CRS Report for Congress
Basic Questions on U.S. Citizenship
Larry M. Eig
American Law Division
This report answers the following questions: Who is a United States citizen at
birth? How does one become a naturalized citizen? Must citizens take loyalty oaths?
What is the required period of residency prior to being eligible for citizenship? Is a
citizenship revocable? If so, under what circumstances? Finally, are there provisions for
dual citizenship? If so, under what circumstances?
1. Who Is a United States Citizen at Birth?
United States.4 Respecting jus sanguinis, the INA grants citizenship at birth to any
person born outside the United States if (1) both parents are United States citizens and at
least one resided in the United States prior to the person's birth; (2) one parent is a
national of the United States and the other parent is a United States citizen who resided
in the United States prior to the person's birth; or (3) one parent is an alien and the other
parent is a United States citizen who, prior to the person's birth, was physically present
in the United States for periods totaling at least five years, two or more years of which
were after the parent attained age 14.5
2. How Does One Become a Naturalized Citizen?
307, 308, 101(a)(29), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1402, 1406, 1407, 1408, 1101(a)(29). See also INA, §§ 301(a),
government of the United States.11 Subversives and deserters expressly are precluded
from becoming naturalized citizens.12
To initiate the naturalization process, an applicant must file an application with the
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The applicant must be at least 18 years old
to apply. Subsequent to filing, the INS conducts a police check and other pertinent
investigations. Before becoming a citizen, the applicant must pass tests on English literacy
and a basic knowledge of the history and government of the United States. The applicant
also is examined in person. An attorney may be present at this examination but has no
right to actively participate. Successful applicants are eligible to take the oath of
allegiance, the final step in the naturalization process. An unsuccessful applicant may
appeal the adverse decision to administrative authorities and the federal courts.
Administrative authorities may rely on the original record or conduct their own
investigations. On judicial review, the federal courts conduct their own inquiry and come
to their own findings of fact and conclusions of law.13
3. Must Citizens Take Loyalty Oaths?
1991. 8 C.F.R. parts 334-337 published at 56 Fed. Reg. 50475, 50495-50501 (Oct. 7, 1991).
4. What Is the Required Period of Residency Prior to Being
Eligible for Citizenship?
In order to be eligible for naturalization, an alien generally must reside continuously
in the United States for at least five years as a lawfully admitted permanent resident15
alien. A period of continuous residence is broken by an absence of over a year unless
the alien is employed abroad by the government, an international organization, a research
institute, or an American company engaged in foreign trade. An absence of between six
months and one year presumptively breaks continuous residence.16
Certain classes of aliens either are exempt from the residency requirement or are
subject to shorter residency periods. Unmarried children under 18 living with a citizen
parent are exempt from any residency requirement.17 Aliens who served in the armed18
forces for specified periods also are exempt. The residency requirement for spouses of
American citizens is three years instead of five years.19 Residency requirements also are
modified for other special classes.
5. Is Citizenship Revocable? If So, under What Circumstances?
revoked through denaturalization. Naturalized citizenship may be revoked on grounds that
that citizenship was procured illegally, by concealment of material fact, or by willful
misrepresentation.23 Various acts occurring after naturalization are, by law, evidence of
misrepresentation or suppression at time of naturalization. For example, if a naturalized
citizen joins a subversive organization within five years of becoming a citizen and
membership in that group would have precluded eligibility for naturalization under the
INA, then the joining of the organization is held to be a rebuttable presumption that
naturalization was obtained by concealing or misrepresenting how attached to the United
States the citizen was when naturalized.24 Similarly, if a naturalized citizen begins to
permanently reside abroad within one year of naturalization, taking that residence is
deemed a rebuttable presumption that the citizen concealed a lack of requisite attachment
to the United States at the time of naturalization.25
Except for acts that bear on the integrity of the naturalization process itself, however,
citizenship through naturalization is as secure as citizenship at birth. Also, the United
States no longer conditions retention of citizenship at birth abroad on subsequent
residence in the United States by a specified age.
6. Are There Provisions for Dual Citizenship? If So, under What
The United States does not categorically forbid its citizens from holding dual
nationality nor does it expressly require dual nationals to make an election of citizenship
as such at any point. At the same time, Congress has enacted citizenship rules that militate
against acquiring dual nationality after birth.
Individuals who acquire United States citizenship under the Constitution by virtue
of being born in the United States may lose that citizenship only by committing an act of
expatriation. Under the INA, a citizen loses United States citizenship on voluntarily
obtaining naturalization in a foreign country with an intent to relinquish United States
citizenship.26 The requisite intent to relinquish need not be express. Rather, it may be
inferred from the circumstances, including the taking of an oath of allegiance as part of
the foreign naturalization process.27 While a citizen may lose citizenship through
voluntary naturalization abroad, the voluntary naturalization of a child's parents abroad
no longer results in the child's expatriation even if the child derivatively becomes a
Expatriation aside, citizenship acquired at birth abroad under rules set in statute
remains subject to congressional regulation. However, Congress no longer conditions
23 INA, § 340, 8 U.S.C. § 1451.
26 INA, § 349(a)(1), 8 U.S.C. § 1481(a)(1).
27 E.g., Richards v. Sec'y of State, 752 F.2d 1431 (9th Cir. 1985); Terrazas v. Haig, 653 F.2d 285
(7th Cir. 1981).
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retention of United States citizenship at birth abroad on subsequent residence in the
United States or otherwise.
Part of the process for becoming a United States citizen is the taking of an oath
"absolutely and entirely" renouncing any allegiance or fidelity to any other country.
United States naturalization, in combination with the oath of absolute allegiance, may
result in loss of foreign nationality under the pertinent foreign laws. Furthermore, United
States naturalization may be revoked if illegally or fraudulently obtained. Any exercise
of foreign citizenship subsequent to United States naturalization may be evidence of
misrepresentation in taking the oath of allegiance and thus potential grounds for
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