Your Complete Guide to the Oath of Allegiance
What, When, How and Why?
If you’re about to become a citizen of the United States, we welcome you. It’s often a long path from immigration to naturalization. If you’re looking ahead at the citizenship process, you may have a few questions about what that process entails.
The Oath of Allegiance is an important part of becoming a U.S. citizen. It can be difficult to understand, especially if English isn’t your first language. Here’s what you should know about reciting the Oath of Allegiance and what it means.
What Is the Oath of Allegiance?
The Oath of Allegiance is a binding oath that people read aloud when they become United States citizens. When you’re reciting the Oath, you’re declaring that you agree to everything within the Oath and that you’ll be loyal to the United States of America. You’re voluntarily giving up important ties to your former home country and declaring yourself American.
The first oaths of allegiance to the United States were given by officers in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, but this requirement was extended to prospective citizens in the Naturalization Act of 1790. While the Oath of Allegiance itself has evolved since then — with notable changes in 1795, 1906, 1929, and 1950 — its purpose has always been to affirm someone’s support of the United States’s Constitution and laws.
Note that the Oath of Allegiance is not the same as the Pledge of Allegiance that is often recited in schools or to open congressional sessions, which entered popularity following the American Civil War.
Who Needs To Take the Oath of Allegiance?
You don’t need to take an Oath of Allegiance when you apply for a visa or a change of status. You only need to take the Oath of Allegiance if you file to become a naturalized citizen or you are being issued a Certificate of Citizenship after turning 14 years of age.
When Can I Become a Naturalized Citizen of the United States?
You can apply to become a naturalized citizen if you’ve held a green card for at least five years and you’ve remained in good standing. This means you’ve paid your taxes, kept your information current with USCIS, and haven’t committed certain crimes.
If you’re married to an American citizen, you can become a naturalized citizen after holding your green card for three years, provided you meet the other criteria for remaining in good standing.
What Do I Have to Do To Become a Citizen of the United States?
If you’ve been a lawful permanent resident for long enough, you can file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. The fee for filing the application is currently $725, including the required $85 biometrics appointment fee. If you’re 75 years of age or older, you only need to pay the $640 filing fee. A biometrics appointment fee is not required.
The easiest way to file your application is online. It’s simple to provide documents, respond to requests for evidence, pay your fee, and check the status of your case. You can also apply by mail and send your payment to the Department of Homeland Security.
After initial review of the application, USCIS will set up a citizenship interview for you and tell you what documents you need to bring. During this interview, you’ll have to take a test about U.S. civics and history, as well as a basic English language test.
What Do I Need To Know for My Interview Tests?
The U.S. civics and history portion of the test is very short. You only need to get six out of 10 questions correct to pass the test. USCIS shares the test questions and answers on their website. You’ll need to memorize them all because you’ll be given random questions at your interview.
The English language test is only designed to demonstrate that you know how to get help in an emergency and that you can navigate most normal aspects of American life, like visiting a doctor or asking for directions. You don’t need to be completely fluent in English. You only need to know enough English to ask and answer basic questions.
If you aren’t able to communicate in English or learn U.S. history and civics, you can get a waiver for portions of the test. A doctor will need to agree that you’re medically incapable of speaking, reading, and/or writing English and/or learning civics and history.
If you pass all of your tests and USCIS doesn’t need any more information, you’ll be invited to an official citizenship ceremony. You won’t be a citizen until you’ve attended the ceremony, recited the Oath of Allegiance, and received your Certificate of Naturalization.
When Will I Recite the Oath of Allegiance?
After you pass your citizenship tests, you’ll be formally invited to a citizenship ceremony. There will be other people there who have also had their naturalization applications approved. If you’ve ever been to a University graduation or secondary school graduation ceremony, it’s a similar process.
People will talk, you will wait for your name to be called, and you’ll be awarded a Certificate of Naturalization. This paper proves your citizenship.
During this ceremony, you will recite the Oath of Allegiance the same way people might sing the National Anthem at American sporting events or their University’s song at their graduation ceremony. You need to recite the oath to be considered a citizen.
What Does the Oath of Allegiance Mean?
It helps to practice the oath you’re going to recite before you have to recite it. Many immigrants aren’t native English speakers. You don’t have to have perfect proficiency in English to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, but you do need to be able to recite the oath without making errors.
You might also have some questions about what it means. The Oath of Allegiance contains a lot of words that the majority of English speakers (including natural-born U.S. citizens) don’t use in their everyday lives.
The Oath of Allegiance contains a lot of information. All of that information falls into a few categories. The USCIS asks that:
- You support the Constitution.
- You renounce all allegiances to any foreign prince, state, potentate, or sovereignty where you were previously a subject or citizen.
- You will defend and support the United States’s laws and Constitution against all enemies.
- Hold “true faith and allegiance” to the United States’s Constitution and laws.
- Bear arms for the United States, perform non-combatant service in the Armed Forces, or perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law.
Supporting the Constitution (and Defending It)
Supporting the Constitution simply means that you agree with the United States Constitution and you won’t act in a way that defies it.
A portion of the Constitution called the Bill of Rights outlines the freedoms and rights afforded to every American, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to be treated fairly by the court system if you’re ever accused of a crime.
The third bullet point — defending the Constitution against all enemies — means that you won’t do anything to jeopardize or revoke constitutional rights in the United States. This means that you won’t join any groups or take any political action to work against the Constitution or engage in acts of terrorism to overthrow the government. You probably don’t need to worry about this.
Renouncing and Abjuring Foreign Allegiance
When you become a citizen of the United States, you have to give up titles you’ve earned in other countries. If you were a princess in your home country, you’re no longer a princess when you become a citizen of the United States. This won’t apply to most people.
It also means you can’t work for another government or another military outside of the United States. This part will apply to more people.
Bearing Arms, Performing Noncombatant Military Service, or Performing Work of National Importance
This section refers to serving in the United States Armed Services. The current U.S. military is a completely volunteer military. Everyone currently fighting for the country made an independent choice to join the military and decided to go through the process of military training of their own volition.
In the past, there were military drafts where men were legally compelled by the government to go to war. It’s been about fifty years since the government has used a military draft system, also called the Selective Service System. Everyone who has joined the military since the Vietnam War did so because they felt passionate about protecting and serving their country.
Technically, this part of the Oath of Allegiance means that you’re agreeing to bear arms or perform noncombatant services in the military if the government deems it mandatory. You will probably never be selected to join the military, but you still must agree to do so.
The United States currently has over 1,300,000 voluntary active military service members and about 800,000 reserve personnel. You don’t have to join their ranks unless you want to.
Can the Oath of Allegiance Be Modified?
The Oath of Allegiance can be modified as long as it contains all of the required subsections. For example, if you are a Buddhist by faith, you do not worship a god of any sort. The line “so help me God” wouldn’t mean anything if you said it.
The United States allows for freedom of religion. You simply do not have to recite the line, or you can say, “so help me,” and end the Oath there. All you need to do is speak to the official at your ceremony. They’ll allow you to omit the phrase without question.
You can also ask to omit the portions about bearing arms or military service, but you need to present satisfactory evidence of a deeply held moral or religious belief that prohibits you from participating in military service. This is much harder to prove.
What If I Can’t State the Oath of Allegiance?
People with speech disorders, mute people, and people with hearing loss may not be able to recite the Oath of Allegiance. You can get a medical waiver that will allow you to affirm your allegiance on paper.
People with developmental or cognitive impairments that would prevent them from fully understanding or upholding the oath can undergo a medical evaluation. If a medical professional agrees that the individual cannot make an informed decision to uphold their oath, they can be exempted from participating.
If you don’t want to state the Oath of Allegiance for another reason, or if you’re unwilling to comply with the terms of the Oath of Allegiance, you cannot become a United States citizen.
What Can I Do When I’m a Naturalized Citizen of the United States?
Becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States is almost the same thing as being born in the United States. You’ll be able to enjoy every American freedom, including the ability to travel the world at your leisure.
Almost No Risk of Deportation
It’s extremely rare that naturalized citizens are ever deported. They’re only ever considered for deportation if they commit serious crimes (like those that violate the Oath of Allegiance) or if they’re found to be wanted for serious crimes in another country.
Traveling as a Citizen
Citizens of the United States can travel the world whenever they’d like. The United States has the seventh most powerful passport in the world, allowing its holders to travel to 186 different countries without a travel visa or visa on arrival.
As a citizen, you don’t need a travel permit, and you’re allowed to travel outside the U.S. for as long as you’d like. You’ll always be allowed re-entry into the United States.
Participating in Political Society as Citizen
Naturalized citizens can register to vote and become politically active in local and national elections. You can also apply for jobs with the United States government and run for office.
The only office that can’t be held by a naturalized citizen is the office of the President of the United States. That position is solely reserved for U.S.-born citizens. You can still become a member of the House of Representatives, a senator, or even a governor.
An important part of participating in society is paying taxes. You’ll be required to pay taxes for life as a United States citizen, even if you live and work outside of the country most of the time.
You can also be called upon for jury duty. If there is a court process that requires the opinion of a jury to decide the outcome of a case, you can be required to attend the court process and serve as a member of the jury. Very few people are exempt from jury duty.
You Can Seek Public Assistance
If you fall on hard times, you’re allowed to use safety nets provided by the U.S. government. If you were to lose your job, you could apply for temporary benefits like TANF (temporary assistance for needy families or welfare), housing assistance, or SNAP (food stamps) to help you make ends meet until you’re back on your feet again.
Any Children You Have may Automatically Become Citizens
If you have a child after becoming a United States citizen, that child is most likely automatically a United States citizen. This also applies to children who are born outside of the United States, as long as they were born after one of their parents becomes a naturalized citizen and certain other criteria are met. Children that you had prior to becoming a U.S. citizen may also derive citizenship if certain criteria are met.
You Can Apply for Your Family To Join You in the United States
Citizens of the United States can petition for their adult children, parents, and siblings to join them in the United States. This process is costly, and it can take a long time, but it’s still possible. If you can prove that you’re able to financially support your family member, they’ll be added to a queue of family visas.
Wait times can be anywhere between six and 10+ years before a family member is allowed to become a permanent resident of the United States.
Do You Need Help With the Citizenship Process?
The Cohen, Tucker & Ades team has been helping immigrants and permanent residents become naturalized citizens of the United States for over 40 years. If you need help filing paperwork or if you have questions about the Oath of Allegiance, you can contact us. We’re always here to help you live your American dream.