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What is a Naturalized Citizen?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A naturalized citizen is a foreign national who is granted citizenship in the United States after fulfilling certain requirements. In addition to the United States, many other nations offer naturalization to people who wish to apply for citizenship. The naturalization laws for various countries are typically available through their departments of immigration.

There are two basic categories of United States citizens. A natural citizen is someone born in the United States or born to American parents on foreign soil. A naturalized citizen is someone who was born in a foreign country, but took a series of steps with the end goal of being granted citizenship.

In the United States, you can become a naturalized citizen if you have been a legal resident of the United States for at least five years and you are over the age of 18. In addition, applicants for naturalization must demonstrate “good moral character,” as well as a knowledge of the English language and the history of the United States. The citizenship application process can take anywhere from six months to two years, and once approved, a naturalized citizen has all of the rights and responsibilities of a United States citizen, although he or she is barred from serving in the offices of President and Vice President.

Someone who has been a legal resident of the United States for at least five years and wishes to become a naturalized citizen must first file an application for naturalization with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). After the application is filed, the applicant will be asked to attend an interview and take a citizenship test. The citizenship test includes questions which test the applicant's knowledge of English, American government, and American history.

If the application is approved, the applicant is asked to take an oath to the United States, during which he or she denounces allegiance to other parties and states. However, the United States does recognize dual citizenship as a basic human right, and therefore people are not asked to give up citizenship in their native country, although they may be encouraged to do so. Once the oath is taken, the new citizen is granted the right to vote, run for public office, and to participate in American society as a full citizen; he or she also enjoys the same rights and protections that other US citizens receive overseas.

An exception to this lengthy process is foreign adoptions. Since foreign adoptions have become very popular in the United States, the INS recognizes such children as full citizens as soon as they are granted permanent residency in the United States. Adoption agencies typically assist parents with this process to make it quick and painless.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By amypollick — On Jun 15, 2019

@anon1001727: This is a scam. You can check on your status for free. There is no such agency as the Customs and Naturalization Service. Call the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service at 800-375-5283 to report this scam.

DO NOT send these people any money, and hang up on them if they try to contact you. If they reached you by email, report the email to your provider (like Gmail) and then block their address.

These people are just trying to get your money by frightening you. Don't fall for it. Report it. I hope this helps.

By anon1001727 — On Jun 10, 2019

I was born in 1943. I am in the US and have been a naturalized citizen for 30 years. I did take the oath and I do have a legal documents from the Las Vegas District court of the US. Now I've been told that I am not a US citizen by the US Customs and Naturalization Service. They're asking me to pay $1,700 to find out if I am a citizen of the US. They don't accept my document number or any another documents. They want to get $1,700 from me to pay for that search. Can anyone help?

By anon981557 — On Dec 12, 2014

@anon16637: I hope so. It's about time. They seem to let any old piece of garbage into the country nowadays, and then as a reward for rotting away there and living off government benefits in one form or another, they're allowed to be become "naturalized" citizens of the US, with the same rights and privileges as any other natural citizen of that country.

Pathetic. What a total and pathetic sham. Foreigners who want to become American citizens ought to have been living there for at least seven to 10 years before being allowed to apply, Then they ought need first to spend at least a good year to year-and-a-half in the military (or at least performing some kind of military service) before being allowed to do so. In addition, instead of some unemployment / welfare office social interview, they ought be given an extensive verbal review as well as a comprehensive written examination, requiring them to write actual English sentences on paper in essay format to answer them. Of course, that would be instead of that flimsy DMV tissue-paper crap exam they give, which actually is easier to prepare for than a real DMV test.

So, it definitely ought to be possible to deport these "naturalized" citizens back to their countries of origin, especially if they commit some kind of felony or grand larceny. Honestly, who the hell needs them there taking up space and resources? Not to mention that these are often the people taking jobs away from American citizens, not usually the so-called "illegals" so-to-speak.

Thus, in closing, hopefully, yes, the laws have changed. And if not, that's just sad. Very sad. Because it's about time that they did!

By anon344000 — On Aug 04, 2013

My grandmother was born in America in the early 1900s. Her family moved to Italy when she was a toddler and she remained there for many years. She had five children in Italy, my father being the eldest. In 1952, at the age of 15, my father came to America. He had an American passport. He was never naturalized in America. I am not sure how he acquired an American passport, but the passport does recognize he was born in Italy. My father is deceased and I am trying to obtain dual citizenship. My grandfather, my father's father, was born in Italy.

By anon340623 — On Jul 04, 2013

I became a naturalized American Citizen some months ago. My green card was given up and I have not applied for an American passport as yet. Now I would like to drive to Canada tomorrow, so can I use a driver license and my citizen's certificate to travel?

By anon322684 — On Feb 28, 2013

I came to this country in 1968 as a five year old boy. Since that time, I have had a Social Security card, drivers license and had background check by FBI and CBI to become a real estate broker. I have also been married here for the last 10 years and have lived in the United States continuously. Now Social Security is requesting proof of my citizenship. How do I prove that?

Thanks for any advice.

By anon317588 — On Feb 03, 2013

I am a naturalized citizen. I want to help my real parents apply for green cards but there is dilemma. On my birth certificate, both of my real parents were not named as my parents; it was my dad's cousin. In my previous country, only that country's citizens can apply for citizenship for their children and my real parents weren't.

What steps do I need to take to legally change the name of my parents to my real ones? Who/ which county/ government offices should I ask or to get the court to change them?

I would be willing to do a DNA test to do that, but how?

By amypollick — On Jan 01, 2013

@anon311322: If she was born in the US, then her birth certificate is registered in the state where she was born. The first step would be to contact the health department in the county where she was born and see what she would need to do about getting a copy of her birth certificate. Or, she could go online and look up the state where she was born and see if they have the procedures for getting a copy of her birth certificate on their website. Most states do. That's where she needs to start.

By anon311322 — On Dec 31, 2012

My stepdad has a niece who was born in the USA. She was taken to Mexico with her parents (who were not legal citizens). They have both passed away and she is now 18 and still lives in Mexico but wants to come back to the USA to have a better life.

Would she still be considered a US citizen? She has no idea where her birth certificate is, and she is living with her Grandparents who are not US citizens either. Please help.

By anon290596 — On Sep 10, 2012

Is it legal for a legal resident to support the President for his initiatives,for example, Obama Care health reform?

By anon199037 — On Jul 21, 2011

There is an omission in the described process of becoming a citizen. If you wish to become a citizen of the USA from anywhere else in the world besides Mexico and maybe a couple of other countries south of the border, you must demonstrate your ability to speak English and take the test in English.

If you are from a Spanish speaking country, you are exempt from the language requirement. I know this from a couple who are from the UK and Germany who went through the process in 2011.

By anon184361 — On Jun 08, 2011

How does an illegal person enter this country, within two years have a child and have a Social Security number on their child's birth certificate in such a short time? Don't they have to go through procedures to get a real Social Security number? And now, both parents have totally different Social Security numbers later in life (maybe six to 10 years later). Was those numbers that were put on the child's birth certificate real or fabricated? How can this happen, because they both have different numbers now, than they did on that birth certificate. Is this legal?

By anon164393 — On Mar 31, 2011

One of the goals of becoming a US citizen is (or should be) gaining a satisfactory command of the English language. This facilitates assimilation into our society.

Why is little or nothing being done with immigrants who refuse to learn our language and therefore assimilate into our society. All you get from them is this "ethnic pride" nonsense, which is a slap in the face to the rest of us. We are just as proud of our heritage as they are of theirs, but we don't go foisting it on the rest of society. If they're not interested in learning our language, they should stay where they were.

By anon155157 — On Feb 22, 2011

can I become a U.S citizen with a U.S citizen step-parent and a naturalized citizen parent?

By sharonr — On Feb 21, 2011

My grandfather was born in Chicago Illinois and would that make me a dual citizen and if so, how would I go about applying for that.

By anon145749 — On Jan 24, 2011

What if I'm 16 born out of the US and my parents aren't from there nor are citizens from there. How can I become a citizen?

By anon144509 — On Jan 20, 2011

yes, they can strip your citizenship away and deport you.

By anon138091 — On Dec 30, 2010

@anon116008: You should apply for Citizenship Certificate with USCIS (form N-600.) Citizens who do not hold a U.S. birth certificate need to present either Naturalization Certificate or Citizenship Certificate to prove citizenship status. You can get your passport only once you do that. Good luck!

By amypollick — On Oct 05, 2010

@Anon116008: As far as I am aware, you would hold dual citizenship, U.S. and U.K., and should be able to legally hold a passport in either country.

You might want to consult an immigration lawyer, but here's where I would start: get a copy of your biological father's birth certificate. If you know where he was born, that county or state should be able to provide you with a copy and you can contact them for this. Get two copies while you're at it.

Then, send a copy of his birth certificate and your birth certificate listing him as your father to the passport office. No, you shouldn't need to fool with naturalization, since you have held dual citizenship since birth, as I understand the law. Also, were you, by chance, born on a U.S, military base? That's considered a little piece of the USA, and should also qualify you for citizenship.

I hope this helps.

By anon116008 — On Oct 05, 2010

I have a dilemma. I was born in England to an English mother and an American (born in the U.S.) father. They divorced later and my mother remarried an American G.I. who brought her and me to the U.S. (I have an old expired English passport but no visa or green card).

I have lived here since age 11. I was educated here and married an American citizen and have three children, all born here. I have paid taxes since the age of 14, have always voted and have a SS card.

I applied for a passport and it was denied as I they told me I have to prove I am an American citizen. Does that mean I have to apply for naturalization? I had been told since my father was an American (both parents are dead now) I was granted American citizenship at birth. But the passport agency states this is not true. I have applied twice for a passport and been denied. Of course, they keep the money so this is getting expensive. What can I do?

By anon109502 — On Sep 07, 2010

My grandparents listed themselves as naturalized aliens on their 1930 census form. Did that mean that they had become citizens?

By anon108771 — On Sep 04, 2010

So based on the definition of naturalized, what is our current president? Because he sure wasn't born to American parents (plural) and it looks like he wasn't born in HI either.

By anon108140 — On Sep 01, 2010

Without telling a long story, I have a short question. If my great-grandfather came over from Italy in the 1910's and lived in the US for about 10 years, is it likely he was naturalized? He returned to Italy afterward and remained there.

By anon105621 — On Aug 21, 2010

To be a natural citizen, do both parents have to be born in the USA and you be born in the USA. Or, if one parent was born in the USA the other not and you were born in the USA would you be a natural born citizen or would you be a naturalized citizen? Maybe this is mixing words or it doesn't mean anything. Any input would help.

By anon101597 — On Aug 04, 2010

The definition of "natural citizen" posted above is fundamentally flawed. It states, "A natural citizen is someone born in the United States or born to American parents on foreign soil."

However, if a child born to American parents in Mexico is an American citizen, how is a child born to Mexican parents in America not a Mexican citizen? The answer is that the child born to Mexican parents in America is Mexican, not American.

An improper understanding of the 14th Amendment is to blame. The opening sentence of the 14th Amendment reads in full, "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."

This has been used to grant natural citizenship to anyone simply born in the US. However, citizenship is granted to those born here and who are "subject to the jurisdiction" of the US and the state in which they are born. Citizenship is granted based on two factors, not merely one.

Given that the mere presence of parents who are illegal aliens violates the notion of being subject to the jurisdiction of both the US and the several states, it is clear that natural citizenship need not be automatically granted to an infant merely because he is fortunate enough to be born here.

There are thousands of babies born here to the legal citizens of other countries under any number of circumstances where the parents rightly choose citizenship from their country of origin for their children. Situations include the children of diplomats; babies born to tourists, students or workers here on visas, and babies born to wealthy foreigners who travel here for superior medical care, just to name a few.

To assert those children are US citizens raises all manner of interesting jurisdictional and legal questions.

Too bad people aren't as familiar with the Constitution as they are with what Lady Gaga is wearing to her concert this evening.

By anon101187 — On Aug 02, 2010

Im still confused. My dad was born in canada, as was his father, and his mom was born in England. They all moved to Michigan, after World War I. It says you must be over the age of 18 to become a naturalized citizen, but at that age he was already serving in ROTC in school and was in U.S. army by the age of 21. Can someone explain this to me? Sorry, I don't mean to sound stupid. What am I missing?

By anon99826 — On Jul 27, 2010

@anon95915: Your reading comprehension is failing you. What that means is that if you were a naturalized citizen at the time the Constitution was written, then you would be eligible to hold the office of the President or VP. So if there are naturalized citizens still alive from when the Constitution was written then they would be eligible; otherwise you must be natural born.

So unless Arnie was in the USA in 1787 as a naturalized citizen, he is not eligible.

By anon95915 — On Jul 14, 2010

I disagreed with the fact when you said naturalized citizens cannot be president or vice president. The Constitution doesn't say only natural born citizens can be president. It said either a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time this constitution was adopted, can run for president. So after it became adopted, either a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States can run for president. So naturalized citizens can run for president, like Arnie.

By anon84138 — On May 13, 2010

No, once one becomes a citizen, one cannot be "deported back." no ands, buts, ifs. Having a good lawyer is a plus.

By anon63483 — On Feb 02, 2010

can a naturalized citizen be deported for a crime committed after being sworn as a citizen? Friends tell me that people are being sent back to country of origin although they are naturalized citizens. Have the laws changed?

By anon16637 — On Aug 10, 2008

Can a naturalized citizen be deported for a crime committed after being sworn as a citizen? Friends tell me that people are being sent back to country of origin although they are naturalized citizens. Have the laws changed?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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