Citizenship Law

As a U.S. citizen, you have certain legal rights and responsibilities once you turn 18. The civil court system can call you for jury duty, and men must register for the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday. You gain the right to vote and make your voice heard in U.S. elections.

However, if you are not a U.S. citizen, you should familiarize yourself with the laws regarding permanent residency and the application process for citizenship.

U.S. Immigration & Citizenship

Under an immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), some people who entered the United States as minors illegally (entered the US as an undocumented minor) or overstayed their visas could apply for and receive a two-year renewable period of deferred action from deportation. They were also eligible for a work permit or Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

However, in 2017, the federal government announced it was ending the DACA program. If you currently have DACA status, you will be allowed to retain both DACA and your work authorization until their expiration, unless otherwise terminated or revoked. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will, on a case-by-case basis, determine what will happen with properly filed DACA requests and applications that were pending when the government announced it was ending the program.

If you need legal services for immigration matters, be sure to use only a licensed attorney or an accredited representative working for an organization recognized by the Department of Justice. These are the only individuals permitted to give legal advice.

Be careful of others who may contact you and request money for immigration matters. As a governmental entity, USCIS will NOT ask you to do any of the following:

  • Transfer money to an individual;
  • Pay Immigration fees using Western Union or PayPal;
  • Pay fees to a person on the phone or by email (you can pay some immigration fees online, but ONLY if you use; or
  • Pay to download USCIS forms. (You can access the forms for free online, at your local USCIS office, or by calling 800-870-3676 to order by phone).

Permanent Residency Status

You must obtain Lawful Permanent Residency status to qualify for legal employment in the United States. You cannot work without a permanent resident card (aka a green card), Employment Authorization Document (EAD or “work permit”), or employment-related visa that allows you to work for a particular employer.

If you are in the United States on a student visa or will soon graduate with plans to apply for Optional Practical Training, talk with a foreign student advisor (designated school official) at your school before accepting a job.

A person seeking to apply for Lawful Permanent Residency (green card) may be eligible under one of the categories listed below:

  • Immediate relative of a U.S. citizen if the spouse of a U.S. citizen;
  • U.S. citizen’s unmarried child who is under 21 years old;
  • Parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old;
  • Relative of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who qualifies under family-based preference categories;
  • Family member of a U.S. citizen – meaning you are an unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and you are 21 years old or older; a married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen; or a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old;
  • Family member of a lawful permanent resident, meaning you are the spouse of a lawful permanent resident; an unmarried child under the age of 21 of a lawful permanent resident; or a married son or daughter of a lawful permanent resident 21 years old or older;
  • Immigrant worker if you are a third preference immigrant worker, meaning you are a skilled worker (your job requires a minimum of 2 years training or work experience), or an unskilled worker (meaning you will perform unskilled labor requiring less than 2 years training or experience);
  • Special Immigrant Juvenile, a foreign juvenile in the United States who was abused, abandoned, or neglected;
  • Refugee or a person seeking asylum;
  • Victim of a crime or human trafficking;
  • Abused spouse, child, or parent; or
  • Victim of battery or extreme cruelty.

Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) previously allowed foreign entrepreneurs to stay in the United States for a period of time, DHS proposed to eliminate this rule in 2018. Still, certain types of entrepreneurs and investors can relocate to the United States using specific visa classifications.

If you are a legal permanent resident (green card holder), you have the right to live permanently in the United States, provided you do not commit any actions that would make you removable under immigration law. You also have the right to work in the United States at legal work of your qualification and choosing, and to be protected by all laws of the United States, your state of residence, and local jurisdictions.

As a permanent resident, you must obey all local, state, and federal laws, file income tax returns, and report income to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You are expected to support the democratic form of government and not attempt to change the government through illegal means. Men 18-25 years old must register with the Selective Service (see below for additional information about Selective Service).


Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after fulfilling the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

To apply for naturalization, file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. You may qualify for naturalization if you have been a legal permanent resident for at least 5 years and meet all other eligibility requirements; you have been a permanent resident for 3 years or more and meet all eligibility requirements to file as a spouse of a U.S. citizen; or you have qualifying service in the U.S. armed forces and meet all other eligibility requirements.

Your children may qualify for naturalization if you are a U.S. citizen, they were born outside the U.S., they currently reside outside the U.S., and they meet all other eligibility requirements. If your biological or adoptive parent became a U.S. citizen before you reached the age of 18, you are already considered a U.S. citizen and do not need to apply for naturalization.

USCIS revised the civics portion of the citizenship test in 2020. For more information, visit the USCIS 2020 Version of the Civics Test.

Selective Service System

The Selective Service System is an agency under the executive branch’s authority of the U.S. government. With authority granted by the Military Selective Service Act, the system operates independently of any other agency, including the Department of Defense.

The Selective Service System maintains an active standby organization that would rapidly provide personnel for the U.S. Armed Forces, fairly and equitably, if a conscription order (aka draft) were authorized by Congress and ordered by the President. Following a draft, the Selective Service would also manage an alternative service program for conscientious objectors.

Each male U.S. citizen must register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of his 18th birthday. Selective Service may accept a late registration, but not after a male has reached his 26th birthday. Male immigrants between 18 and 25 must also register, regardless of their legal right to be in the United States. For purposes of Selective Service registration, determination of who is “male” is based on gender at birth, not gender identity or gender modified by gender reassignment procedure(s).

Exemptions to the Selective Service System

There are few exemptions from the registration requirement. If a male is serving on active duty in the Armed Forces before he reaches age 18, he does not have to register when he turns 18. However, if he leaves active duty before reaching age 26, he must still register within the proper time period after his discharge from active duty. Those attending a U.S. service academy or certain other U.S. military colleges are also exempt so long as they remain enrolled in the academy or are on active-duty status. These men must register upon withdrawing from the academy or leaving active-duty service.

Non-immigrant non-citizens who are in the U.S. on student, visitor, tourist, or diplomatic visas are also exempt from registration. A male who is confined to a home for medical reasons (and is unable to leave without medical assistance), or who is placed in a hospital, nursing home, long-term care facility, or mental institution prior to his 18th birthday is exempt from registration for as long as the homebound confinement or institutional placement continues. Please contact for further possible exemptions from the registration requirement.

Registration for the Selective Service System

According to the Selective Service System, failure to register as required is a felony punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years and/or a fine of up to $250,000. Those who fail to register may also be ineligible for certain programs and benefits at both the federal and state levels. These benefits include government jobs; student financial aid, loans, or grants; security clearances; job training; and other government aid. Non-citizen males of age should register to protect their future hopes of becoming citizens.

The easiest and fastest way for a male who has a valid Social Security number to register with the Selective Service System is online. Registration may also be done at most high schools or any U.S. Post Office. For more information, or for males who have a Social Security number and wish to register online, please visit

In many states and territories (including Florida), applications to receive or renew a driver’s permit, driver’s license, or identification card are accompanied by a statement telling applicants that by applying, they are also consenting to have their information automatically used to register with Selective Service.

In these “automatic” states, the applicant consents to selective service registration in order to obtain driving privileges or a government issued ID card. Other states provide the applicant the option to register for selective service during their driver’s license or government ID application process.

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