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Methods of Acquiring Citizenship – Naturalization – An Overview

Late in the 1700s, the United States Congress first enacted legislation allowing aliens to become U.S. citizens if they met certain requirements relating to U.S. residence, good moral character, and attachment to the U.S. Although the requirements for naturalization have been refined and certain exemptions have been made, the criteria for naturalization, at their core, are still designed to ensure three things: (1) loyalty to the U.S.; (2) attachment to the U.S. form of government; and (3) worthiness to become a U.S. citizen.


There are both objective and subjective requirements for naturalization. The foremost objective requirement is that the alien applying for naturalization has resided in the U.S. legally for a prescribed period of time. Immigration laws provide detailed residence requirements, and different types of absence from the U.S., such as absences as a seaman and absences for longer than one year, are treated differently. The remaining objective requirements are that the applicant is of the requisite mental capacity and age and that he or she has the requisite English literacy and knowledge of U.S. history and government.



The subjective criteria are that the alien has good moral character and that he or she holds an allegiance to the U.S. Good moral character must be maintained during the required period of residence in the U.S., although events that took place before that time period may be considered if they bear on present moral character. Some evidence, such as a conviction for murder, absolutely bars a finding of good moral character, rendering an applicant ineligible for naturalization. Others, such as the failure to register for the Selective Service, are only evidence that may be considered in the determination.



The second subjective criterion is that the applicant must be loyal to the U.S. A finding of disloyalty or lack of allegiance may be found in an unwillingness to bear arms that is not due to religious training or belief, as well as membership in subversive organizations and evading the U.S. draft.



Although these requirements apply to many aliens who wish to become naturalized citizens, they do not apply to those with immediate family members in the U.S., to those who served the U.S., or to certain others. The showings these applicants must make are discussed elsewhere.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.


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