Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

When immigrants enter the United States, they are not American citizens. In order to enjoy many of the privileges of being an American, such as the right to vote and hold public office, a person must gain citizenship. The process for becoming a citizen is called naturalization. To become a naturalized citizen, a person must fill out an application with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and meet the following requirements:

  • be at least 18 years old (children who are immigrants and under age 18 can become citizens when their parents do);
  • have been a permanent resident for five years, or three years if married to a person who has been a U.S. citizen for at least three years (a permanent resident is an immigrant who has permission to live in the United States permanently);
  • have lived in the United States for at least half of required residency;
  • swear loyalty to the United States;
  • read, write and speak basic English;
  • show that he or she agrees with the principles of the constitution;
  • demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and government;
  • take an oath of allegiance.
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