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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.

U.S. 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 U.S. 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] 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

Naturalization 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

Naturalization Act of 1798

  • Permitted deportation of aliens considered dangerous

  • Increased residency requirements from 2 years to 14 years

Naturalization Act of 1802

  • Reduced residency requirement from 14 years to 5 years

Naturalization Act of 1891

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

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


[^ 1] See Frank G. Franklin, The Legislative History of Naturalization in the United States; From the Revolutionary War to 1861 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1906).


Legal Authorities

INA 103, 8 CFR 103 - Powers and duties of the Secretary, the Under Secretary, and the Attorney General

INA 310, 8 CFR 310 - Naturalization authority

INA 312, 8 CFR 312 - Educational requirements for naturalization

INA 316, 8 CFR 316 - General requirements for naturalization

INA 318 - Prerequisite to naturalization, burden of proof

INA 332, 8 CFR 332 - Naturalization administration, executive functions

INA 335, 8 CFR 335 - Investigation of applicants, examination of applications

INA 336, 8 CFR 336 - Hearings on denials of applications for naturalization

INA 337, 8 CFR 337 - Oath of renunciation and allegiance


Appendix: History of Acquiring Citizenship under INA 320 for Children of U.S. Citizens who are Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Government Employees, or their Spouses

Before October 29, 2019, USCIS considered children of members of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employees, who were stationed outside of the United States, to meet the requirement of “is residing in” the United States for the purpose of acquiring citizenship under INA 320.[1] This interpretation was consistent with the definition of “residence” for purposes of naturalization under INA 316.[2] Based on this treatment of U.S. government employees and their children in the context of naturalization under INA 316, USCIS determined that “residing in the United States” for purposes of acquisition of citizenship under INA 320 should likewise be interpreted to include children of U.S. military and government employees stationed outside of the United States who were residing with their parents.[3]

This interpretation, however, was inconsistent with other provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), including the definition of “residence” at INA 101(a)(33) and language in INA 322(a) and INA 322(d), which suggested that the citizenship of military children residing outside of the United States should be considered under that provision rather than under INA 320. Effective October 29, 2019, USCIS amended its policy guidance to address these concerns, and determined that children of members of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employees stationed outside of the United States would not be eligible for citizenship acquisition under INA 320.[4]

On March 26, 2020, the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act was enacted,[5] amending INA 320, so that a child residing with his or her U.S. citizen parent, who is stationed outside of the United States as a member of the U.S. armed forces or a U.S. government employee, or is residing in marital union with a member of the U.S. armed forces or a U.S. government employee who is stationed outside of the United States, acquires citizenship under INA 320 if all requirements of INA 320(c) and INA 320(a)(1)-(2) are met. In line with the statute, USCIS rescinds its previous guidance, clarifying that these children are eligible to acquire citizenship under INA 320 if all other requirements under INA 320 are met.

The amendment to INA 320 applies to children who were under the age of 18 on March 26, 2020.


[^ 1] Even though the child of a member of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employee stationed outside of the United States may be eligible to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship under INA 322 since he or she resides outside of the United States, USCIS interpreted the child to meet residency requirements under INA 320 as well, which formerly required the child to be residing in the United States with his or her parent to acquire citizenship.

[^ 2] For example, U.S. government employees, including members of the U.S. armed forces, are eligible to apply for an exception to the continuous residence requirement for naturalization under INA 316 as long as their residency outside of the United States was on behalf of the U.S. government. See INA 316(b). See INA 316(a). See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements, Chapter 3, Continuous Residence [12 USCIS-PM D.3].

[^ 3] See Policy Manual Technical Update, Child Citizenship Act and Children of U.S. Government Employees Residing Abroad (July 20, 2015); and Acquisition of Citizenship by Children of U.S. Military and Government Employees Stationed Abroad under Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), No. 103, issued May 6, 2004.

[^ 4] See USCIS Policy Alert, Defining “Residence” in Statutory Provisions Related to Citizenship [PA-2019-05] (PDF, 308.45 KB). This Policy Alert has been superseded by Policy Manual updates to reflect changes made under Pub. L. 116-133 (PDF).

[^ 5] See Pub. L. 116-133 (PDF) (March 26, 2020).


Technical Update - Moving the Adjudicator’s Field Manual Content into the USCIS Policy Manual

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is updating and incorporating relevant Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) content into the USCIS Policy Manual. As that process is ongoing, USCIS has moved any remaining AFM content to its corresponding USCIS Policy Manual Part, in PDF format, until relevant AFM content has been properly incorporated into the USCIS Policy Manual. To the extent that a provision in the USCIS Policy Manual conflicts with remaining AFM content or Policy Memoranda, the updated information in the USCIS Policy Manual prevails. To find remaining AFM content, see the crosswalk (PDF, 327.05 KB) between the AFM and the Policy Manual.

Technical Update - Replacing the Term “Foreign National”

This technical update replaces all instances of the term “foreign national” with “alien” throughout the Policy Manual as used to refer to a person who meets the definition provided in INA 101(a)(3) [“any person not a citizen or national of the United States”].

POLICY ALERT - Comprehensive Citizenship and Naturalization Policy Guidance

USCIS is issuing updated and comprehensive citizenship and naturalization policy guidance in the new USCIS Policy Manual.

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