Understanding U.S. Citizenship for Family Members
U.S. citizenship allows individuals to enjoy many rights and privileges, such as the ability to vote, hold public office, and freely travel abroad. Acquiring U.S. citizenship for family members, specifically spouses and children of U.S. citizens, involves a specific process to ensure they too can enjoy the benefits of being American citizens.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), family members can obtain U.S. citizenship through birth, naturalization, or being born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent. This article will focus on the process of helping your spouse and children acquire U.S. citizenship by exploring each step in detail.
The Importance of Obtaining Citizenship
“Citizenship stands for much more – the idea of being a full and active part of the national community, receiving its protection, sharing its responsibilities, and participating in its decisions.”
Obtaining U.S. citizenship for your family members is not only a legal status but also an important step in fostering a sense of belonging and active participation in American society. Some key benefits of U.S. citizenship include:
- Voting rights: U.S. citizens can participate in local, state, and federal elections, making their voices heard in the political process.
- Ability to sponsor other family members: U.S. citizens can petition for their close relatives to join them in the United States and obtain green cards.
- Protection from deportation: Once granted citizenship, family members cannot be deported from the United States.
- Travel and passport benefits: U.S. citizens can travel with a U.S. passport, receive assistance from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, and have the right to live and work outside the U.S. without losing their citizenship status.
In the following sections, we will explore the eligibility criteria, the process of obtaining green cards and U.S. citizenship, and the necessary steps to prepare for and complete the naturalization process for spouses and children of U.S. citizens.
2. Eligibility Criteria
Eligibility for Spouses
Marriage to a U.S. Citizen
To obtain U.S. citizenship for a spouse, the primary criterion is that he/she must be married to a U.S. citizen. The USCIS carefully scrutinizes the marriage to ensure its legitimacy. A significant part of the process involves proving that the marriage is real and not entered into solely for immigration purposes.
“You must establish that you have a legally valid marriage.” USCIS
Valid evidence of a genuine marriage includes, but is not limited to, joint bank accounts, joint property ownership, shared bills, and photographs of the couple attending events together. Additional documentation may be required during the application process to support the legitimacy of the marriage.
Length of Marriage
The length of marriage is another factor to be considered in eligibility, specifically in the context of the naturalization process. While there is no minimum length of marriage requirement to obtain a green card for a spouse, the length of marriage does play a role in naturalization.
According to USCIS, a spouse of a U.S. citizen who has been married and living with the same U.S. citizen spouse for at least three years may apply for naturalization under a special provision. This allows spouses to become U.S. citizens faster than the general five-year residency requirement for other legal permanent residents.
Eligibility for Children
Age requirements are crucial for determining the eligibility of children for U.S. citizenship. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000g states that children under the age of 18 can acquire U.S. citizenship if at least one of the parents is a U.S. citizen, and the child is a legal permanent resident (possesses a green card).
Legal Relationship with a U.S. Citizen Parent
The child must also establish a legal relationship with the U.S. citizen parent. This includes being the biological child of the parent, having been adopted by the parent, or being the stepchild of the parent in instances where the marriage occurred before the child turned 18.
“To be eligible, a child must meet the definition of ‘child’ for naturalization purposes under immigration law, and must also meet the following requirements:…The child was under 18 or not yet born on February 27, 2001. At least one parent is a U.S. citizen, the child is currently under 18 years of age and residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent pursuant to lawful admission for permanent residence.” USCIS
3. Obtaining Green Cards for Family Members
The first step in obtaining U.S. citizenship for your spouse and children is ensuring they obtain a green card, also known as a Lawful Permanent Resident Card.
Filing an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
The U.S. citizen sponsor must file an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for their spouse or child. This petition establishes the relationship between the U.S. citizen and their family member, so USCIS can assess the family member’s eligibility for a green card.
“You must file a separate Form I-130 for each eligible relative.” USCIS
Priority Date and Visa Availability
Once the I-130 petition is filed, USCIS will issue a receipt notice and assign a priority date. This date is important for visa availability, as various immigration categories have annual limits, and family members might need to wait for their turn to apply for a green card. Depending on the relationship type and category, there can be a wait ranging from a few months to several years. Check the Department of State Visa Bulletin for updates on visa availability.
Adjustment of Status (for those in the U.S.)
I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence
If the foreign family member is already in the U.S. and the visa number is available, they can apply for an Adjustment of Status by filing a Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status). This will allow them to obtain a green card without having to leave the country.
To apply for Adjustment of Status, the family member needs to submit the following documents along with the I-485 form:
- Copy of the approved I-130 petition or receipt notice
- Two passport-sized photos
- Copy of their birth certificate and a certified translation (if not in English)
- Copy of their passport and valid visa
- Medical examination report (completed by a USCIS-designated doctor)
- Proof of the U.S. citizen’s ability to financially support the family member (Affidavit of Support, Form I-864)
- Additional documentation might be requested, depending on individual circumstances
Consular Processing (for those outside the U.S.)
DS-260 Immigrant Visa Application
If the foreign family member is outside the U.S., they have to undergo Consular Processing to apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. After the I-130 petition is approved and a visa becomes available, the U.S. citizen sponsor will receive instructions to complete the Form DS-260 (Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application).
The family member will be required to submit various documents during the Consular Processing, which include but are not limited to:
- Valid passport
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate (for spouses)
- Medical examination report (completed by a State Department-designated doctor)
- Police clearance certificate
- Two passport-sized photographs
- Proof of the U.S. citizen’s ability to financially support the family member (Affidavit of Support, Form I-864)
Once granted the immigrant visa, the family member can travel to the U.S. and become a green card holder upon arrival.
4. Applying for U.S. Citizenship
Naturalization for Spouses
Filing an N-400 Application for Naturalization
Spouses of U.S. citizens who wish to become citizens themselves must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. This form initiates the naturalization process, the final step in securing U.S. citizenship. Applicants must carefully follow the instructions provided with the form and ensure completeness and accuracy before submission.
Legal Residency Requirements
In order to apply for citizenship through naturalization, the spouse must meet certain residency requirements. They must have held a green card (lawful permanent resident status) for at least three years and have lived with their U.S. citizen spouse continuously during that time. The spouse must also have been physically present in the United States for at least 18 months of those three years.
“You may be eligible to apply for naturalization under Section 319(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) if you…Have been living in marital union with the same U.S. citizen spouse during such time.” USCIS
Language, Civics, and U.S. History Requirements
One of the critical aspects of the naturalization process is demonstrating an understanding of the English language (reading, writing, and speaking) as well as knowledge of U.S. history and government. There are certain exemptions and modifications to these tests based on age or disability. For more details, visit the USCIS page on English and Civics Test.
Citizenship for Children
Children born abroad to U.S. citizen parents
Assessing Eligibility and Transmitting Citizenship
Children born abroad to U.S. citizen parents may already be U.S. citizens if specific eligibility requirements are met. These requirements primarily depend on the U.S. citizen parent’s physical presence in the United States before the child’s birth. For more information, see the USCIS page on Citizenship Through Parents.
Obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship (N-600)
If a child born abroad qualifies for U.S. citizenship, the parent can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship on behalf of the child by filing Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. This document serves as official proof of the child’s citizenship status.
Derivative Citizenship Through Naturalization of Parent(s)
Children may also acquire U.S. citizenship through the naturalization of their parent(s). To qualify, the child must be under 18 years old, have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen by naturalization, and hold lawful permanent resident (green card) status. For additional requirements, consult the USCIS Policy Manual on Citizenship and Naturalization.
Obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship (N-600)
Once the eligibility criteria for derivative citizenship are met, the U.S. citizen parent can file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship for their child. This official document confirms the child’s U.S. citizenship status.
5. Preparing for the Citizenship Interview and Test
Interview Tips and Guidelines
The citizenship interview is an integral part of the naturalization process. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer will assess your application, test your knowledge of English and U.S. civics, and ensure that you meet all other eligibility requirements. To prepare for the interview, follow these tips:
- Review your N-400 application: Familiarize yourself with the information provided on the application, as the officer may ask questions related to it.
- Gather and organize required documents: Bring originals and copies of all necessary documents, such as your green card, marriage certificate, and passports.
- Dress professionally: Treat the interview as you would a job interview, and maintain a respectful and courteous demeanor with the officer.
- Practice answering potential interview questions: Formulate clear and concise answers to questions about your background, application, and reasons for wanting U.S. citizenship.
“During your naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will ask you questions about your application and background.” USCIS
Studying for the English Test
Most applicants must pass a two-part English test that includes a writing section and a reading section. USCIS provides study materials to help you prepare:
- Vocabulary Flashcards: Help you familiarize yourself with the vocabulary used in the reading and writing tests.
- Sample Sentence Writing Exercises: Offer practice examples to help you understand sentence structures used in the writing test.
- Practice Examples: Show reading and writing test questions to help you get a feel for the exam format.
Studying for the Civics Test
The civics test consists of 10 questions that cover U.S. history, government, and geography. Applicants must correctly answer at least 6 out of the 10 questions to pass. To study for the civics test, use the following resources provided by USCIS:
- 100 Civics Questions and Answers: This list includes all potential questions you may be asked during the test, along with their correct answers.
- Civics Flashcards: These cards can help you review and memorize the 100 civics questions and answers.
- Civics Practice Test: This online tool allows you to practice answering the civics questions in an interactive format.
“The civics test covers important U.S. history and government topics.” USCIS
6. Oath of Allegiance and Post-Naturalization Procedures
Attending the Naturalization Ceremony
After successfully passing the citizenship interview and test, you will be scheduled for a naturalization ceremony. This important event marks the end of your journey to U.S. citizenship. Attend the ceremony, and be prepared to return your green card to USCIS as you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization at the end of the ceremony.
Oath of Allegiance Requirements
During the naturalization ceremony, you will be required to take the Oath of Allegiance. In doing so, you will swear loyalty to the United States, honor its laws and Constitution, and agree to defend the country if required.
“To become a citizen, you must take the Oath of Allegiance. The Oath includes several promises you make when you become a U.S. citizen, including promises to give up all prior allegiance to any other nation or sovereign, and to support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States.” USCIS
Updating Social Security and Necessary Documents
Once you become a U.S. citizen, it is important to update your Social Security records to reflect your new status. Visit your local Social Security office and provide your Certificate of Naturalization to ensure accurate records. Additionally, remember to update other necessary documents, such as your driver’s license and voter registration.
It is also crucial to apply for a U.S. passport, which will serve as your primary identification for international travel. To do so, visit the U.S. Department of State’s passport website for the application process and required documents.
In this article, we have covered the comprehensive process of obtaining U.S. citizenship for your spouse and children. To summarize:
- Familiarize yourself with the eligibility criteria for both spouses and children, which includes marriage duration and legal relationship with a U.S. citizen, among other factors.
- Obtain green cards for your spouse and children by filing an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and either adjusting their status or going through consular processing.
- Apply for U.S. citizenship for your spouse through naturalization by filing an N-400 Application for Naturalization and meeting legal residency, language, civics, and U.S. history requirements.
- For children, obtain U.S. citizenship either through birth abroad to U.S. citizen parents, by applying for an N-600 Certificate of Citizenship, or through derivation when a parent naturalizes.
“The rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship are numerous and profound, impacting every aspect of a citizen’s life and providing immeasurable benefits.” Boundless Immigration*
As we have discussed, U.S. citizenship offers a multitude of benefits for family members, such as the right to vote, hold public office, and travel freely without losing citizenship status. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can help your loved ones obtain U.S. citizenship, allowing them not only to enjoy equal rights and protections as American citizens but also to become more fully integrated into American society.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to legal experts and explore further resources offered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to ensure a successful journey towards U.S. citizenship for your family members.