth or adoption (although usually the adoption must be completed by the child’s 16th birthday in order for the child to be eligible for naturalization).

Under the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) effective February 27, 2001, certain foreign-born children – including adopted children – may acquire U.S. citizenship automatically if certain conditions are met. The child must meet all of the following requirements by the time the child reaches 18 years of age: (1) one of the parents must be a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization; (2) the child is not married; (3) the child is living in the U.S. as a permanent resident; and (4) the child is in the physical and legal custody of the citizen parent. The child can file an Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600) in order to obtain proof of such automatic citizenship.

In some cases, a child may have a parent who is a U.S. citizen but who has not lived in the United States for at least 5 years, 2 of which were after the citizen parent’s 14th birthday. In these cases, the U.S. citizen parent may apply for citizenship for the child using a Form N-600. The child must meet all of the following requirements at the time that he or she takes the Oath of Allegiance: (1) the child is under 18; (2) the child is not married; (3) the child is lawfully present in the United States in a non-resident status (e.g., with a B-2 or F-1 visa); (4) a U.S. citizen parent has a parent (the child’s grandparent) who is also a U.S. citizen; (5) the child is in legal custody of the U.S. citizen parent whose parent is also a U.S. citizen; (6) the U.S. citizen grandparent lived at least 5 years in the United States; and (7) at least two of these years in the United States were after the citizen grandparent’s 14th birthday.

If you have questions about citizenship or naturalization or need legal advice or help applying for citizenship or appealing the denial of a citizenship application, contact the Atlanta, Georgia immigration attorneys at Brownstein & Nguyen LLC today for a free consultation. We have over 20 years of experience successfully representing clients in all aspects of immigration law. Click here to see what our clients say about our experience and dedication in handling their legal matters.