Becoming an American Citizen


It is the aspiration of many people who immigrate to the United States to become naturalized American Citizens. Becoming a U.S. citizen has advantages over being a lawful permanent resident such as: the benefit of traveling with a U.S passport, the right to vote in the elections, and the opportunity to apply for government jobs. Becoming an American citizen can also carry responsibilities like being subject to jury service and being required to bear arms on behalf of the United States, or to perform noncombatant service in the armed forces in times of military draft.

To be considered for citizenship, an applicant must be at least 18 years of age and have a permanent resident card or green card. He/she has to reside in the U.S for at least five years after being lawfully admitted, without having any deportation or removal proceedings. Before acquiring citizenship, all applicants must show that they are and have been persons of good moral character. With certain exceptions, applicants must demonstrate the ability to speak and write English; pass a citizenship examination, and finally pledge allegiance to the United States. Applicants must attend the oath ceremony, which is the culmination in the process of becoming a citizen. At this ceremony, new citizens have to raise their right hands and recite the pledge of allegiance in front of a judge.

The citizenship examination is a very important part of the process of becoming a citizen. In the exam, applicants have to exhibit knowledge of American history and government. Because the citizenship examination is offered only in English, applicants must learn the language before taking it. In order to increase their chances of passing, applicants may enroll in a class that prepares them. If applicants have a good command of English, they can prepare for the exam by downloading the list of questions from the Immigration and Naturalization Services or INS website.

Applicants are not required to take the English speaking and writing examination if they are over 55 years old and have been lawfully living in the U.S. for at least 20 years. If the applicant is over 55 years old and has been lawfully living in the U.S. for at least 15 years, he or she is also not required to take the English speaking and writing examination. The examination may be waived for applicants who present a documented disability certifying that they are unable to take the examination. Finally, applicants will not be required to take the American history and government section of the examination if they are older than 65 years or are unable to comply due to a documented disability that clearly states their condition.

Vocabulary and Expressions

Aspiration = strong desire, longing or aim, ambition.
Immigrate = to come to a country of which one is not a native, usually for permanent residence.
Citizen = a native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection.
Lawful = allowed or permitted by law, legal.
Permanent resident = person who was not born in the U.S. and has been given permission to make his or her permanent home in the United States.
Benefit = something that is advantageous or good.
Jury = a group of persons sworn to render a verdict or true answer on a question or questions officially submitted to them.
To bear arms = to have arms with you.
Noncombatant = not related to combat.
Citizenship = the state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties of a citizen.
Deportation = the lawful expulsion of an undesired alien or other person from a state.
Removal = the fact of being removed.
Good moral character = acceptable behavior that meets the moral standard of the average citizen in the community.
To pledge allegiance = a solemn binding promise of a citizen to his or her government.
Oath ceremony = a solemn ceremony in which one pledges allegiance.
Judge = a public officer authorized to hear and decide cases in a court of law; a magistrate charged with the administration of justice.
Command = (here) to possess expertise, mastery.
Knowledge = familiarity with a particular subject or branch of learning.
Required = needed, essential.
Documented disability = disability supported by documentation.

Conversation Activities

1. Why do people become citizens of other countries?
2. If you become a citizen of the U.S., do you have to renounce your birth citizenship?
3. Does your country have dual citizenship?
4. What do you think are the reason why a person can be stripped off his/her citizenship?
5. How many nationalities can an individual hold?