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Introduction What is Citizenship? What Does It Take to Be a U.S. Citizen? Becoming a Citizen Alone We Are Free! Creating a Community Acting Like a Citizen The Matching Game Power for the People Civil Yet Disobedient Is This Civil Disobedience or Isn't It? Demonstrating an Opinion Citizens' Rights Balancing the Scales More Scales to Balance

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What is Citizenship? Attitudes and Actions Responsible Citizenship Communicating Keeping Freedom What Do You Think?

What Does It Take to Become a U.S. Citizen?

You can become an U.S. citizen by birth, through a process called "naturalization," through "derivative citizenship," or through "acquired citizenship." 


A process where you show Immigration – the government agency that regulates questions of citizenship --  that you meet certain legal requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen is called "naturalization." 

You must have "good moral character" to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.  This does not necessarily mean the same as a "good person," as opposed to a "bad person."  This is only a legal phrase.  You might know a person whom you think of as a "good person" but Immigration might consider this person to lack "good moral character" and deny him or her citizenship.  “Good moral character” is not the only requirement for naturalization.  Find a complete list of the other general requirements for naturalization at:

If a person meets all the naturalization requirements, they can apply for naturalization.  Immigration will send out an interview notice several months after the naturalization application is filed.  During the interview, Immigration will go over the application to make sure the citizenship answers are correct.  English skills and an understanding of U.S. history and government are tested.  If either the English or U.S. history or government tests are failed, a second interview will be scheduled 3 months later to allow more time to study.  If the second interview is failed, citizenship will be denied.  Filing again is acceptable, but fees will need to be paid once again. 

If the tests are passed during the first or second interview, Immigration will set an appointment to be "sworn in" as a U.S. citizen.  This appointment might take several months, but once a person is sworn in, they are a citizen of the United States.

If you are in, or have been in, active duty service in the U.S. Armed Forces, you will want to find out more about the naturalization requirements and if any of the exceptions to the requirements might apply to you. 

Derivative Citizenship

Through their parents' naturalization, some children become U.S. citizens automatically, or "derivatively."  Laws about "derivative citizenship" vary depending upon the date the parent(s) were naturalized.

Children become U.S. citizens derivatively through their parents' naturalization as long as all of the following requirements are met before the child's 18th birthday. 

    • At least one parent is a U.S. citizen,
    • The child is under 18 years of age, and
    • The child is admitted to the United States as an immigrant.

Acquired Citizenship

A child might have "acquired" U.S. citizenship at birth without knowing, or without the parents knowing, if they were born outside the United States and either parent was a U.S. citizen when the child was born.  This might also be true even if neither parent was born in the United States, but one or more of the grandparents were.  This is an extremely complicated area of immigration law.

There are many benefits in becoming a U.S. Citizen.  For more detailed information about how to become a U.S. citizen, visit:  This site will describe everything from the naturalization process, how to become a U.S. citizen, tips on the U.S. Citizenship test, Immigration laws, and more. 

See how prepared you are to take a 100-question citizenship test. Complete the attached worksheet and enter your answers in the text boxes provided.

After completing the attached worksheet, discuss your answers with your teacher and classmates.


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  There are only two ways to become a U.S. citizen: either by law, or by birth.If you are a citizen by birth, no action on your part is generally required (for example, if you were born in a state or territory of the United States), unless you were born to a U.S. citizen parent overseas, and your birth was not recorded as a U.S. citizen birth at a U.S. consulate overseas. If you are not, then you will probably seek to become one by naturalization, an administrative process that requires you to take some action and which is strictly governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

*Citizenship section select ideas derived from Citizenship, Learning to Live as Responsible Citizens, published by Good Apple, Inc.

The Dirksen Congressional CenterCopyright 2008