What is the difference between naturalization and citizenship?

Passport Information

by Passport Support, Staff

7/18/17

Naturalization and citizenshipMany people use the terms Naturalization and Citizenship interchangeably, like synonyms, when in fact they have very different meanings. Naturalization and citizenship are both very important to being a U.S. citizen and proof of citizenship is required for all passport applications. So, what exactly is the simplest difference between naturalization and citizenship?

Naturalization: “Naturalization is the way that a person not born in the United States voluntarily goes through the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.”

Citizenship: “Citizenship is the position or status of being a citizen of a particular country.”

What’s the Difference in Naturalization and Citizenship?

Both certificates of Citizenship and Naturalization can serve as proof of U.S. citizenship, but the eligibility requirements and the rights given to each differ. In short, naturalization is a process for foreign nationals who become US citizens through the naturalization process, after the age of 18. These certificates of naturalization are issued by the USCIS. A Certificate of Naturalization is given to a lawful permanent resident after he/she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

On the contrary, citizenship is issued to an individual who was born out of the country to US citizen parents or parent and/or adopted by a US citizen parent. A Certificate of Citizenship is fully available to people who were born abroad but automatically acquired U.S. citizenship through the birth to or adoption by a U.S. citizen parent(s) regardless if the U.S. citizen was granted this by birth or naturalization.

In short, citizenship is a very specific legal relationship between a state and a person that grants them specific rights, privileges, and responsibilities. As a citizen you can vote, obtain and travel with a U.S. passport, apply for federal jobs, serve on a jury, become an elected official, keep your residency, become eligible for federal grants and scholarships, and obtain government benefits.

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