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How to obtain US citizenship

Getting US citizenship is an ambitious goal as the process of obtaining it is not as simple as it might seem at first. It consists of several steps, and a whole list of conditions must be met to get the application approved. But the opportunity to build a career and secure a stable future in one of the most developed countries in the world is worth it.

US citizenship law

There is a lot of contradictory information online about the application for US citizenship. However, when assessing your chances, it is better to refer to the primary source, H.R. 1177, often referred to as the US Citizenship Act. It covers in detail the requirements for citizenship applicants, the conditions and process of obtaining a Green Card, as well as general visa issues.

It is worth bearing in mind that the law was amended in 2021 to make it easier to settle in the US.

Major changes:

  • Simplified family reunification process, including priority for family members of highly skilled professionals;

  • No language and culture tests for people over 50 if they have lived in the US for at least 20 years and people over 55 if they have lived in the US for at least 15 years;

  • Reduced residency requirement for spouses of US citizens to three years;

  • Increased quotas for Green Card applicants;

  • Cancellation of entry bans for violators of the conditions of stay in the USA;

  • Possibility of obtaining a residence permit with the right to work and a social package for newcomers.

In general, nothing has changed for most aspiring US citizens.

The conditions for obtaining US citizenship in the amended Citizenship Act remain the same. You must demonstrate the following:

  • You are 18 years of age or older;

  • Sufficient proficiency in English to lead an independent life in the USA;

  • Good knowledge of American laws and history;

  • Legal residence for at least 5 years;

  • Staying in the country for at least 30 months in the last 5 years.

Grounds for US citizenship

There are several ways to become a permanent resident in the USA. Each has its own pros and cons depending a lot on individual circumstances and opportunities. Therefore, you should consider in advance which path is best for your situation.

Right of blood and right of soil

There are two international principles of granting citizenship to a child: by Jus Sanguinis, right of blood, which allows citizens whose children were born in another country to return to their home country, and by Jus Soli, right of soil. Both principles apply in the United States.

A child obtains US citizenship by right of blood regardless of the country of birth if:

  • They are under 18 years of age;

  • One or both of their parents have US citizenship;

  • The US citizen parent is the child’s guardian.

In this situation, either the child themselves or their parent or legal guardian can apply. But only children over the age of 14 can take the oath to become US citizens.

A child obtains US citizenship by the right of soil if they were born on the US territory, including airspace and territorial waters. Citizenship of parents does not matter in this case but the parents themselves do not become citizens automatically. However, they can apply for a residence permit, and after 5 years, if all the requirements are met, they can get citizenship by naturalisation.

US Green Card

A Green Card is an identification card of a permanent resident of the United States. It guarantees the right to long-term residence, study and work in any state as well as health care and social benefits. After five years in the country, you can apply for citizenship.

The following categories can obtain a Green Card:

  • Highly skilled professionals;

  • Investors (if investing $800,000 or more in the economy);

  • Spouses and relatives of US citizens;

  • Refugees and victims of human trafficking;

  • Anyone with a high school education or two years of legal, documented skilled work experience through the Diversity Visa Lottery.

The Citizenship Act sets clear limits on granting Green Cards. For example, 140,000 cards per year are allocated for highly skilled professionals, but only 55,000 cards per year are drawn through the lottery.

Residence by investment

The EB-5 investment programme requires investing at least $800,000 in a commercial project and creating 10 jobs for US citizens. There are no requirements for nationality, English fluency and experience in business or investment. In addition, it applies not only to the investor themselves but also to their spouse and children under 21 years of age. First, applicants are granted EB-5 visas; after two years of life in the country, they get Green Cards, and after another 5 years, it is possible to obtain US citizenship. Therefore, this route is considered the easiest towards obtaining US citizenship.

There are more pitfalls on this route than it seems at first glance. First, applications for EB-5 visas are processed for a very long time, up to 3-4 years. After relocation, the investor receives a Green Card and becomes a permanent resident only after two years. All this significantly lengthens the path to a US passport. Besides, investment is a high-risk thing. You can get the money back in 5-7 years but there is always a risk you might lose it.

Residence by marriage

Foreign spouses of US citizens can apply for citizenship after 3 years of living together. Foreign spouses of Green Card holders also have this option but after 5 years.

Mandatory conditions to be met are as follows:

  • At least three years in the marriage;

  • Evidence of living together, including rent, joint financial obligations (bills and loans), joint photos, an official marriage certificate and any other evidence of the legality, genuineness, and duration of the marriage;

  • A passed test for the knowledge of the English language and a US Civics (history and government) Test.

Residence by military service

Foreign nationals who have served in the US Army for more than a year have the right to apply for citizenship. If a foreign national serves in a hot spot or takes part in combat operations, there are no requirements for the period of service. In addition, it does not matter whether the applicant was in the territory of the United States or not. However, obtaining US citizenship is possible only after the successful completion of service and in case of the absence of disciplinary penalties. Those discharged in disgrace or as a result of a violation of the army code cannot apply for citizenship.

Subsequently, children and spouses of those who get residence by military service can go through an accelerated naturalisation programme.

Residence for refugees

A refugee under US law is a person who is subjected to persecution in their home country, including criminal persecution based on race, sexual orientation, political activity, personal beliefs, religion, and so on.

Those who fall into one of the categories below cannot get refugee status:

  • Those with a criminal record, regardless of the severity of the offence committed and the statute of limitations;

  • Those who suffer from contagious and easily transmitted diseases;

  • Those who, in addition to the citizenship of their home country, have a residence permit or permanent residence permit from a country that is safe for them;

  • Those who pose a risk to national security;

  • Those who have harassedothers either in their own interest or acting by somebody’s orders.

Refugees have access to healthcare and social benefits. They can bring their spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age. After one year of residence in the US, they can obtain a Green Card together with family members, and after 5 years, they can apply for US citizenship.


Naturalisation is an opportunity to become a US citizen after 5 years of legal residence in the country. People who are at least 18 years old, fluent in English, and familiar with US history and laws can take this route to obtain a US passport.

Process of Obtaining US citizenship

The first step is determining the legal status: to initiate the process, you must be eligible for a legal long-term stay in the United States, i.e. have a Green Card.

The second step is compliance with the conditions of stay: you need to live permanently in the US for at least 5 years from the date of obtaining a Green Card. In the case of a marriage to a US citizen, this period is shortened to 3 years. There are special conditions for those who serve in the US Army.

The third step is compliance with the requirements for absence from the country. You can spend at least six months a year outside the US or the requirements of the Citizenship Act will be violated. Those who serve in the US Army are not subject to this requirement.

The fourth step is preparation for the tests: learning English (at least to A2 level) and the US history and legislation.

The fifth step is submitting a US citizenship application package.A standard package of documents includes the following:

  • Form N-400;

  • Green Card;

  • Photograph taken in the previous 6 months;

  • Receipt for the payment of the state fee.

The sixth step is biometrics and interview: time and place for biometrics (fingerprints and photo) will be scheduled. Then you will receive an invitation for an interview and the U.S. Citizenship Test on your knowledge of American history and laws.

The seventh step is taking an oath. Provided your application is approved, you get a certificate of naturalisation after taking the oath of allegiance to the United States and the national laws.

Refusals are possible. There may also be requests for additional documents. In case of a failed Civics Test, you can retake it. Fortunately, there is no limit to the number of attempts.

It could take quite a long time to obtain US citizenship. How long depends on various factors such as the overall workload of the immigration service, the status of the applicant and the fulfilment of all the conditions.

Obtaining US citizenship is an important step towards realising your dream of living in this diverse and dynamic country. To ensure that it is not shattered by misunderstanding of some requirements or failure to fulfil all the conditions, it makes sense to seek help from qualified professionals.

At Imperial & Legal, we have immigration lawyers with extensive experience and many successful applications for US citizenship. They will help you avoid mistakes and maximise your chances of getting US citizenship.

FAQs about US citizenship

How long will it take to become a US citizen?

There is no specific timeframe. It depends greatly on the state, place of application, workload of the immigration service, and successful passing of the tests. On average, it takes 6 to 12 months to process an application.

How much does it cost to get US citizenship?

The total cost of the application is $725, of which the state fee is $640 and the biometrics fee is $85. Please note that people over the age of 75 do not need to submit their biometrics, so they do not pay the biometrics fee.

What will be tested in the U.S. Civics Test?

There are three steps to test your proficiency:

  • Reading in English.

  • Writing in English.

  • During an interview, an immigration officer checks how you speak and how well you understand English by ear.

You will have three attempts for each stage.

The US Civics (history and government) Test consists of 10 questions. You pass the test if you give 6 correct answers.

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