One Chart That Explains Exactly How to Become an American Citizen


While abroad in a foreign country, an American citizen meets a native who pursues them romantically. These two people develop a rapid relationship, which culminates with the native proposing marriage to the American, suggesting that the two then move back to the U.S., at which time the native secretly plans to promptly divorce the American and start a new life as an American citizen.

As a young woman who has now lived in South America for nearly half a year, I can attest that this situation is not uncommon. While many of these relationships don’t quite get to point of stateside divorce papers, the scheme is ever prominent. A female acquaintance of mine spent the last few months dating a native man to whom she got engaged, only to have him drunkenly confess that he planned to divorce her once he achieved U.S. residency — and that she was the third American girl he had tried this on.

Why might a foreigner do this? Because getting married, moving to the U.S., living with the American spouse long enough to gain residency, and filing for divorce is easier — and faster — than any other way of legally becoming a citizen.

According to the above infographic titled “What Part of Legal Immigration Don’t You Understand?”, the fastest and easiest way for an immigrant to become a U.S. citizen is to be married to another lawful U.S. citizen. Using this route, it only takes three years to gain residency, and another three or four years to file and process naturalization papers. So, if you marry a U.S. citizen, you can become a citizen yourself in as little as six to seven years!

If this isn’t fast enough for you, there is another route to citizenship. The fastest way to obtain a green card is to be a skilled individual who can prove that they are a genius, a star athlete, or an investor worth at least $1 million. While these unique individuals only wait 12 to 18 months to obtain a green card, they still have about five to six years before they can become a legal citizen. Therefore, if you’re the next David Beckham, you can easily become a U.S. citizen in as little as five and a half to seven years!

If you are an unskilled worker without U.S. relatives, there is virtually no path to citizenship. Even receiving a green card is unlikely, since only 10,000 are allotted each year, and work visas can not be transitioned to green cards. So for the millions of illegal immigrants working unskilled jobs, there is effectively no way in which they can become U.S. citizens under the current system. 

According to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) document, there are four primary steps to becoming a U.S. citizen. The first is to determine eligibility, which in general means that the applicant is at least 18 years old and has lived in the U.S. for five years (or three years if a spouse, as mentioned above). The following steps are to apply for naturalization, get fingerprints taken for a background check, and complete an interview with a USCIS agent, during which English and civics tests are administered. Each of these steps can take anywhere between several months to several years, if there are no hiccups in the application process.

The administration of the civics test is particularly interesting: It is an oral test, in which the USCIS agent can select 10 out of 100 questions to ask. While “USCIS is aware that there may be additional correct answers” to these 100 questions, applicants are encouraged to use the government-provided answers. Many of the questions require that the applicant be aware of current political issues. 

You can find a sample civics test by clicking here. If you had to take the test, would you pass?