As a general rule, a Permanent Resident will be eligible to apply for citizenship once they have had their green card for at least five years. There are a few exceptions to this rule, most notably for Permanent Residents who are married to U.S. citizens, who are eligible to apply after having their green card for only three years. Individuals who serve in the U.S. Armed Services, as well as individuals who have gotten their green cards on the basis of asylum or refugee status, may also be eligible to apply before their 5th year of permanent residency.
It is important to note that being a permanent resident for the required amount of time will not automatically qualify you for citizenship. In addition to that requirement, you will need to be able to demonstrate that:
- You have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the last five years (or three years, if your spouse is a U.S. citizen)
- You have lived in the state where you are filing your application for at least three months
- You have not taken any trips outside the United States lasting over a year
- You have not made your primary home in another country
- You are at least 18 years old
- You have good moral character
- You are able to speak, read, and write in English
How do I show Good Moral Character?
In order to qualify for naturalization, you must be able to demonstrate “good moral character” for the five year period leading up to your application (or three years, if you are married to a U.S. citizen). Generally speaking, Immigration officers are given discretion to decide what constitutes good moral character, or the lack thereof. Some examples of things that can lead to a failure to demonstrate good moral character include criminal activity, failure to pay taxes or child support, making misrepresentations to USCIS or falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen, and habitual drunkenness or a history of drug use. It is important to note that USCIS has the right to look further into your past than the standard five year period.
If you have a criminal history, have made misrepresentations to USCIS, or have any other circumstances in your past that may show a lack of good moral character, it is extremely important to understand the impact of those circumstances on your eligibility before you file an application for naturalization. Some criminal convictions don’t just show a lack of good moral character; they will also make you removable from the United States. If you have such a conviction and file for naturalization, you may find yourself in removal proceedings.
What happens at the citizenship interview?
At the beginning of the interview, the immigration officer will swear you in. Once you are under oath, he or she will review your application, and may ask you questions verifying the information you provided on your application. You may also be asked questions about your travel history, your previous immigration history, or any arrests that you have.
After your application is reviewed, the officer will administer the citizenship exam, which contains an oral and written English exam, as well as a Civics Exam. USCIS provides plenty of .
If your application for citizenship is approved, you will be scheduled for the oath ceremony, which is the last step of the naturalization process. In some cases, you may be able to complete your oath ceremony on the same day as your interview. If there is not an oath ceremony available that day, you will be mailed a notice informing you of when your ceremony will be held.
Do I have to take the exam?
As a general rule, everyone who applies for citizenship must take the naturalization examination, and must take it in English. There are, however, a few notable exceptions to this rule.
If you are at least 50 years old, and have been a permanent resident for at least 20 years OR if you are at least 55 years old and have been a permanent resident for at least 15 years, you do not have to take the English part of the examination, and you can take the civics examination in your Native Language. To take advantage of this accommodation, you will need to provide your own translator who is fluent in both English and your native language
If you are over 65 years old and have been a Permanent Resident for at least 20 years, you will be given additional consideration regarding the civics examination as well.
If you have a mental or physical disability that makes you unable to comply with either the English or civics examination requirements, you may be eligible for exception which will allow you to obtain your citizenship without taking the examination. To qualify for an exception, you must submit a formal request, completed by a licensed doctor or psychologist, explaining your condition and why it prevents you from being able to take the examination.