What is a Naturalized Citizen and Why Does it Matter?

Let’s get one thing straight.  If you are born in the United States, you are automatically a United States citizen.  That law has been binding since the 1800s, around the time that slavery was abolished.

And even before that era, most people born were considered citizens by virtue of their birth here.


BUT what about the immigrant who wishes to becomes a United States citizen?

First, that person must have a green card for a certain number of years.

Usually five years, sometimes three – if based on marriage to a citizen – before applying to become a naturalized citizen.

To apply to change from permanent resident to naturalized citizen, you must:

  • Be 18 or older
  • Have good moral character (this is a good time to start considering a talk with a top immigration attorney if you have any concerns about failure to comply with the law, whether we are talking about taxes, child support, Selective Service, and of course, if you ever had any run-ins with the police)
  • Be able to pass an exam on English, including writing, reading, speaking and also a test on history and government (basically 4th grade level stuff)
  • Take an oath of allegiance to the United States

NOTE:  This article will not discuss citizenship through derivation (automatic citizenship through parents) which I have covered in other blog posts and will certainly again, in the future.

SO: what is a naturalized citizen and why does it matter?

  1. The status of “naturalized citizen” is important as it is 100% protection from deportation.
  2. Also, a naturalized citizen can file for the green card of a spouse, children, parents and siblings.
  3. Moreover, a naturalized citizen need not worry about how much time he or she spends in the United States in any given year, which is a rule that green card holders must follow.
  4. And, of course, a naturalized citizen has the right to vote.
  5. Not to mention that you can stop any future dealings with Immigration once you become a naturalized citizen, which is a relief to many people.

Millions of people with green cards put off becoming citizens, mainly due to procrastination.

Others neglect this change in immigration status because they fear that they cannot pass the test.

There are exceptions to the test for applicants with certain medical disabilities or those green card holders who have been here for a very long time and are 50 years of age or older  (I have discussed these issues in other articles on this site).

Bottom line: do yourself a favor and talk to a superior immigration attorney about changing your status to naturalized citizen as soon as possible.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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