United States citizenship may be acquired in a number of ways, the most common of course being by birth in the United States. The 14th Amendment provides: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Interestingly, the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” exempts the children of diplomats and others enjoying diplomatic immunity from automatically becoming U.S. citizens.
Most persons born outside the United States must undergo an administrative process called naturalization to become a United States citizen. There is no right to become naturalized and the burden of proof is on the applicant to establish eligibility. The naturalization requirements and procedures are set forth in Chapter II of the Immigration and Nationality Act. There are variations and exemptions for specific categories of applicants with special circumstances, however, the general requirements for naturalization include: (1) minimum age of 18 years; (2) 5 years of continuous residence as a lawful permanent resident, at least 2 ½ years of which must have been physically present in the United States (3 years continuous residence and 18 months of physical presence in the case of spouses of U.S. citizens); (3) 3 months residence in the state or INS district where the application is filed; (4) being a person of good moral character (which may not be found if a person has been convicted of murder, a crime of “moral turpitude” or an “aggravated felony” after November 29, 1990); (5) being attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution; and (6) having basic English language skills and knowledge of the history and government of the United States, unless exempted by physical inability, age or length of time as a permanent resident.
The process of naturalization is commenced by filing an Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) and supporting documents and fee by mail with the INS Service Center where residence is established (Vermont Service Center in the New York area). As of the Fall of 2002, INS indicates it is taking approximately 1-1½ years to process Applications. During this processing period, the INS conducts an investigation, including security checks. Upon clearance, a naturalization examination is scheduled at an INS District Office (26 Federal Plaza in New York City). An “immigration examiner” then conducts an examination to determine eligibility. If the application is denied, there is an opportunity for administrative and judicial review. If the application is approved, the applicant will be notified of a date and place of the naturalization oath ceremony. The oath of allegiance must be taken before the applicant becomes a U.S. citizen and may be administered by a court or administratively by the INS or an immigration judge. Citizenship is deemed granted as of the date the naturalization oath is taken.
Upon becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, an individual may acquire dual citizenship, if the laws of the foreign country of citizenship do not mandate loss of that citizenship. For practical, tax and symbolic considerations, the U.S. government does not endorse dual citizenship as a matter of policy, however, it is recognized and is becoming increasingly common.