Citizenship of the United States

United States nationality confers the right to acquire a U.S. passport.[1] The one shown above is a post-2007 issued passport. A passport is commonly used as an identity document and as proof of citizenship.

Citizenship of the United States[2][3] is a status that entails specific rights, duties and benefits. Citizenship is understood as a "right to have rights" since it serves as a foundation of fundamental rights derived from and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, such as the rights to freedom of expression, vote, due process, live and work in the United States, and to receive federal assistance.[4][5] The implementation of citizenship requires attitudes including allegiance to the republic, participation, and an impulse to promote communities.[6] Certain rights are so fundamental that they are guaranteed to all persons, not just citizens. These include those rights guaranteed by the first 8 Amendments that pertain to individuals.[citation needed] However, not all U.S. citizens, such as those living in Puerto Rico, have the right to vote in federal elections.

There are two primary sources of citizenship: birthright citizenship, in which a person is presumed to be a citizen if he or she was born within the territorial limits of the United States, or—providing certain other requirements are met—born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent,[7][8] and naturalization, a process in which an eligible legal immigrant applies for citizenship and is accepted.[9] These two pathways to citizenship are specified in the Citizenship Clause of the Constitution's 1868 Fourteenth Amendment which reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

— 14th Amendment

National citizenship signifies membership in the country as a whole; state citizenship, in contrast, signifies a relation between a person and a particular state and has application generally limited to domestic matters. State citizenship may affect (1) tax decisions and (2) eligibility for some state-provided benefits such as higher education and (3) eligibility for state political posts such as U.S. senator.

In Article One of the Constitution, the power to establish a "uniform rule of naturalization" is granted explicitly to Congress.

U.S. law permits multiple citizenship. A citizen of another country naturalized as a U.S. citizen may retain their previous citizenship, though they must renounce allegiance to the other country. A U.S. citizen retains U.S. citizenship when becoming the citizen of another country, should that country's laws allow it. U.S. citizenship can be renounced by Americans who also hold another citizenship via a formal procedure at a U.S. embassy.[10][11]

Rights, duties, and benefits

Rights

Picture of four soldiers outdoors in front of a fence; one soldier points to the left
The U.S. military has been an all-volunteer force since the end of the Vietnam War, but male U.S. citizens and non-citizens are still required to register for the military draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday.
  • Freedom to reside and work. United States citizens have the inalienable right to reside and work in the United States. Certain non-citizens, such as lawful permanent residents, have similar rights; however, non-citizens, unlike citizens, may have the right taken away. For example, they may be deported if convicted of a serious crime.[12]
  • Freedom to enter and leave the United States. United States citizens have the right to enter and leave the United States freely. Certain non-citizens, such as permanent residents, have similar rights. Unlike permanent residents, U.S. citizens do not have an obligation to maintain residence in the U.S. – they can leave for any length of time and return freely at any time.[citation needed]
  • Voting for federal office in all fifty states and the District of Columbia is restricted to citizens only. States are not required to extend the franchise to all citizens: for example, several states bar citizen felons from voting, even after they have completed any custodial sentence. The United States Constitution bars states from restricting citizens from voting on grounds of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, failure to pay any tax, or age (for citizens who are at least eighteen years old). Historically, many states and local jurisdictions have allowed non-citizens to vote; however, today this is limited to local elections in very few places. Citizens are not compelled to vote.
  • Freedom to stand for public office. The United States Constitution requires that all members of the United States House of Representatives have been citizens for seven years, and that all senators have been citizens for nine years, before taking office. Most states have similar requirements: for example California requires that legislators have been citizens for three years, and the Governor has been a citizen for five years, upon taking office. The U.S. Constitution requires that one be "a natural born Citizen" and a U.S. resident for fourteen years in order to be president of the United States or vice president of the United States. The Constitution also stipulates that otherwise eligible citizens must meet certain age requirements for these offices.
  • Right to apply for federal employment. Many federal government jobs require applicants to have U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens can apply for federal employment within a government agency or department.[13]

Duties

Picture of a jury summons
U.S. citizens may be summoned to serve on a jury.
picture of a 1040 Federal tax form with blue and white shading
Citizens are required to file U.S. taxes even if they do not live in the U.S.
  • Jury duty is only imposed upon citizens. Jury duty may be considered the "sole differential obligation" between non-citizens and citizens; the federal and state courts "uniformly exclude non-citizens from jury pools today, and with the exception of a few states in the past, this has always been the case".[14]
  • Military participation is not currently required in the United States, but a policy of conscription of men has been in place at various times (both in war and in peace) in American history, most recently during the Vietnam War. Currently, the United States Armed Forces are a professional all-volunteer force, although both male U.S. citizens and male non-citizen permanent residents are required to register with the Selective Service System and may be called up in the event of a future draft. Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg writes, "The professional military has limited the need for citizen soldiers."[5]
  • Taxes. In the United States today, everyone except those whose income is derived from tax-exempt revenue (Subchapter N, Section 861 of the U.S. Tax Code) is required to file a federal income tax return. American citizens are subject to federal income tax on worldwide income regardless of their country of residence.[15]
  • Census. A response to the decennial census is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and by Title 13 of the United States Code of all residents.

Benefits

  • Consular protection outside the United States. While traveling abroad, if a person is arrested or detained by foreign authorities, the person can request to speak to somebody from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Consular officials can provide resources for Americans incarcerated abroad, such as a list of local attorneys who speak English. The U.S. government may even intervene on the person's behalf.[16] Non-citizen U.S. nationals also have this benefit.
  • Increased ability to sponsor relatives living abroad.[16] Several types of immigrant visas require that the person requesting the visa be directly related to a U.S. citizen. Having U.S. citizenship facilitates the granting of IR and F visas to family members.
  • Ability to invest in U.S. real property without triggering FIRPTA. Perhaps the only quantifiable economic benefit of U.S. citizenship, citizens are not subject to additional withholding tax on income and capital gains derived from U.S. real estate under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA).[citation needed]
  • Transmission of U.S. citizenship to children born abroad. Generally, children born to two U.S. citizen parents abroad are automatically U.S. citizens at birth. When the parents are one U.S. citizen and one non-U.S. citizen, certain conditions about the U.S. citizen's parent's length of time spent in the U.S. need to be met.[17] See United States nationality law for more details. Non-citizen U.S. nationals also have a similar benefit (transmission of non-citizen U.S. nationality to children born abroad).
  • Protection from deportation.[16][18] Naturalized U.S. citizens are no longer considered aliens and cannot be placed into deportation proceedings.
  • Other benefits. The USCIS sometimes honors the achievements of naturalized U.S. citizens. The Outstanding American by Choice Award was created by the USCIS to recognize the outstanding achievements of naturalized U.S. citizens, and past recipients include author Elie Wiesel who won the Nobel Peace Prize; Indra K. Nooyi who is CEO of PepsiCo; John Shalikashvili who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and others.[19] Further, citizenship status can affect which country an athlete can compete as a member of in competitions such as the Olympics.[20]
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