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Citizenship in the United States facts for kids

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Albert Einstein citizenship NYWTS
Albert Einstein received his certificate of American citizenship from Judge Phillip Forman

Citizenship in the United States means being a citizen of the United States. A person who has citizenship is called a citizen. Citizenship does not just mean that a person lives in the United States. United States citizenship gives people many rights, many protections, and also some duties.

Types of citizenship

There are two ways that people can become citizens of the United States.

The first is called "birthright citizenship." Anybody who is born in the United States automatically becomes a United States citizen.

The second is called "naturalization." This is for people who were born outside the United States. A person becomes a naturalized citizen if they apply for citizenship and are approved.

Once a person is a naturalized citizen, they have all of the same rights, protections, and duties as a person who was born in the United States.

Pathways to citizenship

US Navy 060614-N-1045B-044 Aviation Machinist's Mate Elmer Rayos, right, receives his certificate of United States citizenship from USS George Washington (CVN 73) commanding officer
Military service is often a key to citizenship; here, a U.S. Navy sailor receives his certificate of United States citizenship from the commander of the USS George Washington (CVN-73).

People applying to become citizens must satisfy certain requirements. For example, there have been requirements that applicants have been permanent residents for five years (three if married to a United States citizen), be of "good moral character" (meaning no felony convictions), be of "sound mind" in the judgment of immigration officials, have knowledge of the Constitution, and be able to speak and understand English unless they are elderly or disabled.

Applicants must also pass a simple citizenship test.

A unique way to become a permanent resident is to apply to the US government Diversity Visa (DV) lottery. This program is a drawing for foreigners to apply for a drawing to become a permanent resident.

  • Military participation is often a way for immigrant residents to become citizens. Since many people seek citizenship for its financial and social benefits, the promise of citizenship can be seen as a means of motivating persons to participate in dangerous activities such as fight in wars.
  • Grandparent ruleadded in 1994, enabled children of a United States citizen who did not get citizenship at birth, to use the physical presence period in the United States of a grandparent who was a citizen to qualify for United States citizenship. In 2000, Section 322 was amended to extend also to children who generally reside outside the United States with a United States citizen parent, whether biological or adopted. The child must be in the legal and physical custody of the United States citizen parent, the child and parent must be lawfully present in the United States for the interview, and the child must take the oath of allegiance before the age of 18 years (for those 14 years or older).

What it means to be a citizen

Rights

Being a United States citizen gives a person many rights. Here is a list of some of these rights.

  • Freedom to live and work in the United States. Once a person is a citizen, nobody can take away their right to live in the United States. Nobody can make them leave the country. The government cannot deport a citizen, like it can with non-citizens.
  • Freedom to enter and leave the United States. Citizens can leave the United States for any amount of time they want to. They can always come back.
  • Freedom to choose the government by voting. Voting is free and secret. Nobody can be told they cannot vote because of their race, ethnicity, skin color, home country, disability, age, gender, or the language they speak. Citizens do not have to vote.

Duties

Citizenship also comes with duties. Here are some of those duties.

  • Jury duty. Only citizens can serve on juries.
  • Military participation (if needed). Citizens do not have to serve in the United States military. As of 2016, the United States has an all-volunteer military. However, in the past, the United States has used "a draft" to call people up to serve as soldiers. This has not happened since the Vietnam War. Still, male United States citizens have to sign up with the Selective Service System so they could be called up if there were a draft in the future.
  • Taxes. All American citizens, including those who live in other countries permanently, must file a federal income tax report (called a "return"), even if they do not live in the United States. United States citizens are taxed on their income no matter where in the world they live or earn that money.
  • Laws and loyalty. When a person becomes a United States citizen, they take an oath that says they promise they will be loyal to the United States; follow the laws of the United States; and obey the Constitution.

Benefits and protections

  • Consular protection while traveling in other countries. The United States has consulates, or embassies, in most other countries. Their job is to help American citizens who have problems in those countries. If a citizen is traveling in another country and gets arrested, they can ask to speak to someone from the U.S. Embassy. The Embassy can give advice and may be able to help.
  • It is easier to sponsor relatives who want to come to the United States: To get some types of immigrant visas (called IR and F visas), a person must be related to a U.S. citizen.
  • Citizens' children become citizens even if they are born in other countries. Usually, if both parents are United States citizens, and their child is born in another country, the child automatically becomes a United States citizen. If only one parent is a U.S. citizen, it depends on how long that parent has been in the United States.
  • Protection from deportation. Once a person becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen, they cannot be deported.
  • Protection from losing citizenship. Once a person has United States citizenship, no one (including the United States government) can take it away from them, unless the person asks to give up their citizenship or gained naturalization illegally.

Renouncement of citizenship

Americans are permitted to formally abandon their citizenship, even if they do not possess another citizenship and become stateless as a result. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was an American citizen because he was born there. He renounced his American citizenship in 2016. 5411 other Americans renounced their citizenship in the same year.

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