Understanding the Path to Citizenship: What It Means to Be a Naturalized or Derived Citizen

Understanding the Path to Citizenship: What It Means to Be a Naturalized or Derived Citizen

The journey to becoming a citizen of a country can be complex and filled with various legal steps. In the United States, there are primarily two ways through which an individual can acquire citizenship: naturalization and derivation. This article explores the nuances of both paths, providing a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a naturalized or derived citizen.

Naturalization: A Step-by-Step Guide

Naturalization is the process through which a foreign citizen or national can become a U.S. citizen after meeting certain requirements set by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Eligibility Requirements

  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing.
  • Be a permanent resident (have a “Green Card”) for at least 5 years.
  • Have lived within the state or USCIS district with jurisdiction over your place of residence for at least 3 months prior to the application.
  • Have continuous residence in the United States as a Green Card holder for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application.
  • Be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application.
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government (civics).
  • Be a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law.

The Naturalization Process

  1. Prepare and submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
  2. Go through the biometrics appointment, if applicable.
  3. Complete the interview.
  4. Receive a decision from USCIS on your Form N-400.
  5. Receive a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance.
  6. Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
  7. Understand your rights and responsibilities as a U.S. citizen.

Derived Citizenship: Through Parents

Derived citizenship refers to acquiring U.S. citizenship through the naturalization of parents or, in some cases, the citizenship status of parents at the time of the child’s birth.

Acquisition of Citizenship at Birth

Children born outside of the United States may acquire citizenship at birth if one or both parents were U.S. citizens at the time of the child’s birth and met certain physical presence requirements in the United States prior to the child’s birth.

Acquisition of Citizenship after Birth

Children who did not automatically acquire citizenship at birth may become citizens after birth if:

  • At least one parent is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization.
  • The child is under 18 years of age.
  • The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent based on a lawful admission for permanent residence.

Comparing Naturalized and Derived Citizenship

Aspect Naturalized Citizenship Derived Citizenship
Method of Acquisition Through application and meeting eligibility requirements. Through the citizenship status of parents.
Age Requirement At least 18 years old. No age limit, but must be under 18 for certain provisions.
Residency Requirement Must have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years. Varies, but child must reside in the U.S. in legal custody of U.S. citizen parent.
Physical Presence Requirement Must be physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of 5 years. Parent(s) must meet certain physical presence requirements before child’s birth or before child turns 18.
Language and Civics Test Required. Not applicable.


Understanding the path to U.S. citizenship is crucial for those who wish to embark on this journey. Whether through naturalization or derivation, the process involves strict adherence to legal requirements and procedures. By familiarizing oneself with the eligibility criteria and process, applicants can navigate their path to citizenship more effectively, contributing to their personal and the nation’s collective future.