Naturalization is the process whereby a person becomes a national of a nation, or a citizen of a country, other than the one of his birth.
Naturalization is also, in biology, the process when foreign or cultivated plants have spread into the wild, where they multiply by natural regeneration.
Also spelled naturalisation outside the United States.
Naturalization in the United States
Naturalization and the Constitution
In the United States of America, naturalization is mentioned in the Constitution.
A Naturalization Certificate from 1911
Naturalization is mentioned in the Constitution proper. Congress is given the power to prescribe a uniform rule of naturalization, which was administered by state courts. There was some confusion about which courts could naturalize; the final ruling was that it could be done by any "court of record having common-law jurisdiction and a clerk (prothonotary) and seal."
The Constitution also mentions "natural born citizen". The first naturalization Act (drafted by Thomas Jefferson) used the phrases "natural born" and "native born" interchangeably. To be "naturalized" therefore means to become as if "natural born" -- i.e. a citizen.
There is an interesting loophole here in that the Constitution does not mandate race-neutral naturalization. Up until 1952, the Naturalization Acts written by Congress still allowed only white persons to become naturalized as citizens (except for two years in the 1870's which the Supreme Court declared to be a mistake.)
Naturalization is also mentioned in the Fourteenth Amendment. Before that Amendment, individual states set their own standards for citizenship (there was no national citizenship). The Amendment states that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof shall be citizens of the United States and of the State in which they reside."
Note also that the Amendment is ambiguous on the issue of singular or plural United States. In the early days the phrase "United States" was used as a singular or a plural according to the meaning. After the Civil War, it was generally always a singular. The Amendment does not say "its jurisdiction" or "their jurisdiction" but "the jurisdiction thereof".
The Naturalization Act of 1795 set the initial parameters on naturalization: "free, White persons" who had been resident for five years or more. The Naturalization Act of 1798, part of the Alien and Sedition Acts, was passed by the Federalists and extended the residency requirement from five to fourteen years. It specifically targeted Irish and French immigrants who were involved in Anti-federalist politics. It was repealed in 1802.
Passage of the Fourteenth Amendment meant that, in theory, all persons born in the U.S. are citizens regardless of race. However it was not applied to Asians at the time. The enabling legislation for the naturalization aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment was the 1870 Page Act, which allowed naturalization of "aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent," but is silent about other races.
The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese workers and specifically barred them from naturalization. The Immigration Act of 1917, (Barred Zone Act) extended those restrictions to almost all Asians.
The 1922 Cable Act specified that women marrying aliens ineligible for naturalization lose their US citizenship. At the time, all Asians were ineligible for naturalization. The Immigration Act of 1924 barred entry of all those ineligible for naturalization, which again meant non-Filipino Asians.
Following the Spanish American War in 1898, Philippine residents were classified as US nationals. But the 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act, or Philippine Independence Act, reclassified Filipinos as aliens, and set a quota of 50 immigrants per year, and otherwise applying the Immigration Act of 1924 to them.
Asians were first permitted naturalization by the 1943 Magnuson Act, which repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act. India and the Philippines were allowed 100 annual immigrants under the 1946 Filipino Naturalization Act. The War Brides Act of 1945 permitted soldiers to bring back their foreign wives.
The 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act (better known as the McCarran-Walter Act), lifted racial restrictions, but kept the quotas in place. The Immigration Act of 1965 finally allowed Asians and all persons from all nations be given equal access to immigration and naturalization.
Illegal immigration became a major issue in the US at the end of the 20th Century. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, while tightening border controls, also provided the opportunity of naturalization for illegal aliens who had been in the country for at least four years.