Immigration and naturalization are very intertwined, but many people don’t realize that it’s possible to become a legal non-citizen in the U.S. without going through the naturalization process that results in full citizenship. Here are a few points on the most important information about immigration and naturalization, what a certificate of naturalization means, and what the naturalization process really entails:
- It’s important to realize first that applying for a Green Card is not the same thing as applying for full citizenship in the U.S. Green Cards may be given out for a variety of reasons — everything from claiming refugee status to becoming married to a U.S. citizen — and it’s estimated that about one million green cards are given out each year.
- Holding a Green Card means that an immigrant is allowed to work and live in the U.S., but not allowed other rights of full citizens. Becoming naturalized means that an immigrant is no longer just a “permanent resident” in the U.S., but is also allowed to vote, be eligible to hold public office, and sponsor others who wish to gain legal status in the U.S.
- American citizens born in the U.S. automatically have full citizenship rights; for anyone born outside of U.S. states and territories, the only way to obtain full citizenship is through naturalization (although immigrants can still live legally, with many rights, as Green Card holders).
- It’s possible for both children and adults to gain citizenship through naturalization, and it’s generally slightly easier for children to complete the naturalization process. At the very minimum, applicants must have held Green Cards for at least five years, understand the laws of the Constitution, show positive moral character through a clean criminal record, understand and speak English, and pass both an interview and a test on the country’s history and basic legal principles.
Now we’re asking you for some help: are there any important points about naturalization that we haven’t included here, or any questions you still have about the process? Feel free to leave any comments or questions for us — we’d love to hear from you!