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Citizens of the United States are all people born or naturalized in the United States

Almost all individuals become U.S. citizens in one of two ways:

  • By birth within the territory of the United States or to U.S. citizen parents
  • By Naturalization.

Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) in 2000, which permits any child under the age of 18 who is adopted by a U.S. citizen and immigrates to the United States to acquire immediate citizenship.

Citizenship through Parents

Citizenship at Birth for Children Born Outside the U.S. and its Territories

A child born outside the U.S. may be a U.S. citizen at birth if one parent or both parents were U.S. citizens at the time of his/her birth and other requirements are met.

Automatic U.S. Citizenship after Birth

A child born in a different country may likewise obtain U.S. citizenship after birth if one of his or her parents becomes a U.S. citizen before his or her eighteenth birthday celebration.


U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs) (green card holders) may file to become U.S. citizens. If the permanent resident has been married to a U.S. citizen for three years, they can apply three years after obtaining LPR status. If not, most of the time the green card holder has to wait to apply until five years after obtaining LPR status. (Most applicants can apply ninety days before their three or five year anniversary.)


To receive citizenship permanent residents have to show they have “good moral character” and have been physically present in the U.S. for no less than 2 1/2 years since acquiring LPR status (or 1 1/2 years if applying as the spouse of a U.S. citizen). Moreover, most petitioners for citizenship will have to pass tests showing an ability to read, write, and speak no less than 4th grade-level English and demonstrate a fundamental comprehension of U.S. history and civics.

If the individual has been in contact with the police, regardless of whether in or outside of the U.S., he or she should seek advice before applying for naturalization. Traffic citations, criminal convictions, and/or arrests for criminal activity can have severe and negative results on an person’s immigration status. Sometimes an individual may file to become a U.S. citizen just to discover that immigration wants to deport them from the U.S. because of some past criminal conduct.

Citizenship through Military Service

The U.S. citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) will facilitate the procedure of naturalization for certain LPRs who are now serving in the U.S. armed forced or who were recently discharged. The individual must still be eligible for naturalization.