Citizenship and Naturalization

Naturalization is the process by which a U.S. permanent resident becomes a U.S. citizen. To qualify for naturalization, an applicant must first meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Be and have been a U.S. lawful permanent resident for at least five years.
  • Be a person of good moral character.
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years prior to applying for naturalization, with no single absence from the United States of more than one year. The applicant must also continuously reside in the U.S. from the time of filing the application until the time of admission to citizenship. An absence from the U.S. for an extended period of time can break the continuous residence in the U.S. as noted below.
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for an aggregate period of at least two years and six months out of the five years immediately preceding the filing of the naturalization application.
  • Have lived within the state, or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence, for at least three months prior to the date of filing the application.
  • Be able to read, write and speak English.
  • Have a basic knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government.

Naturalization Law Firm Washington DCNotably, there are special programs that allow for certain waivers and/or exceptions to one or more of the above eligibility requirements.

For example, certain individuals are exempt from being able to read, write and speak English, specifically if the applicant is at least 55 years old and has been a permanent resident for at least 15 years; or if the applicant is at least 50 years old and has been a permanent resident for at least 20 years; or if the applicant has a permanent physical or mental impairment that makes the individual unable to fulfill these requirements.

Special Issues Regarding “Continuous Residence”

Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

An applicant who is and has been married to a U.S. citizen for three years, must still meet all of the eligibility requirements mentioned above before he or she can apply for naturalization.  However, the general five year eligibility period is reduced to three years. The eligibility period is reduced to three years only if the U.S. citizen spouse has been a U.S. citizen for at least three years, and the applicant and U.S. citizen spouse have been living in marital union for at least three years. Specifically, an applicant who is and has been married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years must:

  • Be and have been a U.S. lawful permanent resident for at least three years.
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for at least three years prior to applying for naturalization.
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one year and six months out of the three years immediately preceding the filing of the naturalization application.