How to Qualify for Naturalization
Only lawful permanent residents with lawful permanent resident cards can qualify for naturalization. Many obtain lawful permanent resident card through family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, or some other qualifying visa. Applicants must also meet several other eligibility requirements.
To become a U.S. citizen, you must:
- Be a legal adult (at least 18 years old)
- Have been a lawful permanent resident for 3 or 5 years
- Have been a lawful permanent resident of the state from which you are applying for a minimum of 3 months
- Register with the Selective Service System if you are male and have lived in the country between the ages of 18 and 25
- Be willing to serve in the U.S. military if called upon
- Have “good moral character” (generally defined as not having a substantial criminal record)
- Pass a naturalization exam in a in-person interview
Our team will ensure that you meet all eligibility requirements before you apply for naturalization. Our team is known for being honest and transparent with our clients. We will communicate if we believe that you qualify for citizenship and what obstacles you can expect to face during the process.
Understanding the Mandatory Citizenship Waiting Period
When you receive your lawful permanent resident card, you may be tempted to apply for naturalization immediately. Unfortunately, lawful permanent residents are required to undergo a waiting period before they can begin the process of becoming U.S. citizens. During this waiting period, they must also meet requirements for continuous and physical presence in the United States.
The duration of the mandatory waiting period will depend on how you received your lawful permanent resident card:
- If you obtained a lawful permanent resident card through marriage and you continue to be married to the petitioner, you will need to wait a minimum of 3 years
- If you procured a lawful permanent resident card through almost any other means, to wait at least 5 years before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship
- One prominent exception applies to political refugees, who can apply for naturalization after 4 years
Continuous vs Physical Presence
Continuous presence can initially sound similar to physical presence but are defined and measured differently.
Continuous presence refers to the amount of time that you have maintained your status of lawful permanent resident. Continuous presence can be interrupted if you travel outside the U.S. for too long of a period. In most cases, you should avoid being outside the country for a period greater than 6 months.
Physical presence is defined as the number of days in which you were physically inside the borders of the United States. You must be physically present in the United States for at least half of your mandatory waiting period. If you obtained your lawful permanent resident card through marriage, that means you must spend at least 18 consecutive months physically inside the United States. If you procured your lawful permanent resident card through other means, you must spend a minimum of 30 months inside the country of your mandatory wait period.
It is possible to have sufficient continuous presence while failing to satisfy physical presence requirements. Our attorneys can answer your questions about physical and continuous presence and ensure that you are in compliance with all requirements.
Applying for Naturalization and Preparing for the Citizenship Exam
Once you have met all eligibility requirements and are ready to apply for naturalization, the first step involves submitting a formal petition to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Soon after receiving your application, you will be scheduled for a biometrics appointment. This appointment involves taking fingerprints and facilitating your background check.
Next comes what is typically a lengthy waiting period that can vary with USCIS field office case backlog. The estimated waiting time is around 14 months before the citizenship interview is scheduled.
Scheduling the Citizenship Interview and Test
Your in-person interview with a USCIS officer will take place at your local field office if you are currently in the United States. If you are abroad, you will instead travel to your local U.S. embassy or consular office. The interview involves verification of your application and supporting documentation, and a 2-part naturalization exam.
The citizenship test evaluates your English language proficiency and civics knowledge. The English portion will include speaking, reading, and writing components. The interview itself is conducted in English, so you will demonstrate basic proficiency in the course of answering questions and following instructions. You will also be asked to read aloud three written English sentences. Finally, you must transcribe at least 1 of 3 sentences that will be spoken aloud in English by the interviewing officer.
For the civics portion of the exam, you will receive 10 questions that are designed to assess your knowledge of basic U.S. history and government. You must answer at least 6 of the 10 questions correctly. The questions that appear on the exam come from a pool of 100 possible questions that are available to review online.
Approval of Your Application
Once you complete the in-person and interview and pass the exam, if you comply with all other requirements, your citizenship application will be approved. The final step is to attend an Oath of Allegiance ceremony. After taking the Oath, you will receive a Certificate of Naturalization and will officially become a United States citizen.