Becoming a citizen of the United States is the final step of the immigration journey. This status provides many benefits, including bringing children into the U.S. as citizens and gaining citizenship for those kids that were already in the U.S. as legal permanent residents. Find out what you need to know when it comes to naturalizing children and getting citizenship for kids.
How Citizenship Works
Citizenship is obtained in one of two ways—through birth or through a legal process called naturalization. If you were born outside of the U.S. and you are interested in obtaining citizenship, then naturalization is the way to go.
To become naturalized, you will need to fulfill one the following criteria:
- You need to have been a legal permanent resident in the U.S. for at least five years
- You need to have been married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years
- You need to be currently serving in the U.S. military
In general, you must also be at least 18 years old and you need to have good moral character (this means respecting the immigration and civil laws of the country). If you satisfy these requirements, you can file an N-400 form with the USCIS. If approved, you will be asked in for an interview with a citizenship officer where you will be tested on your grasp of the English language as well as your knowledge of basic U.S. government and history.
If you pass the interview and test, you will need to take the Oath of Allegiance before becoming a full-fledged citizen of the United States. This is a cursory overview of the process, for more information on naturalization, you can read our citizenship guide.
The Benefits of Citizenship
Many people ask us if it’s worth it to make the switch from green card holder to U.S. citizen. To them, it seems like their green card is enough—and for many it is. However, there are some key benefits that citizenship has over legal permanent residence that should be considered. These include:
- Being able to vote in general elections for U.S. representatives
- Immunity from deportation. You cannot violate your status in a way that would result in being forcibly removed from the country.
- Access to jobs in the federal government.
- Not having to renew your status every 10 years, which cuts down on costs in the long run.
- Being able to sponsor other family members for green cards such as siblings.
- Not having to wait for a priority date to be current if you are sponsoring a spouse or child for a green card.
- Being able to have your children inherit your citizenship either through birth or by becoming derivative citizens as soon as you become a citizen.
Ultimately, a green card still has its limitations and leaves you vulnerable to deportation or revocation. U.S. citizenship is the best way to go if you plan to live here permanently. However, this last benefit of citizenship is often misunderstood, so we will go into more detail about how citizenship for kids.
Citizenship for Kids
As we mentioned, your children automatically obtain citizenship when you become citizens whether they are born in the U.S., brought into the U.S., or adopted before or after your citizenship. No extra documentation, interviews, or tests are required. This makes them what’s known as a derivative citizen, and there are some criteria that go along with it:
- The child must be under the age of 18
- The child must be unwed
- If the child was born outside of a marriage, the child must have been legitimized by either the U.S. citizen mother or father before the child’s 16th birthday.
- The child must be a green card holder
- At least one of the child’s parents is or has become a U.S. citizen
- The child is living in the U.S. under the custody of a parent who is a U.S. citizen.
These are given through the Child Citizenship Act of 2001 (CCA). However, if the child is born overseas to a parent or parents who are U.S. citizens, that child is born a citizen through a status called “acquisition of citizenship” as opposed to derivative citizenship.
What happens to my kids if my green card expires while my naturalization application is pending?
While you are in the U.S., you must be under a valid status. If your green card expires during the naturalization process, then you and your children will be considered out of status, which will jeopardize your ability to naturalize. However, all you need to do is apply to renew your green card. Fortunately, to renew a green card, you do not have to re-qualify for it. As long as you have not committed any crimes or otherwise violated your status, renewal should be a simple and successful process.
How can I change my name during the naturalization process?
If you look on your N-400, there will be information to guide you on what is required from you in order to change your name during naturalization. If you choose to change your name after the N-400 has been filed, then you will need to have an official document (such as those for a marriage, divorce, or court order) and present that document to the USCIS as soon as possible. This same process should be applied to any children that will become derivative citizens upon your naturalization.
What should I do if I or someone I know is physically or mentally unable to take the civics test?
If, for some reason, you or someone you know has a disability that prevents the completion of any part of this process, you will need to submit an N-648 Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions form. This should be submitted at the same time as the N-400 if possible, though it can be submitted at any point during the naturalization process. If this form is accepted, at the time of your appointment, the interview will be done in the language you choose (rather than in English) and you will not be expected to meet the educational requirements for naturalization. If your N-648 is not accepted, your interview will be in English and you will be tested on U.S. civics.
What happens if I fail my test?
You will get two chances to pass the English and civics educational tests. Failing these will result in a failure to naturalize, and you will need to schedule another interview to test again. Rescheduled interviews usually take place between 60 and 90 days after your first interview. Fortunately, there is no maximum number of times that you can apply.
What if my child is not a green card holder?
If your child was living in the U.S. without legal permanent residence (without a green card), then they will not automatically inherit your citizenship and they must apply for it separately.
What if my child was born abroad?
If your child was born overseas to two U.S. citizens and you register that child with the U.S. embassy in that country, then he or she will likely automatically gain citizenship with the U.S. However, if only one parent is a U.S. citizen, then there are some other requirements that must be met including:
- The citizen parent must have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years prior to the child’s birth.
- Two of the five years in the U.S. must have occurred after the citizen parent turned 14.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
Becoming a citizen of the United States is a relatively long process that is filled with opportunities to make mistakes that will cost you both time and money. To make sure that you and your children successfully make the transition to full-fledged citizens, the best thing to do is to hire an immigration attorney to help you.
Here at Immi-USA, our expert citizenship attorneys will help you every step of the way. From filing the N-400 to coaching you for your test and interview, retaining our services will give you the best chance of success when going through the naturalization process.
To get in touch with our immigration attorneys, you can fill out this contact form and schedule your consultation today.