Naturalization is the immigration process for a person not born in the United States to voluntarily become a U.S. citizen. A green card holder (permanent resident) may apply for citizenship five years after obtaining permanent residence (3 years if the permanent residence was obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen).
Some of the benefits to U.S. citizenship include: (1) travel with a U.S. passport; (2) apply for federal jobs including public office; (3) vote in elections; (4) serve on a jury; (5) protection from immigration removal; (6) preference in applying for permanent residence for family members; and (7) estate tax benefits to surviving spouse and beneficiaries of your estate.
The U.S. does not require you to abandon your foreign citizenship. However, some countries require you to give up your foreign citizenship if you become a U.S. citizen.
Applying for citizenship is not required. A person may choose to maintain permanent residence status indefinitely and never choose to become a U.S. citizen. Neither is citizenship automatic — you must meet certain requirements to apply for citizenship. Some of the most common requirements include:
- Continuous residence in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years immediately before applying for citizenship (or at least 3 years if permanent residence was obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen);
- Physical presence in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately before applying for citizenship (or at least 18 months of the 3 years if permanent residence was obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen);
- The ability to read, write, and speak basic English;
- A basic understanding of U.S. history and government (civics);
- Adherence to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.