If you are on the path to American citizenship or recently became a citizen—congratulations! Becoming a U.S. citizen is a significant decision, so it’s important to know what rights and obligations you have. Plus, there are some huge benefits exclusive to citizens. Here’s what you need to know:
This article will answer the following questions about American Citizenship:
- What are my rights as a U.S. citizen?
- Do I have any obligations as a U.S. citizen?
- What are the benefits of being a U.S. citizen?
- Am I a good candidate to become a U.S. citizen?
- What should I know if I am not a citizen, but my children are?
- What resources are available to find out more about citizenship?
What are my rights as a U.S. citizen?
Generally, your rights as a U.S. citizen include but are not limited to:
- Freedom of expression
- Freedom of religion
- The right to a fair and speedy trial by jury
- The right to vote
- The right to apply for federal employment
- The right to run for elected office
You still have legal rights if you’re living in the U.S. but are not a citizen. Learn more about them here.
Do I have any obligations as a U.S. citizen?
Yes! Some responsibilities might be obvious, like obeying the law and paying taxes honestly and on time. However, other mandatory obligations include: serving on a jury when summoned and registering for the selective service (if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25 and meet the requirements). Although voting in local, state, and federal elections is seen more as a voluntary responsibility, exercising your role in the political process is still important.
What are the benefits of being a U.S. citizen?
Federal benefits such as unemployment, food assistance, welfare, Medicaid, and more are available to U.S. citizens. If you want to receive federal benefits, this link is a good place to start.
More benefits of being a citizen include bringing family members to the U.S., traveling with a U.S. passport, and having a voice in elections as a voter or elected official!
Am I a good candidate to become a U.S. citizen?
To become a citizen, you must meet the following requirements:
- You are 18 years of age or older.
- You must be a green card holder for at least five years OR three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen.
- You must have continuous residence in the U.S. for at least five years OR three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen. You must have also spent at least half of that time physically in the U.S.
- You must be able to read, write, and speak basic English (there are exceptions to this explained here)
- You must have some knowledge of the fundamentals of U.S. history and government.
- You must be of “good moral character” (here is a list of the 10 most common reasons for denied citizenship in English)
What should I know if I am not a citizen, but my children are?
Even if you are not a citizen, your children may still be eligible for certain benefits if they are U.S. citizens.
Additionally, even if you are not a citizen, you may be eligible for certain benefits that will NOT affect your pursuit of citizenship. According to USCIS, these benefits include:
- Emergency medical assistance;
- Disaster relief;
- National school lunch programs;
- The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children;
- The Children’s Health Insurance Program;
- Subsidies for foster care and adoption;
- Government-subsidized student and mortgage loans;
- Energy assistance;
- Food pantries and homeless shelters; and
- Head Start
Be aware that receiving these benefits will affect your eligibility for citizenship:
- Supplemental Security Income;
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families;
- Any federal, state, local, or tribal cash benefit programs for income maintenance (often called general assistance in the state context, but which may exist under other names);
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps);
- Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program;
- Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (including Moderate Rehabilitation);
- Public Housing (under the Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. 1437 et seq.); and
- Federally funded Medicaid (with certain exclusions)
What resources are available to find out more about citizenship?
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has many resources regarding everything you need to know about becoming a citizen, including:
- A 10 Steps to Naturalization guide
- Naturalization eligibility tool
- Study materials and resources for the citizenship test
You can find more resources from USCIS here.