One becomes a citizen by being born in the U.S., by being born abroad to parents who are U.S. citizens, or by U.S. naturalization law. Being a citizen of the U.S. accords a number of benefits not granted to lawful permanent residents. A citizen has the right to vote and to hold public office. He may qualify for various jobs for which permanent residents are barred - many aerospace and defense jobs, federal government jobs and employment as a peace officer.

A citizen is able to petition for permanent residence for his spouse, parents, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters, whether they are single or married. Permanent residents are restricted to petitioning for their spouses and unmarried sons and daughters.

Also, a citizen enjoys the travel privileges that a U.S. Passport makes possible - and, unlike permanent residence, citizenship is very difficult to revoke (at least after two years after naturalization).

Requirements For Naturalization

Obtaining citizenship through the U.S naturalization law requires that the applicant meet the following requirements:

1. Residence/Physical Presence

In general, applicants for naturalization must be permanent residents of the U.S. who have resided in the U.S. as greencard holders for a minimum of five years. Those who are married to U.S. citizens or have served in the armed forces of the U.S. may, under certain conditions, qualify for citizenship through naturalization law after only three years of residency. The residency requirement is waived altogether for certain members of the armed forces who have served during period of hostilities, for spouses of U.S. citizens working abroad for the government or other designated employers, and for children who are petitioned by a parent.

The naturalization law requires that the an applicant be physically present in the U.S. for at least half the period of the residency period that applies to his case.

2. Loyalty

The applicant must renounce his allegiance to his country of birth and pledge loyalty to the U.S. However, despite this renounciation, many other countries recognize dual citizenship, such as Canada and Great Britain.

3. Good Moral Character

Each applicant is required to submit a completed fingerprint chart and an application listing biographical information to the INS. The fingerprint is sent to the FBI which notifies the INS whether the applicant has a criminal record. Applicants with a serious criminal record and those who obtained their green cards through false pretenses may not be able to establish good moral character and may even be susceptible to deportation.

4. English

An applicant must be able to speak, read, write, and understand simple words and phrases in the English language. Some longtime, elderly permanent residents and applicants with certain disabilities are exempt from the English requirement.

5. History & Government

Under the naturalization law, applicants are also required to pass a short examination regarding the history and government of the U.S.