U.S. Citizenship / Naturalization
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Naturalization is the process through which a green card holder obtains U.S. citizenship. There are certain core requirements that everyone must satisfy, but the length of time that an applicant must have had the green card before applying for naturalization differs.
Qualifying requirements for the applicant:
- Being a legal permanent resident of the U.S. (LPR), i.e., being a green card holder.
- Applicant must have had a permanent resident status for at least 5 years. This is the case for most LPRs, but spouses of U.S. citizens may apply 3 years after obtaining the green card. Applicant cannot have been absent from the U.S. for more than 6 months at any point during the previous 5 years (or 3 years in the case of the spouse of a U.S. citizen) or before completion of the naturalization process.
- Physical presence in the U.S. for at least one-half of the time is necessary to satisfy the requirements in section 2. This means 2.5 years present in the U.S. for applicants that qualify for citizenship after 5 years as a Green Card holder. It means 1.5 years for spouses of U.S. citizens.
- Residence for at least 3 months in the state where the naturalization application is filed.
- Ability to read, write, and speak ordinary English (which is tested during the naturalization interview).
- Knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and government of the U.S. (also tested at the naturalization interview).
- Good moral character, attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, and proper disposition to the good order and happiness of the U.S. This means that the person should not have been arrested or convicted of any serious crimes, and should be willing to support the system of government in the U.S.
- Be at least 18 years of age at the time of filing the naturalization application. It is possible for children under 18 years of age to naturalize, but they must do so based on an application filed by their parent(s).
A permanent resident is free to choose whether to pursue U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Since there is no requirement to apply for citizenship, an LPR does not automatically obtain citizenship. However, when a person applies for naturalization, USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service) checks the applicant’s criminal record, and whether he/she was properly approved for permanent resident status. As a result, it is even possible to lose permanent resident status in the process, if the applicant did not properly qualify for the Green Card or has a serious criminal conviction. So, while the naturalization process is not very difficult, it is certainly not a mere formality.
Also, please note that USCIS looks very closely to determine whether the applicant for naturalization has lived primarily in the U.S. during the 3- or 5-year looking-back period immediately preceding the filing of the application. If not, then USCIS will deny the application for not maintaining the continuity of residence for the required period.