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Citizenship of the United States

Citizenship of the United States

Citizenship of the United States[2][3] is a status that entails specific rights, duties and benefits. Citizenship is understood as a "right to have rights" since it serves as a foundation of fundamental rights derived from and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, such as the rights to freedom of expression, vote, due process, live and work in the United States, and to receive federal assistance.[4][5] The implementation of citizenship requires attitudes including allegiance to the republic, participation, and an impulse to promote communities.[6] Certain rights are so fundamental that they are guaranteed to all persons, not just citizens. These include those rights guaranteed by the first 8 Amendments that pertain to individuals. However, not all U.S. citizens, such as those living in Puerto Rico, have the right to vote in federal elections.

There are two primary sources of citizenship: birthright citizenship, in which a person is presumed to be a citizen if he or she was born within the territorial limits of the United States, or—providing certain other requirements are met—born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent,[7][8] and naturalization, a process in which an eligible legal immigrant applies for citizenship and is accepted.[9] These two pathways to citizenship are specified in the Citizenship Clause of the Constitution's 1868 Fourteenth Amendment which reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.— 14th Amendment

National citizenship signifies membership in the country as a whole; state citizenship, in contrast, signifies a relation between a person and a particular state and has application generally limited to domestic matters. State citizenship may affect (1) tax decisions and (2) eligibility for some state-provided benefits such as higher education and (3) eligibility for state political posts such as U.S. senator.

In Article One of the Constitution, the power to establish a "uniform rule of naturalization" is granted explicitly to Congress.

U.S. law permits multiple citizenship. Citizens of other countries who are naturalized as U.S. citizens may retain their previous citizenship, though they must renounce allegiance to the other country. A U.S. citizen retains U.S. citizenship when becoming the citizen of another country, should that country's laws allow it. U.S. citizenship can be renounced by Americans who also hold another citizenship via a formal procedure at a U.S. embassy.[10][11]

Rights, duties, and benefits


  • Freedom to reside and work. United States citizens have the inalienable right to reside and work in the United States. Certain non-citizens, such as lawful permanent residents, have similar rights; however, non-citizens, unlike citizens, may have the right taken away. For example, they may be deported if convicted of a serious crime.[12]

  • Freedom to enter and leave the United States. United States citizens have the right to enter and leave the United States freely. Certain non-citizens, such as permanent residents, have similar rights. Unlike permanent residents, U.S. citizens do not have an obligation to maintain residence in the U.S. – they can leave for any length of time and return freely at any time.

  • Voting for federal office in all fifty states and the District of Columbia is restricted to citizens only. States are not required to extend the franchise to all citizens: for example, several states bar citizen felons from voting, even after they have completed any custodial sentence. The United States Constitution bars states from restricting citizens from voting on grounds of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, failure to pay any tax, or age (for citizens who are at least eighteen years old). Historically, many states and local jurisdictions have allowed non-citizens to vote; however, today this is limited to local elections in very few places. Citizens are not compelled to vote.

  • Freedom to stand for public office. The United States Constitution requires that all members of the United States House of Representatives have been citizens for seven years, and that all senators have been citizens for nine years, before taking office. Most states have similar requirements: for example California requires that legislators have been citizens for three years, and the Governor has been a citizen for five years, upon taking office. The U.S. Constitution requires that one be "a natural born Citizen" and a U.S. resident for fourteen years in order to be president of the United States or vice president of the United States. The Constitution also stipulates that otherwise eligible citizens must meet certain age requirements for these offices.

  • Right to apply for federal employment. Many federal government jobs require applicants to have U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens can apply for federal employment within a government agency or department.[13]


  • Jury duty is only imposed upon citizens. Jury duty may be considered the "sole differential obligation" between non-citizens and citizens; the federal and state courts "uniformly exclude non-citizens from jury pools today, and with the exception of a few states in the past, this has always been the case".[14]

  • Military participation is not currently required in the United States, but a policy of conscription of men has been in place at various times (both in war and in peace) in American history, most recently during the Vietnam War. Currently, the United States Armed Forces are a professional all-volunteer force, although both male U.S. citizens and male non-citizen permanent residents are required to register with the Selective Service System and may be called up in the event of a future draft. Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg writes, "The professional military has limited the need for citizen soldiers."[5]

  • Taxes. In the United States today, everyone except those whose income is derived from tax-exempt revenue (Subchapter N, Section 861 of the U.S. Tax Code) is required to file a federal income tax return. American citizens are subject to federal income tax on worldwide income regardless of their country of residence.[15]

  • Census. A response to the decennial census is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and by Title 13 of the United States Code of all residents.


  • Consular protection outside the United States. While traveling abroad, if a person is arrested or detained by foreign authorities, the person can request to speak to somebody from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Consular officials can provide resources for Americans incarcerated abroad, such as a list of local attorneys who speak English. The U.S. government may even intervene on the person's behalf.[16] Non-citizen U.S. nationals also have this benefit.

  • Increased ability to sponsor relatives living abroad.[16] Several types of immigrant visas require that the person requesting the visa be directly related to a U.S. citizen. Having U.S. citizenship facilitates the granting of IR and F visas to family members.

  • Ability to invest in U.S. real property without triggering FIRPTA. Perhaps the only quantifiable economic benefit of U.S. citizenship, citizens are not subject to additional withholding tax on income and capital gains derived from U.S. real estate under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA).

  • Transmission of U.S. citizenship to children born abroad. Generally, children born to two U.S. citizen parents abroad are automatically U.S. citizens at birth. When the parents are one U.S. citizen and one non-U.S. citizen, certain conditions about the U.S. citizen's parent's length of time spent in the U.S. need to be met.[17] See United States nationality law for more details. Non-citizen U.S. nationals also have a similar benefit (transmission of non-citizen U.S. nationality to children born abroad).

  • Protection from deportation.[16][18] Naturalized U.S. citizens are no longer considered aliens and cannot be placed into deportation proceedings.

  • Other benefits. The USCIS sometimes honors the achievements of naturalized U.S. citizens. The Outstanding American by Choice Award was created by the USCIS to recognize the outstanding achievements of naturalized U.S. citizens, and past recipients include author Elie Wiesel who won the Nobel Peace Prize; Indra K. Nooyi who is CEO of PepsiCo; John Shalikashvili who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and others.[19] Further, citizenship status can affect which country an athlete can compete as a member of in competitions such as the Olympics.[20]

Civic participation

Civic participation is not required in the United States. There is no requirement to attend town meetings, belong to a political party, or vote in elections. However, a benefit of naturalization is the ability to "participate fully in the civic life of the country".[16] Moreover, to be a citizen means to be vitally important to politics and not ignored.[21] There is disagreement about whether popular lack of involvement in politics is helpful or harmful.

Vanderbilt professor Dana D. Nelson suggests that most Americans merely vote for president every four years, and sees this pattern as undemocratic. In her book Bad for Democracy, Nelson argues that declining citizen participation in politics is unhealthy for long term prospects for democracy.

However, writers such as Robert D. Kaplan in The Atlantic see benefits to non-involvement; he wrote "the very indifference of most people allows for a calm and healthy political climate".[22] Kaplan elaborated: "Apathy, after all, often means that the political situation is healthy enough to be ignored. The last thing America needs is more voters—particularly badly educated and alienated ones—with a passion for politics."[22] He argued that civic participation, in itself, is not always a sufficient condition to bring good outcomes, and pointed to authoritarian societies such as Singapore which prospered because it had "relative safety from corruption, from breach of contract, from property expropriation, and from bureaucratic inefficiency".[23]

Dual citizenship

A person who is considered a citizen by more than one nation has dual citizenship. It is possible for a United States citizen to have dual citizenship; this can be achieved in various ways, such as by birth in the United States to a parent who is a citizen of a foreign country (or in certain circumstances the foreign nationality may be transmitted even by a grandparent) by birth in another country to a parent(s) who is/are a United States citizen/s, or by having parents who are citizens of different countries. Anyone who becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen is required to renounce any prior "allegiance" to other countries during the naturalization ceremony;[24] however, this renunciation of allegiance is generally not considered renunciation of citizenship to those countries.[25]. The United States Department of State confirms on their website that a US citizen can hold dual nationality: "A U.S. citizen may naturalize in a foreign state without any risk to his or her U.S. citizenship"[26]

The earliest recorded instances of dual citizenship began before the French Revolution when the British captured American ships and forced them back to Europe. The British Crown considered subjects from the United States as British by birth and forced them to fight in the Napoleonic wars.[27]

Under certain circumstances there are relevant distinctions between dual citizens who hold a "substantial contact" with a country, for example by holding a passport or by residing in the country for a certain period of time, and those who do not. For example, under the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax (HEART) Act of 2008, U.S. citizens in general are subject to an expatriation tax if they give up U.S. citizenship, but there are exceptions (specifically 26 U.S.C. § 877A(g)(1)(b) [113] ) for those who are either under age 18½ upon giving up U.S. citizenship and have lived in the U.S. for less than ten years in their lives, or who are dual citizens by birth residing in their other country of citizenship at the time of giving up U.S. citizenship and have lived in the U.S. for less than ten out of the past fifteen years.[28] Similarly, the United States considers holders of a foreign passport to have a substantial contact with the country that issued the passport, which may preclude security clearance.

U.S. citizens are required by federal law to identify themselves with a U.S. passport, not with any other foreign passport, when entering or leaving the United States.[29] The Supreme Court case of Afroyim v. Rusk declared that a U.S. citizen did not lose his citizenship by voting in an election in a foreign country, or by acquiring foreign citizenship, if they did not intend to lose U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens who have dual citizenship do not lose their United States citizenship unless they renounce it officially.[30]

History of citizenship in the United States

Citizenship began in colonial times as an active relation between men working cooperatively to solve municipal problems and participating actively in democratic decision-making, such as in New England town hall meetings. Men met regularly to discuss local affairs and make decisions. These town meetings were described as the "earliest form of American democracy"[31] which was vital since citizen participation in public affairs helped keep democracy "sturdy", according to Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835.[32] A variety of forces changed this relation during the nation's history. Citizenship became less defined by participation in politics and more defined as a legal relation with accompanying rights and privileges. While the realm of civic participation in the public sphere has shrunk,[33][34][35] the citizenship franchise has been expanded to include not just propertied white adult men but black men[36] and adult women.[37]

Earlier on, U.S. citizenship was not given to people of Indian or East Asian descent. A. K. Mozumdar was the first person born in the Indian sub-continent to attain U.S. citizenship. A few years earlier, as a result of the 1898 United States v. Wong Kim Ark Supreme Court decision, ethnic Chinese born in the United States became citizens. During World War II, due to Japan's heavy involvement as an aggressor, it was decided to restrict many Japanese citizens from applying for U.S. citizenship, while Chinese citizens encountered no trouble, because of China's alliance with the United States.

The Equal Nationality Act of 1934 was an American law which allowed foreign-born children of American mothers and alien fathers who had entered America before age 18 and lived in America for five years to apply for American citizenship for the first time.[38] It also made the naturalization process quicker for American women's alien husbands.[38] This law equalized expatriation, immigration, naturalization, and repatriation between women and men.[38][39] However, it was not applied retroactively, and was modified by later laws, such as the Nationality Act of 1940.[38][40]

Birthright citizenship

U.S. citizenship is usually acquired by birth when a child is born within the territory of the United States. In addition to the 50 U.S. states, this includes the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.[41][42][43] Citizenship, however, was not specified in the original Constitution. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment specifically defined persons who were either born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction as citizens.[44][45] All babies born in the United States—except those born to enemy aliens in wartime or the children of foreign diplomats—enjoy U.S. citizenship under the Supreme Court's long-standing interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.[46] The amendment states: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."[47] There remains dispute as to who is "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States at birth.[48]

By acts of Congress, every person born in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands is a United States citizen by birth.[49] Also, every person born in the former Panama Canal Zone whose father or mother (or both) are or were a citizen is a United States citizen by birth.[50]

Regardless of where they are born, children of U.S. citizens are U.S. citizens in most cases. Children born outside the United States with at least one U.S. citizen parent usually have birthright citizenship by parentage.

A child of unknown parentage found in the US while under the age of 5 is considered a US citizen until proven, before reaching the age of 22, to have not been born in the US.[51]

While persons born in the United States are considered to be citizens and can have passports, children under age eighteen are legally considered to be minors and cannot vote or hold office. Upon the event of their eighteenth birthday, they are considered full citizens but there is no ceremony acknowledging this relation or any correspondence between the new citizen and the government to this effect. Citizenship is assumed to exist, and the relation is assumed to remain viable until death or until it is renounced or dissolved by some other legal process. Secondary schools teach the basics of citizenship and create "informed and responsible citizens" who are "skilled in the arts of effective deliberation and action."[52]

Americans who live in foreign countries and become members of other governments have, in some instances, been stripped of citizenship, although there have been court cases where decisions regarding citizenship have been reversed.[53]

Naturalized citizenship

Acts of Congress provide for acquisition of citizenship by persons born abroad.[54]

Agency in charge

The agency in charge of admitting new citizens is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, commonly abbreviated as USCIS.[55] It is a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. It offers web-based services.[56] The agency depends on application fees for revenue; in 2009, with a struggling economy, applications were down sharply, and consequently there was much less revenue to upgrade and streamline services.[56] There was speculation that if the administration of president Barack Obama passed immigration reform measures, then the agency could face a "welcome but overwhelming surge of Americans-in-waiting" and longer processing times for citizenship applications.[56] The USCIS has made efforts to digitize records.[57] A USCIS website says the "U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is committed to offering the best possible service to you, our customer"[58] and which says "With our focus on customer service, we offer you a variety of services both before and after you file your case."[58] The website allowed applicants to estimate the length of time required to process specific types of cases, to check application status, and to access a customer guide.[58] The USCIS processes cases in the order they're received.[58]

Pathways to citizenship

People applying to become citizens must satisfy certain requirements. For example, there have been requirements that applicants have been permanent residents for five years (three if married to a U.S. citizen), be of "good moral character" (meaning no felony convictions), be of "sound mind" in the judgment of immigration officials, have knowledge of the Constitution, and be able to speak and understand English unless they are elderly or disabled.[59] Applicants must also pass a simple citizenship test.[59] Until recently, a test published by the Immigration and Naturalization Service asked questions such as "How many stars are there in our flag?" and "What is the Constitution?" and "Who is the president of the United States today?"[59] At one point, the Government Printing Office sold flashcards for $8.50 to help test takers prepare for the test.[60] In 2006, the government replaced the former trivia test with a ten-question oral test designed to "shun simple historical facts about America that can be recounted in a few words, for more explanation about the principles of American democracy, such as freedom".[55] One reviewer described the new citizenship test as "thoughtful".[56] While some have criticized the new version of the test, officials counter that the new test is a "teachable moment" without making it conceptually more difficult, since the list of possible questions and answers, as before, will be publicly available.[55] Six correct answers constitutes a passing grade.[55] The new test probes for signs that immigrants "understand and share American values".[55] A unique way to become a permanent resident is to apply to the US government DV lottery. This program is a drawing for foreigners to apply for a drawing to become a permanent resident.[61]

  • Military participation is often a way for immigrant residents to become citizens. Since many people seek citizenship for its financial and social benefits, the promise of citizenship can be seen as a means of motivating persons to participate in dangerous activities such as fight in wars. For example, a 2009 article in The New York Times said that the United States Military was recruiting "skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas" by promising an opportunity to become citizens "in as little as six months" in exchange for service in Afghanistan and Iraq where US forces are "stretched thin".[62] The option was not open to illegal immigrants.[62] One estimate was that in 2009 the US military had 29,000 foreign-born people currently serving who were not American citizens.[62] Spouses of citizens or non-citizens who served in the military also have less difficulty becoming citizens. One analyst noted that "many immigrants, not yet citizens, have volunteered to serve in the United States military forces ... Some have been killed and others wounded ... Perhaps this can be seen as a cynical attempt to qualify more easily for U.S. citizenship ... But I think that service in the U.S. military has to be taken as a pretty serious commitment to the United States."[63] Immigrant soldiers who fight for the US often have an easier and faster path to citizenship.[64] In 2002, President Bush signed an executive order to eliminate the three-year waiting period and made service personnel immediately eligible for citizenship.[64] In 2003, Congress voted to "cut the waiting period to become a citizen from three years down to one year" for immigrants who had served in the armed forces.[64] In 2003, of 1.4 million service members, 37,000 active-duty members were not citizens, and of these, 20 percent had applied for citizenship.[64] By June 2003, 12 non-citizens had died fighting for the United States in the Iraqi war.[64] The military has had a tradition of "filling out its ranks" with aliens living in the U.S.[65] Non-citizens fought in World War II.[65] The military has struggled to "fill its depleted ranks" by recruiting more non-US citizens.[66]

  • Grandparent rule. Section 322 of the INA, added in 1994, enabled children of a U.S. citizen who did not get citizenship at birth, to use the physical presence period in the U.S. of a grandparent who was a citizen to qualify for U.S. citizenship.[67] Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, Section 322 was amended to extend also to children who generally reside outside the United States with a U.S. citizen parent, whether biological or adopted.[68] The child must be in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent, the child and parent must be lawfully present in the United States for the interview, and the child must take the oath of allegiance before the age of 18 years (for those 14 years or older). The application (Form N-600K) may only be submitted by the U.S. citizen parent, or by the grandparent or legal guardian within 5 years of the parent's death.[69] In 2006, there were 4,000 applications of citizenship using the physical presence of grandparents. Israelis comprise 90% of those taking advantage of the clause.[67]

Strong demand

According to a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, "citizenship is a very, very valuable commodity".[70] However, one study suggested legal residents eligible for citizenship, but who don't apply, tend to have low incomes (41 percent), do not speak English well (60 percent), or have low levels of education (25 percent).[16] There is strong demand for citizenship based on the number of applications filed.[70] From 1920 to 1940, the number of immigrants to the United States who became citizens numbered about 200,000 each year; there was a spike after World War II, and then the level reduced to about 150,000 per year until resuming to the 200,000 level beginning about 1980.[71] In the mid-1990s to 2009, the levels rose to about 500,000 per year with considerable variation.[71] In 1996, more than one million people became citizens through naturalization.[72] In 1997, there were 1.41 million applications filed; in 2006, 1.38 million.[70] The number of naturalized citizens in the United States rose from 6.5 million in the mid-1990s to 11 million in 2002.[73] By 2003, the pool of immigrants eligible to become naturalized citizens was 8 million, and of these, 2.7 million lived in California.[73] In 2003, the number of new citizens from naturalization was 463,204.[18] In 2007, the number was 702,589.[18] In 2007, 1.38 million people applied for citizenship creating a backlog.[70] In 2008, applications decreased to 525,786.[70]

Naturalization fees were $60 in 1989; $90 in 1991; $95 in 1994; $225 in 1999; $260 in 2002; $320 in 2003; $330 in 2005.[74] In 2007 application fees were increased from $330 to $595 and an additional $80 computerized fingerprinting fee was added.[70] The biometrics fee was increased to $85 in 2010. On December 23, 2016, the application fees were increased again from $595 to $640. The high fees have been criticized as putting up one more wall to citizenship.[55] Increases in fees for citizenship have drawn criticism.[75] Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and former Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner, doubted that fee increases deter citizenship-seekers.[70] In 2009, the number of immigrants applying for citizenship plunged 62 percent; reasons cited were the slowing economy and the cost of naturalization.[70]

Citizenship ceremonies

The citizenship process has been described as a ritual that is meaningful for many immigrants.[55] Many new citizens are sworn in during Independence Day ceremonies.[18] Most citizenship ceremonies take place at offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. However, one swearing-in ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in 2008. The judge who chose this venue explained: "I did it to honor our country's warriors and to give the new citizens a sense for what makes this country great."[76] According to federal law, citizenship applicants who are also changing their names must appear before a federal judge.[76]

Honorary citizenship

The title of "Honorary Citizen of the United States" has been granted eight times by an act of Congress or by a proclamation issued by the president pursuant to authorization granted by Congress. The eight individuals are Sir Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg, William Penn, Hannah Callowhill Penn, Mother Teresa, the Marquis de Lafayette, Casimir Pulaski, and Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Viscount of Galveston and Count of Gálvez.

Sometimes, the government awarded non-citizen immigrants who died fighting for American forces with the posthumous title of U.S. citizen, but this is not considered honorary citizenship.[64] In June 2003, Congress approved legislation to help families of fallen non-citizen soldiers.[64]

Corporate citizenship

There is a sense in which corporations can be considered "citizens". Since corporations are considered persons in the eyes of the law, it is possible to think of corporations as being like citizens. For example, the airline Virgin America asked the United States Department of Transportation to be treated as an American air carrier.[77] The advantage of "citizenship" is having the protection and support of the United States government when jockeying with foreign governments for access to air routes and overseas airports.[77] Alaska Airlines, a competitor of Virgin America, asked for a review of the situation; according to U.S. law, "foreign ownership in a U.S. air carrier is limited to 25% of the voting interest in the carrier," but executives at Virgin America insisted the airline met this requirement.[77]

For the purposes of diversity jurisdiction in the United States civil procedure, corporate citizenship is determined by the principal place of business of the corporation. There is some degree of disagreement among legal authorities as to how exactly this may be determined.

Another sense of "corporate citizenship" is a way to show support for causes such as social issues and the environment and, indirectly, gain a kind of "reputational advantage".[78]

Distinction between citizenship and nationality

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA) made a minor distinction between U.S. citizenship and U.S. nationality.[79] Citizenship comprises a larger set of privileges and rights for those persons that are U.S. citizens which is not afforded to individuals that are only U.S. nationals by virtue of their rights under the INA.[80] It is well-established that all U.S. citizens are U.S. nationals but not all U.S. nationals are U.S. citizens.[79]

The Naturalization Act of 1790 (1 Stat. 103 [114] ) provided the first rules to be followed by the United States in the granting of national citizenship after the ratification of the Constitution.[81] A number of other Acts and statutes followed the Act of 1790 that expanded or addressed specific situations but it was not until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Pub.L. 82–414 [115] , 66 Stat. 163 [116] , enacted June 27, 1952), codified under Title 8 of the United States Code (8 U.S.C. ch. 12 [117] ), that the variety of statutes governing citizenship law were organized within one single body of text.[82] The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 set forth the legal requirements for the acquisition of American nationality. The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) addressed citizenship rights. The United States nationality law, despite its "nationality" title, comprises the statutes that embody the law regarding both American citizenship and American nationality.

For example, as specified in 8 U.S.C. § 1408 [118] , a person whose only connection to the U.S. is through birth in an outlying possession (which, as of March 2015, was defined under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(29) [119] as American Samoa and Swains Island), or through descent from a person so born, acquires only U.S. nationality but not U.S. citizenship. Such person is said to be a non-citizen national of the United States.

American Samoans continue to be U.S. nationals but not U.S. citizens.[83] People born in American Samoa receive passports declaring the holder is only a U.S. national, not a U.S. citizen. For America Samoans to become U.S. citizens, they must relocate to another part of the United States, initiate the naturalization process, pay the $680 fee (as of February 11, 2014), pass a good moral character assessment, be fingerprinted and pass an English/civics examination.[84]

In addition, residents of the Northern Mariana Islands who automatically gained U.S. citizenship in 1986 as a result of the Covenant between the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. could elect instead to become U.S. noncitizen nationals if done within six months of the implementation of the Covenant or within six months of turning 18.[85]

The nationality status of a person born in an unincorporated U.S. Minor Outlying Island is not specifically mentioned by law, but under international law and Supreme Court dicta, they are also regarded as non-citizen nationals of the United States.[86]

Non-citizen nationals of the United States may reside and work in the United States without restrictions, and may apply for U.S. citizenship under the same rules as permanent U.S. residents. Both of these groups are not allowed to vote in federal or state elections, although there is no constitutional prohibition against their doing so. Every national of the United States statutorily transmits nationality to children born outside the United States.[87][88]

The U.S. passport issued to noncitizen nationals of the United States contains the endorsement code 9 which states: "The bearer is a United States national and not a United States citizen" on the annotations page.[89]


The issue of citizenship naturalization is a highly contentious matter in US politics, particularly regarding illegal immigrants. Candidates in the 2008 presidential election, such as Rudolph Giuliani, tried to "carve out a middle ground" on the issue of illegal immigration, but rivals such as John McCain advocated legislation requiring illegal immigrants to first leave the country before being eligible to apply as citizens.[90] Some measures to require proof of citizenship upon registering to vote have met with controversy.[91]

Controversy can arise when citizenship affects political issues. Whether to include questions about current citizenship status in the United States Census questions has been debated in the Senate.[59][92] Census data affects state electoral clout; it also affects budgetary allocations.[92] Including non-citizens in Census counts also shifts political power to states that have large numbers of non-citizens due to the fact that reapportionment of congressional seats is based on Census data.[93]

There have been controversies based on speculation about which way newly naturalized citizens are likely to vote. Since immigrants from many countries have been presumed to vote Democratic if naturalized, there have been efforts by Democratic administrations to streamline citizenship applications before elections to increase turnout; Republicans, in contrast, have exerted pressure to slow down the process.[94] In 1997, there were efforts to strip the citizenship of 5,000 newly approved immigrants who, it was thought, had been "wrongly naturalized"; a legal effort to do this presented enormous challenges.[94] An examination by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of 1.1 million people who were granted citizenship from September 1995 to September 1996 found 4,946 cases in which a criminal arrest should have disqualified an applicant or in which an applicant lied about his or her criminal history.[94] Before the 2008 election, there was controversy about the speed of the USCIS in processing applications; one report suggested that the agency would complete 930,000 applications in time for the newly processed citizens to vote in the November 2008 election.[95] Foreign-born naturalized citizens tend to vote at the same rates as natives. For example, in the state of New Jersey in the 2008 election, the foreign born represented 20.1% of the state's population of 8,754,560; of these, 636,000 were eighteen or older and hence eligible to vote; of eligible voters, 396,000 actually voted, which was about 62%.[96] So foreign-born citizens vote in roughly the same proportion (62%) as native citizens (67%).[96]

There has been controversy about the agency in charge of citizenship. The USCIS has been criticized as being a "notoriously surly, inattentive bureaucracy" with long backlogs in which "would-be citizens spent years waiting for paperwork".[56] Rules made by Congress and the federal government regarding citizenship are highly technical and often confusing, and the agency is forced to cope with enforcement within a complex regulatory milieu. There have been instances in which applicants for citizenship have been deported on technicalities.[97] One Pennsylvania doctor and his wife, both from the Philippines, who applied for citizenship, and one Mr. Darnell from Canada who was married to an American with two children from this marriage, ran afoul of legal technicalities and faced deportation.[97] The New York Times reported that "Mr. Darnell discovered that a 10-year-old conviction for domestic violence involving a former girlfriend, even though it had been reduced to a misdemeanor and erased from his public record, made him ineligible to become a citizen—or even to continue living in the United States."[97] Overworked federal examiners under pressure to make "quick decisions" as well as "weed out security risks" have been described as preferring "to err on the side of rejection".[97] In 2000, 399,670 applications were denied (about ​1⁄3 of all applications); in 2007, 89,683 applications for naturalization were denied, about 12% of those presented.[97]

Generally, eligibility for citizenship is denied for the millions of people living in the United States illegally, although from time to time, there have been amnesties. In 2006, there were mass protests numbering hundreds of thousands of people throughout the US demanding U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants.[98] Many carried banners which read "We Have A Dream Too".[98] One estimate is that there were 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2006.[98] Many American high school students have citizenship issues.[99] In 2008, it was estimated that there were 65,000 illegal immigrant students.[99] The number was less clear for post-secondary education. A 1982 Supreme Court decision entitled illegal immigrants to free education from kindergarten through high school.[99] Undocumented immigrants who get arrested face difficulties in the courtroom as they have no constitutional right to challenge the outcome of their deportation hearings.[100] In 2009, writer Tom Barry of the Boston Review criticized the crackdown against illegal immigrants since it "flooded the federal courts with nonviolent offenders, besieged poor communities, and dramatically increased the U.S. prison population, while doing little to solve the problem itself".[101] Barry criticized the United States' high incarceration rate as being "fives times greater than the average rate in the rest of the world".[101] Virginia senator Jim Webb agreed that "we are doing something dramatically wrong in our criminal justice system".[101]

Relinquishment of citizenship

U.S. citizens can relinquish their citizenship, which involves abandoning the right to reside in the United States and all the other rights and responsibilities of citizenship.[102] "Relinquishment" is the legal term covering all seven different potentially-expatriating acts (ways of giving up citizenship) under 8 U.S.C. § 1481(a) [120] . "Renunciation" refers to two of those acts: swearing an oath of renunciation before a U.S. diplomatic or consular officer abroad, or before an official designated by the attorney general within the United States during a state of war.[103] Out of an estimated three to six million U.S. citizens residing abroad, between five and six thousand relinquished citizenship each year in 2015 and 2016.[104] U.S. nationality law treats people who performs potentially-expatriating acts with intent to give up U.S. citizenship as ceasing to be U.S. citizens from the moment of the act, but U.S. tax law since 2004 treats such individuals as though they remain U.S. citizens until they notify the State Department and apply for a Certificate of Loss of Nationality (CLN).[105]

Renunciation requires an oath to be sworn before a State Department officer and thus involves in-person attendance at an embassy or consulate, but applicants for CLNs on the basis of other potentially-expatriating acts must attend an in-person interview as well. During the interview, a State Department official assesses whether the person acted voluntarily, intended to abandon all rights of U.S. citizenship, and understands the consequences of their actions. The State Department strongly recommends that Americans intending to relinquish citizenship have another citizenship, but will permit Americans to make themselves stateless if they understand the consequences.[103] There is a $2,350 administrative fee for the process.[106] In addition, an expatriation tax is imposed on some individuals relinquishing citizenship, but payment of the tax is not a legal prerequisite for relinquishing citizenship; rather, the tax and its associated forms are due on the normal tax due date of the year following relinquishment of citizenship.[107] State Department officials do not seek to obtain any tax information from the interviewee, and instruct the interviewee to contact the IRS directly with any questions about taxes.[108]

Revocation of citizenship

Citizenship can be revoked under certain circumstances.[109] For instance, if held that a naturalized person has concealed material evidence, wilfully misrepresented themselves, not disclosed being a member of certain political parties like the Communist Party of America or the Nazi party, etc. then they may have their naturalization revoked.

A citizen may also lose US citizenship when they perform such expatriating acts like seeking office in a foreign state.[110] Generally, the higher office and more important role a citizen holds in a foreign government, the more at risk the US citizenship will be: "Serving as a foreign head of state/government or foreign minister may affect the level of immunity from U.S. jurisdiction that a dual national may be afforded. All such cases should be referred to the Office of the Assistant Legal Adviser for Consular Affairs."[110]

From September 22, 1922 to the passage of Nationality Act of 1940, a woman holding US citizenship could lose it simply by marriage to an alien or certain aliens ineligible for citizenship[111][112]

See also

  • Accidental American

  • Anchor baby

  • Birth tourism

  • Birthright citizenship in the United States of America

  • Birthright generation

  • Citizenship (general discussion for all nations)

  • Citizenship education

  • DREAM Act

  • History of citizenship

  • Jus soli

  • Natural born citizen of the United States

  • Undocumented students in the United States

  • Undocumented youth in the United States

  • United States nationality law


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