Citizenship and Naturalization

Law Resource Links, Maryland

There are four ways to become a United States citizen:

  • By birth in the United States: Anyone born within the jurisdictional boundaries of the U.S. is automatically a U.S. citizen.
  • Acquisition of Citizenship at birth outside the United States: Someone born outside of the U.S. may have acquired U.S. citizenship at birth if:
    • Both of their parents were U.S. citizens at the time of their birth, and at least one of them resided in the U.S. for any length of time before their birth OR
    • One of their parents was a U.S. citizen at the time of their birth and was physically present in the U.S. for 5 years before their birth. IF they were born before November 14, 1986, the U.S. citizen parent must have been present in the U.S. at least 10 years before their birth
  • By Naturalization of Parents. Even if you were born outside the U.S., you might become a U.S. citizen automatically when either or both of your parents are “naturalized” (become U.S. citizens) if:
    • You were under 18 years of age and were a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) of the U.S. when your parent was naturalized; AND
    • One of your parents is a U.S. citizen, and one is an alien, and your alien parent is naturalized, or if both of your parents are naturalized at the same time.
  • Naturalization after becoming a permanent resident The requirements for a permanent resident to become a U.S. citizen are:
    • Age: The applicant must be at least 18 years old. There are special waivers for applicants who are less than 18 years old.
    • Lawful Permanent resident: An applicant for naturalization must be a lawful permanent resident; this is not the same thing as simply being a permanent resident. The “lawful” is essential since anyone who has obtained permanent residence by fraud, misrepresentation, or government error is not eligible for naturalization.
    • Residence and Physical Presence:
      • continuous lawful residence in the U.S. for 5 years: This means the applicant must have their principal dwelling place in the U.S. for at least 4 years and 9 months immediately before applying for naturalization (the law permits USCIS to receive an application that is filed 3 months before the 5th year). A trip for 1 year or more disrupts the applicant’s continuity of residence. A trip outside the U.S. for 6 months or more disrupts the continuity of residence unless the applicant can prove that they did not abandon their residence.
      • Physical presence in the U.S. for half of the 5 years (or 913 days) before applying for naturalization
      • Local Residence for 3 months: Before applying, an applicant must have resided in the state or USCIS district where they are filing for naturalization for at least three. This does not apply if the applicant was abroad for less than 3 months or is applying early (3 months before the 5 years required period).
  • Good Moral Character Generally, naturalization applicants must show that they are people of good morals and character for 5 years (three years if married to a U.S. citizen or requesting expedited naturalization for service in the Armed Forces. An applicant cannot be naturalized if they have been convicted of murder or an aggravated felony.
  • English Language: An applicant for naturalization must demonstrate their ability to read, write, speak and understand the English language. The following may be exempt from this requirement:
    • Applicants who have been residing in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for 15 years or more and are over 55 years of age (55/15 rule);
    • Applicants who have been residing in the U.S. as lawful permanent residents for 20 years or more and are over 50 years of age (50/20 rule); or
    • Applicants who have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, and the impairment affects the applicant’s ability to learn English
  • Knowledge of U.S. Government and History Applicants for naturalization must demonstrate knowledge and understanding of basic U.S. history and government. The applicants will be expected to 6 out of 10 questions drawn from a list of 100 questions. The 100 questions and answers are readily available on the USCIS website ( Applicants 65 years old and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years are given a modified list of easy questions.
  • Oath of Allegiance Applicants for naturalization must take the oath of allegiance. By this oath, they swear to:
    • Support the constitution and obey the laws of the United States
    • Renounce any foreign allegiances and/foreign title
    • Bear arms for the Armed Forces of the United States or perform services for the government of the United States if required to do so


If you are not already a U.S. citizen, we can help you become one if you qualify. The process of obtaining citizenship in the U.S. can appear or be simple in some instances but can be quite complex in others. U.S. citizenship comes with many benefits, and if you are trying to secure these, you need to make sure that your application process goes smoothly. We are here to help.