When Can I Apply for United States Citizenship?

You must be a Permanent Resident of the United States for a certain period of time before applying for United States citizenship

Becoming a U.S. Citizen

There are many benefits of becoming a United States citizen, including the right to vote, serve on juries, travel with a United States passport, and becoming eligible for federal jobs. The process of becoming a United States Citizen is also called Naturalization. Depending on your situation, there are different requirements for when you are eligible to apply for United States citizenship.

In almost all situations, you must be a Permanent Resident of the United States for a certain period of time before applying for United States citizenship. This means you must hold a Green Card in the United States. Permanent residency begins on the date you were granted permanent resident status, which can be found on your Green Card.

Continuous Residence Requirements

Generally, you must also be able to demonstrate a continuous permanent residence in the United States for a certain period of time that varies based on your situation. Your continuous permanent residence is based on how long you have actually lived in the United States. If you leave the United States for a long period of time, you risk breaking your continuous residence.

Physical Presence Requirements

You must also be able to show that you have been physically present in the Untied States for a certain number of days required for the period required for your naturalization. Leaving the country often for long periods of time may impact your eligibility for citizenship.

Before you are eligible to become a United States citizen you must first:

  • Be a Permanent Resident for at least five years,
  • Be a Spouse of a U.S. Citizen and a Permanent Resident for at least three years, or
  • Have Military Service in the U.S. armed forces

In addition to these requirements, you must also:

  • Be of good moral character
  • Have knowledge of the English language and civics
  • Show attachment to the U.S. Constitution.

Each of these requirements are discussed in more detail below. This article provides the naturalization requirement for most applications. If you still have questions about your eligibility, you should consult an attorney.

Permanent Resident for at Least 5 Years

If you have been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for the last five years, you may apply to become a U.S. Citizen.

If you are applying for United States citizenship this way, there are several other requirements you must also meet.

  • You must be at least 18 years of age.
  • You must have not taken a trip out of the United States for more than 6 months at a time.

If you have left the country for more than 6 months on a trip, you risk breaking your continuous residency requirement. For example, if you live in another country for 10 months in one year, that year cannot count towards your continuous residency requirement.

You must not have been out of the United States for 30 months or more throughout the 5 year period.

This means that in total, you must not have been physically present outside the country for more than 30 months total during your permanent residency time. If you often travel for months at a time outside the country, you must make sure that over a 5 year period you are have not been gone more than 30 months.

You must live in the district or state where you are applying for citizenship for the last 3 months

There are a few exceptions to these requirements.

If you are a person who has served on board a vessel operated or registered to the United States, your time abroad does not count against your continuous residency or physical presence requirement.

For example, lets say you are a permanent resident who obtained permanent resident status on January 1, 2010. On January 1, 2011, you left the United States for three years aboard a United States Navy vessel. On January 1, 2015, you are still eligible to apply for United States citizenship (assuming you meet the other requirements), even though you left the United States for more than 30 months.

  • If you are an employee or individual under contract to the United States government, and you are sent abroad, this time does not break your permanent residency.
  • If you perform ministerial or priestly functions for a religious denomination organization with a valid presence in the United States, this time does not count against your permanent residency requirement.

If you meet these requirements, you must also be of good moral character, have basic knowledge of English and civics, and show attachment to the constitution before you may become a United States citizen. These requirements are discussed more below.

Permanent Resident for at Least 3 Years + Spouse of a United States Citizen

If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen and have been a lawful permanent resident for the last three years, you may apply to become a U.S. Citizen.

  • You must be married to, and living with a United States citizen
  • Your spouse must be a citizen of the United States for the last three years.
  • You must have been married to that United States citizen for at least the past three years.
  • You must have not taken a trip out of the United States lasting more than 6 months at a time.
  • You must not have been out of the United States for 18 months or more in the past 3 years.
  • You must live in the district or state where you are applying for citizenship for the last 3 months

These requirements must be met in addition to the good moral character, knowledge of English and civics, and demonstrated attachment to the constitution requirements.

Honorable Military Service

Served for at least one year

If you are currently in the U.S. armed forces, or will be filing your application within six months of an honorable discharge, and have served for at least one year, you may apply to become a U.S. citizen.

There are several other requirements you must meet.

  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • On the day of your interview, you must be a Permanent Resident. There are no requirements for how long your must have been or stayed in the United States.

 If you were in the armed force for at least a year, but were discharged more than six months ago, your eligibility to apply for U.S. citizenship is slightly different.

  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years as a permanent resident
  • You must have not left the United States for 6 months or longer

However, if you left the country as part of your service, this time does not count against your continuous and physical presence requirements.

Served for less than one year

If you served in the United States Military for less than one year, your requirements for United States citizenship are slightly different.

  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must have lived in the United States for at least 5 years as a permanent resident.
  • You must have not left the United States for 6 months or longer.

Again, if you left the country as part of your service, this will not count against your continuous and physical presence requirements.

If you are applying for citizenship based on your military service, the different requirements can be confusing to figure out. For more information about how to become a United States citizen after serving in the military, see Form M-599-Naturalization Information for Military Personnel, or consult with an attorney.

Other Requirements

Regardless of the method you are using to apply for United States Citizenship, you must be of good moral character, have knowledge of the English language and civics, and show attachment to the constitution.

(1) Good moral character

To be eligible for United States citizenship, you must be able to demonstrate you have good moral character. Some things the USCIS might consider are: your criminal history and record of lying.

(2) Have knowledge of the English language and civics

There is a test you must take with a USCIS officer to determine that you can read, write, and speak basic English, and demonstrate your knowledge of civics. You should be ready for this test when you submit your application for citizenship. You can learn more about the test and locate study materials at www.uscis.gov/citizenshiptest.

You must read, write, and speak basic English

You must demonstrate your understanding of the English language through reading writing and speaking simple words and phrases.

Civics

You must demonstrate your knowledge of the fundamentals of United States history, and basic principles about how the United States government operates.

Exceptions

  • If you are over 50 years old and have lives in the United States for at least 20 years since becoming a permanent resident, you may be exempted from this requirement.
  • If you are over 55 years old and have lived in the United States for at least 15 years since being a permanent resident, you may be exempted from this requirement
  • If you have a disability that prevents this requirement, you may be exempted. In this situation, you must file a “Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions (Form N-648) complete and signed by a doctor with application.

(3) Show attachment to the U.S. Constitution

To become a United States citizen, you must be willing to support the United States Constitution. When you become a citizen, you will be required to take an “Oath of Allegiance” which states that you support the United States Constitution. If you do not support the United States Constitution, you are not eligible to be a United States citizen.

In Conclusion

The path to citizenship can be quite confusing but well worth the struggle. Generally, once you are in good shape to meet the residency and requirements, you can begin to think about applying for United States citizenship. The application can be found at uscis.gov. Good luck!

 

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