US Citizenship & Naturalization
An individual may become a United States citizen through birth, or later in life by way of naturalization.
US Citizenship by Naturalization
An individual who was not born in the United States may still be eligible to become a U.S. citizen, depending on their circumstances. These individuals must be 18 years of age or older when filing an application for the naturalization process.
Under most situations, a foreign national must be a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) to apply for citizenship by naturalization. However, there are certain exceptions to this process. For example, individuals who honorably served in time of war or during declared hostilities designated by a Presidential Executive Order can apply for naturalization even if not under LPR status.
Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) Status
Foreign nationals who are green card holders, or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR), may live and work in the United States permanently. Green cards are normally valid for ten-year increments, and they can be renewed indefinitely.
Green card holders do not have certain rights and privileges that are awarded to US citizens. For example, LPRs do not have the right to vote in US elections and they cannot hold US passports. For these and other reasons, green card holders may want to apply for US citizenship by naturalization.
There are additional requirements for US citizenship eligibility based on each situation.
Acquiring US Citizenship as an LPR
Qualifying U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents may apply for naturalization to obtain U.S. citizenship if they meet the following requirements:
- Continuous residence in the U.S. for at least five years prior to filing for Naturalization
- Stepping outside the U.S. for six months or more would disrupt the continuity of their U.S. residence
- Physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the previous five years
- Must reside continuously in the U.S. from the date of filing until admission to U.S. Citizenship
- At least 3 months spent residing in the state where they intend to file the application
- Demonstrate good moral character
- Demonstrate basic understanding of U.S. history and government
- Demonstrate the capability to be able to read, write, and speak basic English
Normally, a Lawful Permanent Resident must reside in the US continuously for five years from the date they became an LPR before they can apply for US citizenship.
However, there are certain exceptions to the residency rule:
- Spouses of U.S. Citizens: If married to a U.S. Citizen, the residency requirement is three years if:
- U.S. Citizen spouse has been a citizen for three years; and
- The couple has been residing together in “marital union” for three years
- Battered Spouse/Child of U.S. Citizen protected under VAWA: If they obtained Lawful Permanent Resident status because they were battered or suffered extreme cruelty at the hands of their US citizen spouse, they may apply for citizenship after three years of Resident status.
- Marital union requirement is waived
- Children must be 18 years of age or older to apply for naturalization
- Refugee: If an individual is granted refugee status while in another country, and then enters the U.S. as a refugee, their permanent residence begins on the date of U.S. entry. The time spent in the U.S. as a refugee will count toward the required five years of Permanent Residence for naturalization eligibility purposes.
- Asylee: If were granted asylum in the U.S., individuals can apply for naturalization four years after obtaining Permanent Residence
Conditional Permanent Residence
Certain foreign nationals are subject to conditional permanent residence when they apply for their green cards. This means that their green card is initially valid for 2 years. During that time, they must prove that they still meet the eligibility conditions of their green card. Then, 90 days before the card’s expiration date, they must file to remove the conditions of their Lawful Permanent Residence.
These individuals may still qualify for US citizenship by naturalization, if they:
- Reach the 90-day period to file for removal of conditional residence conditions
- Have a pending petition to remove conditions at the time filing for naturalization
Spouses of U.S. citizens employed abroad do not have to meet continuous physical residence requirements.
Good Moral Character
Green card holders must demonstrate that they have been a person of “Good Moral Character” for the statutory period prior to filing for naturalization. Criminal conduct has harsh immigration consequences for Lawful Permanent Residents.
If LPRs engage in or are convicted of a crime in the U.S., they could be removed from the country, lose their ability to re-enter the U.S. after a long trip abroad, and lose their Lawful Permanent Resident status. In certain circumstances, crimes may render LPRs ineligible for U.S. citizenship.
Crimes that may affect Lawful Permanent Resident status include the following:
|Tax Evasion||Illegal trafficking in drugs, firearms, or people|
|Personal use of legal drugs such as Marijuana||Domestic Violence|
|Gang or Juvenile Crimes||Assault|
There are also serious consequences for LPRs who commit the following activities:
- Lie to get immigration benefits for themselves or someone else
- Lie that they are a U.S. citizen
- Vote in a U.S. federal election or in a state or local election
- Habitual drunkard or someone who uses illegal drugs most of the time
- Marry more than one person at the same time
- Fail to pay child or spousal support as ordered
- Lie or present fake documents to get public benefits or defraud any government agency
- Fail to file tax returns when required
- Willfully fail to register for the Selective Service if they are a male between the ages of 18 and 26
- Smuggling: If they help someone else who is not a U.S. citizen or national to enter the U.S. illegally
The Department of Homeland Security may inquire into time periods beyond the Statutory Period.
|Citizen Category||Statutory Period for Good Moral Character|
|Typical Applicants||5 Years|
|Those Married to US Citizens||3 Years|
|Members of the Armed Forces||1 Year|
Knowledge of English Language
Applicants for US Citizenship must be able to demonstrate elementary level of reading, writing and understanding of the English language.
Certain individuals may be exempt from this requirement if on the date of filing the application, they:
- Are 50 years of age or older at the time of filing and have been residing in the U.S. as a Lawful Permanent Resident for 20 years
- Are 55 years of age or older at the time of filing and have been residing in the U.S. as a Lawful Permanent Resident for 15 years
- Have a medically determined physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects their ability to understand English
U.S. Government and History Knowledge
During the naturalization interview, applicants must demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. history and form of government.
Oath of Allegiance
The final step towards naturalization requires individuals to publicly swear allegiance to the U.S. and renounce allegiance to other countries.
By doing so, individuals swear to:
- Support the Constitution and obey the laws of the U.S.;
- Renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title; and
- Bear arms for the Armed Forces of the U.S. or perform services for the government of the U.S. when required.
If you have any questions regarding your eligibility for naturalization, we recommend contacting our team at email@example.com.
Disclaimer: Please be advised that the information provided in this article is for general purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please speak to an experienced immigration attorney for case-specific questions.