The Road to American Citizenship — The Legal Way

We hear a lot about DREAMers and pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The fact that if you want to become a US citizen – and you’re the sort of person the US wants as a citizen – there’s a perfectly legal way to do it without climbing any fences, swimming any rivers or breaking any laws.

Getting a Green Card

Some people born abroad are automatically entitled to US citizenship. If you’re born to American citizens abroad, for example, or already living in the US and are adopted by a citizen, you automatically qualify for citizenship. Most people, however, will need to go down the naturalization route.

The first step to naturalization is to become a legal permanent resident by obtaining a green card. There are three ways to do this:

  • Family: If a family member is already a citizen, they can sponsor your green card.
  • Work: If you’ve been offered a permanent job in the US, your employer can sponsor you.
  • Refugee status: If you’re a refugee or asylum seeker, and you’ve been in the US for at least a year, you can apply for a green card.

A green card doesn’t let you become a naturalized citizen right away, but it’s an essential first step. Before you can apply for naturalization, you must meet additional requirements:

  • You must have lived continuously in the US for at least five years at the time you apply.
  • You must have spent at least 30 months of that five years in the US.
  • You need to have lived for at least three months in the state or USCIS district where you file your application.
  • You must be at least 18 years old when you file your application.
  • You must be able to speak, read and write English well enough to pass the naturalization exam.
  • You must be a person of good moral character and a law-abiding taxpayer.
  • You must have been lawfully admitted to the US.

You’ll have to provide supporting documents with your application – for example, a copy of your green card – and pay a $640 filing fee plus $85 for biometrics. You’ll need to attend an interview conducted in English, without an interpreter, and pass language and civics tests. If you’re applying for citizenship by marriage, you’ll also have to prove that the marriage is real, not a sham contrived to get citizenship.

Citizenship Through Service

Joining the US military is a simpler and faster path to citizenship. In peacetime, after one year’s honorable service, you can apply for naturalization. In a period of hostilities – which the US has been in since 2002 – you can apply immediately upon acceptance into the military.

Becoming a US citizen takes some work – but it’s supposed to. Anything valuable must be earned. It isn’t unreasonably hard, though. It’s well within the capabilities of anyone who would be a productive, law-abiding citizen.