Becoming a U.S. Citizen through Naturalization
Naturalization is the process by which United States citizenship is conferred on foreign nationals. Naturalized citizens enjoy virtually all of the same benefits, rights, and responsibilities that native-born U.S. citizens enjoy. Before a person can naturalize, he or she must fulfill certain requirements established by Congress. The United States Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate the naturalization process. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress “to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.”
Accordingly, Congress has passed various laws throughout the nation’s history that set the rules and guidelines for naturalization. The current naturalization criteria are found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Over the years, there has been a steady increase in the number of naturalized citizens. In 2011, 694,193 people naturalized in the U.S compared to 619, 913 in 2010. Nearly one-quarter of all those naturalizing did so in the State of California.
The Basic Eligibility Requirements for Naturalization
INA section 316 outlines the fundamental criteria a person must fulfill to be eligible for naturalization. Additional requirements are found in other INA sections such as section 312. Various exceptions and sub-qualifications apply to each of these main requirements, which will be discussed in future posts. The applicant must:
- Have resided in the United States continuously for five years as a lawful permanent resident. For at least half of these five years, the applicant must have been physically present in the United States. The applicant must also have resided in the district where he or she is filing for at least three months
- Have reached the age of 18 at the time of filing
- Possess a basic ability to read, speak, and write English and demonstrate an understanding of American history and civics
- Be a person of good moral character and one who is “attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States.” INA § 316(a).