Naturalization is the process by which foreign nationals gain United States citizenship. Most permanent residents are eligible to apply for naturalization after holding permanent resident (LPR) status for five years. However, if you obtained your permanent residency through marriage to a U.S. citizen, and are still married to and living with that same spouse, you may be eligible to file after only three years.
Basic Requirements For Naturalization
- Must be at least 18 years old
- You have been a permanent resident for at least five years (unless marriage-based)
- Maintained continuous presence
- Be able to speak, read, and write English – Only basic English is required. You will be required to read and write one simple sentence.
- Pass a civics test – There are 100 possible questions. USCIS posts all of these questions and answers on its website. Applicants must correctly answer six questions.
- Show good moral character for the past five years
Unsure if you qualify? Our naturalization attorney in Charlotte is happy to help! Reach out to schedule a consultation – (704) 870-0340.
The U.S. Naturalization Process
From the time you file, it can take between six months to a year to become a U.S. citizen. To start, most people will file Form N-400, submitting two passport-style photos and other supporting documents to a USCIS processing center.
After receiving your application, USCIS will schedule you for an appointment to obtain your fingerprints and check your background. Afterwards, USCIS may contact you for any additional information they require.
When USCIS has enough information, they will schedule you for a citizenship interview. During the interview, a USCIS officer will ask for clarification regarding your citizenship eligibility. After a successful interview, you will take tests on U.S. History and English.
Common Naturalization Issues
Be sure to consult an experienced immigration lawyer if any of the following apply to your situation:
- Lengthy trips outside of the U.S. may impact your eligibility to naturalize. If you are out of the U.S. for more than one year, you may be deemed to have abandoned your permanent residency. If you are out for less than one year but more than six months, you may break your continuous presence. This would require you to wait longer before applying for naturalization.
- Many criminal convictions will make you ineligible for naturalization if they occurred within the past five years. This includes any periods served on probation during the five years.
- Some criminal convictions may not make you statutorily ineligible for naturalization, but do make you potentially removable.
- You may file your application with USCIS 90-days before you have met the three of five years' residence requirement.
- You must have lived in the state in which you are applying for naturalization for at least three months before submitting your application.
- The civics requirement can be waived due to mental or physical disability.
- In some instances, the English requirement can be waived
- You are at least 50 years old and have been a permanent resident for 20 years
- You are at least 55 years old and have been a permanent resident for 15 years
- You have a medical disability
I Divorced The Person Who Got Me My Green Card. Can I Still Apply For Citizenship?
You are on track to apply for citizenship in the U.S. if you married a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident who had helped you obtain lawful permanent residence (a green card). If you married a U.S. citizen, it is more likely you can obtain early citizenship within 3 years instead of the typical 5 years. To qualify for early citizenship, you must live with your spouse for 3 years before filing an application and you must stay married until you get your citizenship. If you get divorced, then you no longer qualify for early citizenship, but you can still apply after the 5-year period.
Many immigrants fear that divorce may undermine their eligibility for a basic green card, leaving them unable to pursue U.S. citizenship and at risk of deportation, however, such applicants often have nothing to worry about, if anything.
As long as your marriage was “bona fide” -- that is, you and your former spouse truly planned to build a life together rather than begin married in a “sham marriage” for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card, then you should be fine to apply for citizenship. Immigration authorities are constantly on the lookout for false marriages and consider them a concern, however, they will not automatically assume that a divorce means that the marriage was fake. When applying, be aware that USCIS will thoroughly examine how real your marriage was. Additional paperwork and questions may be asked of you to prove that your marriage was a bona fide one.
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