U.S. Citizenship and Visas

Published April 14, 2022

Explore the US. Citizenship and Visa application process! Three Methods to Gain U.S. Citizenship and Visa Options

The United States citizenship process is known for its red tape regulations and requirements. Unfortunately, obtaining citizenship is not as easy as simply knowing American history. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency has established three main methods to achieve U.S. citizenship. 

The first and most straightforward means to acquire citizenship is through birthright. According to the United States Constitution, children are automatic recipients when they are either born in the United States or have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen. This right applies regardless of whether the parent is deceased, divorced, or adoptive. If a child was born abroad, U.S. citizen parents can apply for citizenship with an Application for Certificate of Citizenship. Children who regularly reside outside of the United States can also apply for citizenship through the Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate form. Both applications have a filing fee of $1,170 and are only available when the child is under 18 years of age.

For people who have no ties to the United States, the second and most common method to apply for citizenship is through the naturalization process. There are multiple requirements in the process that applicants must fulfill. Applicants must first hold a Permanent Resident Card (also known as a Green Card) for at least five years. If the applicant is the spouse of a U.S. citizen, then the holding period decreases to at least three years. Non-citizens can register for a Green Card through family, employment, special immigration, refugee and victim status, and other specific circumstances. Other eligibility requirements include being 18 years old or older at the time of the application and being able to read, write, and speak basic English. After eligibility is determined, the next step is to complete the N-400 form, the Application for Naturalization, which can be submitted online with a filing fee of $640.

Applicants also undergo a personal interview where they will answer questions about their application and take the U.S. Naturalization Test, which includes a civics and English portion. During the civics portion, the USCIS officer will ask applicants 10 out of 100 sample questions in which six questions must be answered correctly to pass. The USCIS website provides study material for the current version of the test. Applicants are given two attempts to pass both tests before having to wait at least two months to retest. There are certain exemptions to the English and civics exams that accommodate older individuals and those who are disabled. After passing the interview and test, the USCIS will send a letter scheduling a naturalization ceremony where the applicant will take the Oath of Allegiance of the United States. At this ceremony, the Green Card is exchanged for a Certificate of Naturalization, which indicates official United States citizenship. While the process may not seem extensive, it typically takes between 1 to 2 years to declare citizenship

The third way to receive citizenship is through the military. Serving honorably in the military for at least one year removes the Green Card requirement. Instead, applicants must submit an N-426 form, a Request for Certification of Military or Naval Services, before filing the N-400. After submitting these materials, applicants will follow a similar process of undergoing an interview and performing an oral civic and English exam to move on to the naturalization ceremony. The United States citizenship process can take upwards of seven years, excluding the time it takes to apply for and receive a Green Card. Due to the lengthy application requirements of Green Cards and citizenship, citizens of foreign countries who are interested in temporarily staying in the United States often resort to a visa initially.

A U.S. Visa is a travel document issued by the traveler’s country of citizenship. Student and work visas are two visas that can eventually lead to a long-term residence. There are three types of study and exchange visas; Visitor Visas are for students scouting schools during the application process, Exchange Visitor Visas are used for approved exchange student programs, and Student Visas are designed for students pursuing post-secondary education in the United States. Similarly, there are three types of work visas. Foreign media members and teachers or professors participating in approved exchange programs have their own designated visas. The most popular work visa is the Temporary Employment Visa under H-18, Person in Specialty Occupation. This category requires that applicants have a higher education degree and an approved Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker form. The visa application process is managed by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate within the applicant’s country. As a result, the appointment wait time and specific application instructions vary based on location.

For more information on the naturalization process, the USCIS offers a 10-step guide to the application process. It also provides detailed information on naturalization through military service and a naturalization eligibility tool. There are also resources available on the USCIS website to apply for Dual Citizenship or establish citizenship without a birth certificate. The Bureau of Consular Affairs has additional information on different types of U.S. Visas and how you can fill out a nonimmigrant visa application. U.S. citizenship can be a long and challenging process; however, resources and assistance are available to make the process smoother.