Immigrants, Refugees, and U.S. Citizenship: Knowing Your Eligibility to Apply for Citizenship


Obtaining citizenship in the United States is a lengthy process. However, becoming a U.S. citizen comes with significant privileges, rights, and benefits that make them the most popular country in the world for immigrants to migrate to. The country makes up 19% of the world’s total migrant population, with over 51 million migrants residing in different areas in the United States.

Not only is the United States attractive for migrants, but a significant number of refugees come to the country every year in search of protection for themselves and their families, security, and more opportunities that they cannot find in their country of origin. While the application process can take a lot of time, effort, and money, this doesn’t deter most foreigners from filing that application.

Before familiarizing yourself with the application process, it’s important to determine whether you’re eligible for citizenship and what category you may fall under.


The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that any child that is born in the United States or within its territories, such as Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, gets automatically granted U.S. citizenship. This law still takes effect even if his or her parents are not U.S. citizens. This may be the simplest way to obtain citizenship status, especially since most Americans are born within the country or its territories.

On the other hand, for foreigners interested in applying for U.S. citizenship, the following categories are likely to be a better solution.


Citizenship through acquisition usually applies to those who can still acquire citizenship despite being born outside of the country. Several conditions must be met before this can take effect, including:

One of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen.

  • One of the parents must be a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth.
  • The child must have been born on or after November 14, 1986.
  • The child’s parents also need to have been married when the child was born.
  • One or both parents should have been residing in the United States or its territories before the child’s birth.
  • The parent who is the citizen must have been physically present in the United States or its territories at least five years before the child was born, two years of which should be after his or her 14th birthday.

The conditions can also depend on when the child was born and whether the child was born in or out of wedlock.

Both of the child’s parents are U.S. citizens.

  • The requirements for this condition are the same as when one of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen, the only difference being that this doesn’t require being physically present in the country two to five years before the child’s birth.

You may find that you’ll eventually need to get documentation that shows that the child obtained his or her citizenship through this method. You can do this by filing for a Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600). Since the laws have changed regularly over the past years, one may need to look at which law applies to the child considering the year they were born. This process can get confusing, so if you find yourself unsure about how to go about this, consider getting in contact with an immigration lawyer who can help you make sense of the details and ensure an easier application process.


Naturalization takes place when a foreign-born individual, or one who is born outside of the United States, voluntarily chooses to become a U.S. citizen. This is one of the most common ways for foreigners to become U.S. citizens and is often granted to those who have been residing in the United States as a permanent resident for a significant amount of time. However, this can depend on a few conditions.

First, applicants need to be at least 18 years old to be able to apply for citizenship through naturalization and must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Resided in the U.S. as a permanent resident for five years
  • Resided in the U.S. as a permanent resident for three years and has been living with a spouse who is a U.S. citizen for at least three years
  • Has served in the U.S. Armed Forces

If you qualify for any one of these categories, you can file for an Application for Naturalization (N-400).


When a parent is a U.S. citizen through naturalization, a child under the age of 18 and still living with them can automatically derive their citizenship and won’t need to go through the naturalization process as long as they are permanent residents as well. They can qualify for this method of citizenship if they meet the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age and were born outside the United States
  • Has permanent resident status
  • At least one of his or her parents must be a U.S. citizen
  • Resides in the U.S. in the physical and legal custody of his or her U.S. citizen parent

The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is a lengthy and tedious one that not only takes up a big chunk of time and money. Doing your research and knowing your eligibility status can also help make the process easier. If you find yourself unsure how to start the process, consider enlisting the help of professionals who can make it easier and simpler to understand.