USCIS Policy Manual



Chapter 1: Purpose and Background

A. Purpose

The United States has a long history of welcoming immigrants from all parts of the world. The United States values the contributions of immigrants who continue to enrich this country and preserve its legacy as a land of freedom and opportunity. USCIS is proud of its role in maintaining our country’s tradition as a nation of immigrants and will administer immigration and naturalization benefits with integrity.

United States citizenship is a unique bond that unites people around civic ideals and a belief in the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The promise of citizenship is grounded in the fundamental value that all persons are created equal and serves as a unifying identity to allow persons of all backgrounds, whether native or foreign-born, to have an equal stake in the future of the United States.

This volume of the USCIS Policy Manual explains the laws and policies that govern United States citizenship and naturalization. 

USCIS administers citizenship and naturalization law and policy by:

  • Providing accurate and useful information to citizenship and naturalization applicants;

  • Promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship; and

  • Adjudicating citizenship and naturalization applications in a consistent and accurate manner.


Accordingly, USCIS reviews benefit request for citizenship and naturalization to determine whether: 

  • Foreign-born children of U.S. citizens by birth or naturalization meet the eligibility requirements before recognizing their acquisition or derivation of U.S. citizenship. 

  • Persons applying for naturalization based on their time as lawful permanent residents meet the eligibility requirements to become U.S. citizens.

  • Persons applying for naturalization based on their marriage to a U.S. citizen meet the eligibility requirements for naturalization through the provisions for spouses of U.S. citizens.

  • Members of the U.S. armed forces and their families are eligible for naturalization and ensure that qualified applicants are naturalized expeditiously through the military provisions.

  • Persons working abroad for certain entities, to include the U.S. Government, meet the eligibility requirements for certain exceptions to the general naturalization requirements. 

Volume 12, Citizenship and Naturalization, contains detailed guidance on the requirements for citizenship and naturalization.

Volume 12: Citizenship and Naturalization 

Volume 12 Parts


Part A(

Citizenship and Naturalization Policies and Procedures

General policies and procedures relating to citizenship and naturalization

Part B(

Naturalization Examination

Naturalization examination, to include security checks, interview and eligibility review

Part C(


Accommodations and modifications that USCIS may provide in the naturalization process

Part D(

General Naturalization Requirements

General naturalization requirements that apply to most lawful permanent residents

Part E(

English and Civics Testing and Exceptions

Testing for educational requirements for naturalization

Part F(

Good Moral Character

Good moral character for naturalization and the related permanent and conditional bars

Part G(

Spouses of U.S. Citizens

Spouses of U.S. citizens who reside in the United States or abroad

Part H(

Children of U.S. Citizens

Children of U.S. citizens who may have acquired or derived citizenship stateside or abroad

Part I(

Military Members and their Families

Provisions based on military service for members of the military and their families 

Part J(

Oath of Allegiance

Oath of Allegiance for naturalization, to include modifications and waivers

Part K(

Certificates of Citizenship and Naturalization

Issuance and replacement of Certificates of Citizenship and Certificates of Naturalization

Part L(

Revocation of Naturalization

General procedures for revocation of naturalization (denaturalization)

B. Background

Upon the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, the first U.S. citizens were granted citizenship status retroactively as of 1776. Neither an application for citizenship, nor the taking of an Oath of Allegiance was required at that time.[1] See Franklin, F. (1906). The Legislative History of Naturalization in the United States; From the Revolutionary War to 1861. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Persons only needed to remain in the United States at the close of the war and the time of independence to show that they owed their allegiance to the new Government and accepted its protection. 

The following key legislative acts provide a basic historical background for the evolution of the general eligibility requirements for naturalization as set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)(

Evolution of Naturalization Requirements Prior to the 

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952


Statutory Provisions


Act of 1790

  • Established uniform rule of naturalization and oath of allegiance

  • Established two year residency requirement for naturalization

  • Required good moral character of all applicants


Act of 1798

  • Permitted deportation of foreign nationals considered dangerous

  • Increased residency requirements from 2 years to 14 years


Act of 1802

  • Reduced residency requirement from 14 years to 5 years


Act of 1891

  • Rendered polygamists, persons suffering from contagious disease and persons convicted of a “misdemeanor involving moral turpitude” ineligible for naturalization.


Act of 1906

  • Standardized naturalization procedures

  • Required knowledge of English language for citizenship

  • Established the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization

The Alien Registration

 Act of 1940

  • Required the registration and fingerprinting of all aliens in the United States over the age of 14 years

C. Legal Authorities

  • INA 103( CFR 103( – Powers and duties of the Secretary, the Under Secretary, and the Attorney General

  • INA 310( CFR 310( – Naturalization authority

  • INA 312( CFR 312( – Educational requirements for naturalization

  • INA 316( CFR 316( – General requirements for naturalization

  • INA 332( CFR 332( – Naturalization administration; executive functions

  • INA 336( CFR 336( – Hearings on denials of applications for naturalization

  • INA 337( CFR 337( – Oath of renunciation and allegiance

  • 8 CFR 2( – Authority of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

Chapter 2: Becoming a U.S. Citizen

A person may derive or acquire U.S. citizenship at birth. Persons who are born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States are citizens at birth. Persons who are born in certain territories of the United States also may be citizens at birth. In general, but subject in some cases to other requirements, including residence requirements as of certain dates, this includes persons born in:


Persons born in American Samoa and Swains Island are generally considered nationals but not citizens of the United States.[7] See INA 308.


In addition, persons who are born outside of the United States may be U.S. citizens at birth if one or both parents were U.S. citizens at their time of birth. Persons who are not U.S. citizens at birth may become U.S. citizens through naturalization. Naturalization is the conferring of U.S. citizenship after birth by any means whatsoever.

In general, an applicant files a naturalization application and then USCIS grants citizenship after adjudicating the application. In some cases, a person may be naturalized by operation of law. This is often referred to as deriving citizenship. In either instance, the foreign citizen or national must fulfill all of the requirements established by Congress. In most cases, a person may not be naturalized unless he or she has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence.

Deciding to become a U.S. citizen is one of the most important decisions an immigrant can make. Naturalized U.S. citizens share equally in the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizenship offers immigrants the ability to:

  • Vote in Federal elections;

  • Travel with a U.S. Passport;

  • Run for elective office where citizenship is required;

  • Participate on a jury;

  • Become eligible for federal and certain law enforcement jobs;

  • Obtain certain State and Federal benefits not available to noncitizens;

  • Obtain citizenship for minor children born abroad; and

  • Expand and expedite their ability to bring family members to the United States.

Chapter 3: USCIS Authority to Naturalize

It has long been established that Congress has the exclusive authority under its constitutional power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization and to enact legislation under which citizenship may be conferred upon persons.[8] See Chirac v. Chirac, 15 U.S. 259 (1817). Before 1991, naturalization within the United States was a judicial function exercised since 1790 by various courts designated in statutes enacted by Congress under its constitutional power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.

As of October 1, 1991, Congress transferred the naturalization authority to the Attorney General (now the Secretary of DHS).[9] See INA 310(a). USCIS is authorized to perform such acts as are necessary to properly implement the Secretary’s authority.[10] See INA 310. In certain cases, an applicant for naturalization may choose to have the Oath of Allegiance[11] See INA 337(a). administered by USCIS or by an eligible court with jurisdiction. Eligible courts may choose to have exclusive authority to administer the Oath of Allegiance. 


1. [^] 

 See Franklin, F. (1906). The Legislative History of Naturalization in the United States; From the Revolutionary War to 1861. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

2. [^] 

 See INA 302(

3. [^] 

 See INA 303( If the person was born in the Canal Zone, he or she acquired U.S. citizenship at birth if born between February 26, 1904 and October 1, 1979, and one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of the person’s birth. The Canal Zone ceased to exist on October 1, 1979. See the so-called Torrijos–Carter Treaties (September 7, 1977). If the person was born in the Republic of Panama, but not in the Canal Zone, one parent must have been a U.S. citizen parent employed by the U.S. Government, or by the Panama Railroad Company, at the time of the person’s birth.

4. [^] 

 See INA 306(

5. [^] 

 See INA 307(

6. [^] 

 See section 303 of the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America, Pub. L. 94-241 (48 U.S.C. 1801( note). In addition, certain persons in the CNMI who were born before November 4, 1986, and their children if under age 18 on that date, became U.S. citizens at that time. See section 301 of Pub. L. 94-241 (48 U.S.C. 1801( note). In addition, the Department of State will issue U.S. passports to persons born in the Northern Mariana Islands between January 9, 1978 and November 3, 1986, pursuant to a judicial decision holding that such persons are U.S. citizens. See Sabangan v. Powell, 375 F. 3d 818 (9th Cir. 2004).

7. [^] 

 See INA 308(

8. [^] 

 See Chirac v. Chirac, 15 U.S. 259 (1817).

9. [^] 

 See INA 310(a)(

10. [^] 

 See INA 310(

11. [^] 

 See INA 337(a)(