Historically, the U.S. has welcomed and assimilated immigrants from around the world. After living as lawful permanent residents, about 700,000 immigrants choose to become new citizens each year. These new Americans willingly give up the nationality of their birth, declare loyalty to the U.S. and promise to defend the Constitution so that they can enjoy the freedoms and rights held since birth by other Americans. The Supreme Court describes this process, commonly known as naturalization, as “the act of adopting a foreigner and clothing him with the privileges of a native citizen.”
To become a citizen, candidates must meet eligibility rules set by the federal government. They submit an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and attend an interview with an immigration official. They also must pass an exam that tests their knowledge of U.S. history, government and civics and their proficiency with the English language. Finally, they take an oath in which they swear allegiance to the U.S. and promise to defend the Constitution.
Upon completing this process, a naturalized citizen gains most of the rights and freedoms of a natural-born citizen. Along with many new privileges, the naturalized citizen also gains new responsibilities and obligations, such as serving as a juror.
Last update: Sept. 24, 2008