United States Citizenship Basics
There are many person and business-related benefits to being a United States citizen. Citizens have voting rights in federal, state and local elections that non-citizens do not have. Even if they are born outside of the United States, children who are born to U.S. citizens usually become automatic citizens themselves. Citizens have greater access to federal jobs, since most governmental agencies mandate citizenship from their employees. They also have greater access to the world’s leading higher educational system and can more easily qualify for in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. Lastly, citizens enjoy greater eligibility for elected positions since citizenship is a requirement for many elected offices.
There are two ways to become a citizen of the United States; you can become a citizen at birth or become a citizen after birth through the naturalization process. To become a citizen at birth, you must have been born in the United States or in a territory that is under U.S. jurisdiction. If you have at least one parent who was a citizen at the time of your birth and meet certain other requirements, you are eligible to become a citizen at birth.
Individual who are not born in the United States or born to American parents have to go through the naturalization process to become citizens. Naturalization is the name given to the entire citizenship process, during which the applicant must meet all requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Individuals may be eligible for the naturalization process if they have been a permanent resident for five years or more, have been a permanent resident for three or more years and are applying as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, or have honorably participated in the U.S. armed forces.
To obtain citizenship, an applicant must file Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. In this application, the individual must prove that he or she is of good moral character by disclosing information about any criminal history. Within the N-400 application, individuals must also prove that they meet the necessary naturalization residency requirements. The application costs about $600 plus an additional fee for required biometrics services. These biometrics services include fingerprinting, photographing and a background check. The processing time for N-400 applications is typically four to six months. Once the N-400 application has been processed, most applicants are required to attend an interview and pass a test on the English language and U.S. civics. If the application is approved, the prospective citizen will receive a ceremony date, take the Oath of Allegiance, and receive their Certificate of Naturalization.
There are some responsibilities that come along with United States citizenship. Those going through the naturalization process must swear to defend and support the Constitution, support and defend U.S. laws and serve the United States when needed, and they must swear allegiance to the United States. This is the Oath of Allegiance. Male U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register for the Selective Service, also known as the U.S. draft. Naturalized U.S. citizens are also encouraged to participate in the political process and uphold the American values of tolerance and respect. U.S. citizens are also responsible for paying all local, state and federal taxes.
While it may seem like an involved process, the economic, entrepreneurial and personal benefits almost always outweight the inconvenience of paperwork.