The process of naturalization allows permanent residents (green card holders) to receive U.S. citizenship.
In this guide, I will discuss the 9 main naturalization requirements.
1. Introduction to the Naturalization Process
2. Breakdown of the 9 Naturalization Requirements
- Be at least 18 years old
- Be a permanent resident for at least 5 (or 3 years in some cases)
- Have resided for 3 months in current resident state or USCIS district
- Have residence for five continuous years in the United States
- Have been physically present in the US for 30 months of the previous 5 years
- Be able to read, write, and speak basic English
- Have a basic understanding of US government and history
- Have good moral character
- Demonstrate respect for the principles and ideals of the US Constitution
1. Introduction to the Naturalization Process
The process of naturalization allows foreign nationals to receive US citizenship. If you have met all requirements discussed in this guide, you can submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Upon submitting, you must attend a biometrics appointment where your fingerprint and photo will be taken.
You will also have an interview with USCIS. Here, USCIS will determine if you have met all the requirements to become a US citizen. Finally, if you are approved, you will take an Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony where you will officially become a US citizen. US citizens have many rights and responsibilities, which means there are several requirements to be approved for naturalization. These requirements will be discussed in further detail below.
2. Breakdown of the 9 Main Naturalization Requirements
In order to be naturalized as a US citizen, there are nine main requirements:
- You must be at least 18 years of age when you submit your Form N-400
- You must have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years (or 3 years in some cases)
- You must have resided for at least 3 months in the applicable state or USCIS district
- You must have had resided for at least 5 continuous years in the United States
- You must have been physically present in the US for at least 30 months in the previous five years
- You must be able to read, write, and speak basic English
- You must have a basic understanding of US government and history
- You must have good moral character
- You must demonstrate respect for the principles and ideals of the US Constitution
These requirements were established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Each will be discussed in more detail below.
Requirement 1. Be at least 18 years old
This first requirement to qualify for naturalization is that you must be at least 18 years old when you file your N-400. However, permanent resident minor children will automatically receive US citizenship when his/her parent completes the naturalization process.
Requirement 2. Be a permanent resident for at least 5 years
The second requirement to qualify for naturalization is that you must have been a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least 5 years. You may submit your Form N-400 to USCIS 90 days before your 5-year green card anniversary.
There are some exceptions to this rule:
First, if you began your time in the US as a conditional resident, the two years spent in this status will count toward this 5-year requirement as long as you successfully became a permanent resident following your conditional resident period. Therefore, in this situation, spending two years as a conditional resident and 3 years as a permanent would be sufficient to satisfy this requirement.
Second, if you obtained your residency through marriage to a US Citizen or VAWA, you will only need to wait 3 years to apply for naturalization. You will need to remain married to your US citizen spouse until you are formally sworn in as a US citizen.
Additionally, if you received your green card through marriage and were in an abusive relationship, you can apply to receive US citizenship after 3 years. This law was made to ensure that people do not remain in abusive marriages in order to qualify for faster naturalization.
Requirement 3. Have resided for 3 months in the applicable state or USCIS district
The third requirement for naturalization is that you must have residence in the state (jurisdiction of the USCIS Center) to which you are applying for at least 3 months prior to filing. Please be aware that some USCIS centers have jurisdiction over multiple states and some states have multiple USCIS centers. If you spent at least 3 months in one location and then left the United States for a period of no longer than 1 year before returning to that same residence, you will be considered to have satisfied this requirement. However, if you move to a new residence following this time abroad, you will be required to spend at least 3 months in this new residence to meet this requirement.
There are some situations that should be noted as exceptions:
First, if you are a US soldier who served for more than one year, you can file at the location where you spent the previous 3 months prior to filing, in the location where your spouse and/or minor children live, or at the location noted in your military personnel file.
Second, students attending an institution in a different jurisdiction than their home residence may apply for naturalization at the USCIS center with jurisdiction over the institution or, provided their parents continue to provide financial support to them, at their home residence.
If you have residence in more than one state, the residence where you pay taxes will be considered your residence for your naturalization application.
Requirement 4. Have residence for five continuous years in the United States
The fourth requirement for naturalization is that you must have resided for five continuous years in the United States. This means that you must have maintained a residence, or a “permanent dwelling place” in the United States for the last five years. If you have not maintained a residence for a period of time longer than six months in the United States, during the previous 5 years, you will be considered to not have met this requirement.
Thus, you should not have any break in your residence longer than six months in the previous 5 years if you wish to apply for naturalization. Note that having a permanent resident card is not sufficient to meet this requirement. You must be able to prove that you actually took up permanent residence in the United States and did not only commute from a foreign country.
Some exceptions to this rule may apply. If you are able to show that during the break in maintaining a US residence, your immediate family continued to live in the United States, you continued to work in the United States and did not accept foreign employment and/or you continued to be able to access the residence despite not personally maintaining it, you may still be able to apply for naturalization.
Additionally, in some cases where you (or your spouse/parent) worked abroad employed by the US government, a US academic institution, a US company working to promote US foreign trade, or an international organization to which the US belongs, you may also be able to apply for naturalization, even if you did not maintain your US residence continuously.
Requirement 5. Have been physically present in the US for 30 months of the previous 5 years
The fifth requirement for naturalization is that you must have been physically present in the United States for half of the time continuous residence is required. Thus, for naturalization, you must have spent 30 months (913 days) in the United States. Both the day you exit the United States and the day you arrive back in the United States, if you leave the country, will be counted toward this 913 day requirement. Again, please note that simply having a permanent resident card is not enough evidence to satisfy this requirement. You must be able to prove physical presence in the US through documentation.
Requirement 6. Be able to read, write, and speak basic English
The sixth requirement for naturalization is that you must read, write, and speak basic English. This will be tested by an examination conducted by USCIS. You will be given two attempts to pass the test.
Some applicants of a certain age who have spent considerable time in the United States as a permanent resident will be exempt from this. If you are: (1) 50 or older and have spent at least 20 years as a permanent resident or (b) 55 years older, and have spent 15 years as a permanent resident, you will be exempt from the language test.
Additionally, if you qualify for a medical exemption (cognitive disability), you may be exempt from this language test.
Requirement 7. Have a basic understanding of US government and history
The seventh requirement for naturalization is that you must have a basic understanding of US government and history. This will be determined through a civics test. You will be given two tries to pass this test.
People who qualified for the exemption from the English test, as discussed in the previous section, will still be required to take the civics test. Yet, these individuals will be able to take it through an interpreter in their native language. Those over 65 who have had permanent residence in the United States for at least 20 years will take a modified civics test. Additionally, those with a medical (cognitive) disability may not be required to take the civics test.
Requirement 8. Have good moral character
The eighth requirement for naturalization is that you must have good moral character. This will be done by examining your record, your naturalization application, and your interview. Some factors that could cause your application to be rejected, due to a lack of good moral character, include an admission or finding of guilt in or out of formal trial proceeding of an inadmissible crime. Crimes committed in abroad are considered in determining good moral character.
Cases in which one attended a training or rehabilitation program instead of facing criminal trial, where one was tried as a minor, where no punishment was imposed, where some defect was found in the decision, and where the applicant was found guilty for political reasons will not count towards the good moral character consideration.
However, in cases where someone under 18 was tried and found guilty as an adult or where a court martial found you to be guilty will count against your good moral character consideration. Additionally, if your case was expunged, the conviction will still be considered.
You cannot be found to have good moral character while on probation. Yet, upon completion, if you can demonstrate rehabilitative change, you may be found to have good moral character. Some factors that may be considered in determining if one has good moral character could include family ties, criminal history, education, past employment, tax records, community involvement, and the length of time spent in the United States.
Requirement 9. Demonstrate respect for the principles and ideals of the US Constitution
The ninth requirement for naturalization is that you must demonstrate respect for the principles and ideals of the US Constitution. You must be willing to take and follow the Oath of Allegiance, be faithful to the US, the US Constitution, and all US laws, and be willing to carry out all responsibilities of a US citizen.
Some of the things that may be considered when determining if this requirement is satisfied include: willingness to register for Selective Service when required to do so; membership in the Communist Party, a totalitarian party, or another terrorist organization; any connection to the Nazi Party; and any participation in persecution or genocide.