If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Who is eligible for naturalization?

What requirements must an immigrant meet in order to be eligible for naturalization in the United States? Created by Kimberly Kutz.

Want to join the conversation?

No posts yet.

Video transcript

- [Narrator] In this video, we're going to cover what criteria a non citizen must meet to become a citizen. A process we call naturalization. Some of the requirements are obvious and verifiable while others are tested through the naturalization process. There are nine requirements that an immigrant must meet before they can apply for naturalization. And four of the first five all have to do with how long an applicant has lived in the United States. First, they have to be 18 years old. Does this mean that children can't become citizens? No, but they can't apply on their own. If their parent or parents apply for naturalization, a child can inherit their parent's citizenship if they make it through the process. Second, the applicant has to have been a permanent resident for at least five years, unless they're married to an American citizen then it's only three years. So this means that undocumented immigrants and foreign diplomats are not eligible for naturalization. Third, they have to show that they've lived in the US customs and immigration services district they've been living in when they applied for at least three months. There are 26 US CIS districts which also include US territories. Fourth, they have to have lived in the United States continuously for at least five years. A green card holder can leave for short periods of time, but if they've lived outside the United States for more than six months, they could compromise their eligibility for naturalization. Included in that is the fifth requirement that they have to have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years of residency they maintained before they file their application for naturalization. These five cover the residency requirements for naturalization, but there are four other requirements that are verified during the naturalization process itself. If you remember the steps of the naturalization process, you should remember that at one point, a person seeking naturalization needs to meet with a US CIS official for an interview. and to take the naturalization test. It's during this step that the US CIS official tests the applicant on the next two requirements, their ability to understand English and their knowledge of US history and government. The federal government requires that all naturalized citizens can read, write, speak and understand conversational English. The interview itself serves as the test for the speaking portion. And after the interview, the applicant has to read one out of three chosen sentences correctly. And for the writing test, the applicant will write an English sentence provided by the interviewer. Following the English portion, the interviewer asks 10 questions about US history and government and the applicant must answer at least six correctly. Some examples of questions that an interviewer can ask are, how many amendments does the constitution have? Or, who's in charge of the executive branch? Then there are only two requirements left, and they're the hardest to verify because they aren't entirely obvious. The eighth requirement for naturalization is that you have to be a person of good moral character. Trying to determine a person's character is hard to do. Do you think you could get a good grasp of a person's character in an interview that lasts a few hours or reading an application they filled out? The way the government determines moral character is by looking to see if an applicant has a criminal history, but that isn't exactly foolproof. They can look into American criminal databases, but they don't have access to other countries' criminal records. US CIS often has to rely on self reporting. And while it is rare for someone with a criminal history to make it through the naturalization process, it has been known to happen. The final requirement is that the applicant has to demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the US Constitution. This means that an applicant has to prove that they would actively support the constitution and support a democratic form of government. If someone is hostile to the form of government in the United States, they cannot become a citizen. One way that a person proves this is by agreeing to take an oath of allegiance in a public ceremony. In this oath, they must promise to renounce all foreign allegiance, though that does not mean they have to give up their citizenship to other countries and promise to give full allegiance to the United States, its constitution and its laws. They must also promise to perform all duties and obligations of citizenship including defending the country when called upon. So now that we've covered all of the requirements, let's go through an example to see if you can determine whether an immigrant is eligible for citizenship or not. Lorenzo has lived most of his life in Italy, but now he wants to become a US citizen. He came to the United States three years ago and has been a legal resident ever since. He has never been in trouble with the law, either in the United States or in Italy. He enjoys owning his own home and living in a friendly neighborhood. Lorenzo is 25 years old, speaks English very well and has recently taken a class at a local community college on US history for new citizens. He filled out his naturalization application form last week. So let's check off all of the requirements that Lorenzo does have. Take a second and pause this video to try and figure it out on your own first. All right, so Lorenzo is 25 years old so he meets the minimum age requirement. He's only been a permanent resident for three years and he's not married to a US citizen so he doesn't meet the residency requirement. He's lived in Portland for three years so he meets the third and fifth requirements, but he doesn't meet the fourth requirement. Lorenzo can speak English very well and took a class on US history for new immigrants so we can assume that he can pass both portions of the naturalization test. And since he's never been in any legal trouble, we'll put a check mark next to him having good moral character. We can't exactly tell if he's attached to the principles and ideals of the US Constitution so we'll put a question mark next to that requirement. All right, given all this information, do you think Lorenzo is eligible to apply for naturalization? If you answered no, you're correct. Even though Lorenzo meets a lot of the requirements, he doesn't meet all of them and eligibility is an all or nothing type deal. He has to meet all nine requirements before he can apply. In the next video, we'll cover some of the challenges of the naturalization process.