What Are the Pathways to Citizenship in the US?

pathways to citizenship

Living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant means constantly fearing deportation and detention. Texas alone holds the highest number of detained immigrants due to it being a border state with Mexico.

The best way to avoid getting into trouble with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is to become a citizen. US citizenship, while a lengthy process, isn’t as difficult to acquire as you might think.

Here are some of the various pathways to citizenship.

Born in the US

The easiest and lowest effort way to become a citizen is to be born here. Under United States law, any person born in the United States (including its territories) is automatically a citizen.

This can also apply if you are born out of the country if at least one parent was a U.S. citizen.

However, having a child in the U.S. does not automatically make their parents applicable for citizenship themselves.

It’s not uncommon for a parent to also be an undocumented immigrant while their child is a lawful citizen. In that case, it’s recommended that the parent reach out to a lawyer to learn more about what their choices are.

If a child became a citizen as an adult, however, relatives are eligible for a green card. This is assuming they aren’t already living here.


For adults seeking to become American citizens, naturalization is one of the main pathways to citizenship.

However, naturalization can be a daunting process for many people. It’s not quite as simple as filling out an application.

Eligibility Status

First of all, in order to apply for citizenship, you must have a green card. Anyone with a U.S. visa can apply for a green card, which grants you residency.

You’re eligible for naturalization if you’ve lived in the U.S. for five years. If you married a U.S. citizen, that time is shortened to three years.

In addition, the government also looks for good moral character and an attachment to the constitution and the nation.

After you send in an application, it can take up to 10 months before you get an exam date. As long as you fill the immigration requirements, you should be good to go.

The Application

Once you’re ready to apply, you have to fill out an N-400 form. It covers the basics, such as prior residences, employers, and other personal information.

You then have to mail in two identical photos of yourself in passport size.

Once your application is received, your fingerprints will be taken for a criminal background check. Bring your green card and other forms of identification.

Interview and Test

The USCIS will notify you of your interview time and location through a letter. At the interview, they’ll ask you questions about your application, background, and your character.

Afterward, you’ll take the English and Civics test.

The English portion is three separate tests to assess your ability to communicate in English. The Civics test will assess your knowledge of the U.S. government and its history.

The Oath

The final step of becoming a U.S. citizen is taking the Oath of Allegiance of the United States. After that, you receive your certificate of naturalization and return your green card.

One of the most important benefits of becoming a citizen through naturalization is that it also passes on to your children.

As long as they’re under the age of 18 and live with you, they may obtain citizenship automatically. They don’t have to take a test or prove their citizenship.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

DACA refers to a program that grants work permits and protection from deportation.

There are various requirements for DACA eligibility, including being under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 and living in the United States since 2007. As of 2017, roughly 800,000 young unauthorized immigrants have been protected under it.

However, the DACA program is not a solution for undocumented citizens. It does not grant a direct path to a green card or naturalization.

The actual situation of being a Dreamer (a term referring to people protected under DACA) is that of lawful but not legal residence. They can reapply for the program, but often there are Dreamers that simply don’t.

If you think you qualify for DACA, contact the USCIS Contact Center to learn more about your options.

Immigration Visa

The path to getting a green card that leads to naturalization usually begins with an immigration visa.

One of the most common is a work visa. It allows you to work for an employer in the United States for a certain amount of time.

A study visa is for anyone pursuing education in the United States. Often, applying for a work visa or a green card comes after graduation.

There’s also a marriage visa that allows foreign nationals to live in the U.S. for 90 days to marry their fiance. That time is best utilized to also apply for a green card if they wish to stay once wed.


A work visa grants you residence for a set amount of time, such as for seasonal work. For a permanent stay, there are green cards available for employment-based immigration.

These green cards are broken into a few different categories.

First preference is given to priority works, such as professors and researchers, or exemplary individuals in different fields.

Second preference goes to professions holding advanced degrees. Third preference includes skilled workers and professionals.

In most cases, this type of green card is reserved for those more established in their careers.

Pathways to Citizenship

As you can tell, there are a lot of different ways to stay in the United States, whether temporary or permanent. You should look at your current circumstances to decide what are the best pathways to citizenship for you.

However, not everyone is able to make do with the legal channels for immigration. Often, they live in the U.S. illegally and risk deportation every day.

For those with family members unlucky enough to be detained, reach out to us to get some help with the immigration bail bond process.

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