USA and the UK
Routes to becoming a U.S. citizen
There are a number of routes that allow individuals to become U.S. citizens. The most common way is to receive citizenship through birth.
If you are born in the United States or one of their overseas territories, or if you are born in a foreign country with at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, you will automatically receive citizenship.
However, there are other ways to get U.S. citizenship. One of the most common routes is for lawful permanent residents (also known as green card holders) to meet the citizenship eligibility requirements and then apply for citizenship.
The most common green card routes towards citizenship fall under the categories of family sponsorship, employment, investment or entrepreneurship, and the diversity lottery.
It is also possible to claim asylum in the U.S. and there are some options available for military personnel that lead to becoming a U.S. citizen.
Requirements for U.S. citizenship
All applicants for U.S. citizenship must demonstrate how they meet the eligibility criteria. Approximately 700,000 grants of citizenship are given each year.
The requirements include:
- Aged over 18
- Being a lawful permanent resident for a specific amount of time
- Having a physical presence in the U.S. for a specific amount of time
- Holding good moral character
- Passing the English language and civics tests
- Understanding and accepting the principles of the U.S. constitution
In order to apply for citizenship, you are required to complete a comprehensive application process and provide evidence of your suitability.
What are the advantages of holding U.S. citizenship?
Becoming a U.S. citizen brings with it many rights and advantages, as well as duties and responsibilities.
If you are a green card holder, you do not necessarily need to apply for citizenship, but it can be more financially prudent in the long term. Most green cards are valid for ten years and the renewal process can be expensive and time-consuming.
Other advantages of becoming a U.S. citizen include:
- Ability to vote in elections
- Serve on a jury
- Travel with a U.S. passport
- Apply to bring overseas family members to join you
- Obtain citizenship for children born outside the U.S.
- Qualify for federal jobs
There are other reasons, including ensuring that your residency will not be taken away from you, and being eligible for government grants.
Citizenship through family sponsorship
If you are a citizen of a foreign country, it may be possible to come to the United States on a family-based green card.
You must be sponsored by an eligible U.S.-based family member. This family member must be a green card holder (lawful permanent resident) or a U.S. citizen.
An existing U.S. citizen may sponsor their spouse, their unmarried children aged under 21 years, or their unmarried child aged over 21 years old, a sibling, or a parent.
A green card holder can sponsor their spouse, their unmarried child aged under 21 years, or their unmarried child aged over 21 years old.
There are two forms of family-based immigrant visas that a non-U.S. citizen can apply for in order to come to the U.S. These are the Immediate Relative and Family Preference routes.
Immediate Relative category
- IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. citizen
- IR-2: Unmarried child under 21 years old
- IR-3: Orphan adopted from a foreign country by a U.S. citizen
- IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
- IR-5: Parent of a U.S. citizen (aged over 21 years)
Family Preference category
- Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their minor children
- Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters aged over 21 years of green card holders. This category is divided into the F2A visa and the F2B visa categories
- Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouse and minor children
- Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, as well as their spouse and minor children (where the U.S. citizens are aged over 21 years of age)
Citizenship through the diversity lottery visa
Another route towards U.S. citizenship is via the diversity visa program. This program is administered by the Department of State and its purpose is to increase the diversity of immigrants coming to the U.S.
There is a very straightforward application process, whereby applicants need to complete a short online form (with no payment necessary).
The selected participants and their immediate families are then offered green cards to come to the U.S.
Although the process is relatively simple, there are a number of eligibility criteria involved. To be considered for this green card, the following must apply to your circumstances:
- You are a citizen of a country that has sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. over the last five years
- If this is not the case, you may still be eligible if your spouse was born in an eligible country, or if neither of your parents were residents of the country of your birth and they were born in an eligible country
- You hold at least secondary level education or have at least two years of work experience in a role that requires at least two years of training
- You hold a clean criminal record
The lottery application form is available between October and November each year.
The selection happens entirely at random and winners can check whether their application was successful by the following May.
It is your responsibility to keep a record of your application number to check whether you were successful in the lottery and if so, you should act quickly to secure your visa.
You can consult the State Department’s visa bulletin to identify when you can submit your visa application.
Once your application has been processed, your visa interview will be scheduled with the national visa center. If you satisfy the immigration official that you fulfil the visa requirements, your visa will be approved for entry to the United States.
Citizenship through employment
There are a number of routes towards obtaining an employment-based green card. Holding lawful permanent resident status for a number of years may make you eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
There are approximately 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas granted each year.
The employment-based preference immigrant categories include the following:
- First preference (EB-1): Priority workers with extraordinary abilities in specific industries
- Second preference (EB-2): Foreign citizens in specific professions holding advanced degrees or with exceptional abilities
- Third preference (EB-3): Skilled workers, professionals, and some other categories of workers
- Fourth preference (EB-4): Religious workers and certain special immigrants
- Fifth preference (EB-5): For immigrant investors willing to make an investment into the U.S.
Citizenship through investment/ entrepreneurship
Although we discussed the fifth preference employment green card (EB-5) in the previous section, it is a popular route to U.S. citizenship.
Approximately 10,000 EB-5 visas are issued each year to investor immigrants who intend to invest the money into a targeted employment area.
A primary requirement of the route is investing a minimum of $900,000 or $1.8 million into the U.S. economy (depending on the investment program the individual chooses).
Another requirement is that the funds must be legally sourced and there must be evidence to show this. The money must not be borrowed.
There are a number of terms and conditions attached to the program and investors must demonstrate that the funds will be used to create or preserve U.S. jobs and promote economic growth.
An investor can choose to invest in a regional center project (business organizations approved by the government) or alternatively, invest in a separate business established by the investor.
How can IAS help me?
As specialists in immigration law, we can advise on the most effective ways for you to apply for U.S. citizenship.
We will work with you throughout each stage of the process and ensure that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision about your immigration route. We will help you complete the application form for the appropriate route and ensure that your chances of a successful application are maximized.
Some of the bespoke services we provide include:
- Assessment of your circumstances and eligibility
- Support in gathering the required documentation
- Completing all aspects of the application within the deadlines set by USCIS
- Liaising with USCIS on your behalf
- Engaging with you and your family members throughout the process
Use our online contact form to get in touch or speak to us today at +1 844 290 6312 for a confidential discussion. Our friendly and professional advisors are ready to assist you with your U.S. citizenship application.
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There are different ways to get citizenship in the United States:
- Birthright citizenship, or citizenship through parents. This is for applicants born within the territorial limits of the U.S. or abroad to at least one U.S. citizen parent
- Citizenship through naturalization. This is a process by which an eligible individual applies for citizenship and is accepted based on specific requirements
- By winning the diversity visa program. The green card lottery is held every fiscal year to randomly select eligible foreign citizens from countries with a low rate of immigration to the U.S.
U.S. law allows dual citizenships. In other words, you can commit to the constitution of the United States and retain your previous citizenship.
If you previously held a green card but you spent more than two years outside the U.S., you may have lost your status.
If you wish to re-enter the country, you will need to apply for an SB-1 Returning Resident Visa.