The legal difference and process between a certificate of citizenship and a certificate of naturalization is basically summed up as those applying of naturalization were greencard holders for a certain number of years before they applicated for citizenship. Those who apply for certificates of Citizenship are typically US citizens at birth or occurred automatically at some earlier point in time and need evidence of citizenship.
General Naturalization Requirements:
Required age: The law states that in order to file a naturalization application, the applicant must be at least 18 years old.
Residency: The applicant must be a LPR (lawful permanent resident – i.e., green card holder — exception is if he or she served in war for the U.S) in accordance with the immigration laws. Individuals who have legal permanent status will be asked to produce an I-551, Alien Registration Receipt Card, as proof of their status.
Residence and Physical Presence: The applicant is eligible to file for naturalization if, immediately before the filing, he or she:
- has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence (see above);
- has been living continuously as a LPR in the U.S. for at least 5 years prior to filing without an absence from the United States of more than one year (single absence);
- has been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the previous five years (absences of more than six months but less than one year shall disrupt the applicant’s continuity of residence unless the applicant can prove that he or she did not abandon his or her residence during such period): and
- has resided within a state or district for at least three months.
Good Moral Character:
The applicant must generally show that he or she has been a person of good moral character for the statutory period (typically five years or three years if married to a U.S. citizen or one year for Armed Forces expedite) prior to filing for naturalization. The applicant is permanently barred from naturalization if he or she has ever been convicted of murder, or of an aggravated felony as defined in section 101(a) (43) of the Act on or after November 29, 1990. During the statutory period those who indulge in habitual, heavy drinking; practice polygamy; willfully fail to support their dependents; have been confined to penal institutions; among other such acts, cannot be regarded as a person of good moral character and thus may be also barred from naturalization.
Attachment to the Constitution: The applicant must show that he or she is attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States.
Language: Applicants for naturalization must be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language. However some applicants are exempt from this requirement. They are those who on the date of filing:
- have been residing in the United States subsequent to a LPR status for periods totaling 15 years or more and are over 55 years of age;
- have been residing in the United States subsequent to a LPR status for periods totaling 20 years or more and are over 50 years of age; or
- have a medically proven physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant’s ability to learn English.
Knowledge of the United States Government and History:
All applicants for naturalization must ably demonstrate a basic knowledge and understanding of the history of the country and of the principles and form of government of the United States. Some applicants are exempt from this requirement. They are those who have a medically proven physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant’s ability to learn U.S. History and Government
Applicants who have been residing in the U.S. subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 20 years and are over the age of 65 will be afforded special consideration in satisfying this requirement.
Oath of Allegiance: To become a citizen, one must take the oath of allegiance. By taking the oath, an applicant swears to:
- support the Constitution and obey the laws of the U.S.;
- renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title; and
- bear arms for the Armed Forces of the U.S. or perform services for the government of the U.S. when required.
In certain instances, the USCIS will permit some applicants to take a modified oath, if he or she establishes that they are opposed to any type of service in the armed forces based on religious teaching or belief.
***IMPORTANT: Do not submit a citizenship application if you have prior arrests or other immigration issues that might result in the USCIS placing you in removal proceedings!
This page is not meant to act as legal advice for your specific case. You should seek the advice of an immigration attorney to review the specific facts of your case as applied to the law.