A green card holder can apply for naturalization by submitting the Form N-400. In this process, there are naturalization requirements to become a United States citizen according to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and in this article we’ll review the naturalization requirements.
I. What are naturalization requirements to become a U.S. citizen?
In order to be approved for naturalization and become a United States citizen, the applicant must meet the following naturalization requirements unless the applicant is exempted or applies under U.S. military service.
- Age: You must be at least 18 years of age at the time of filing.
- Continuous and Physical Presence: You must be a permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States for a required period of time; you must demonstrate physical presence and continuous residence for a required period of time.
- Residency: You must show that you have lived within the state (or USCIS district) where you are applying for citizenship for at least 3 months prior to filing.
- Good Moral Character: You must be a person of good moral character.
- Proficient in Basic English & Knowledge of U.S. History and Government: You must be able to pass the basic English test as well as U.S. history and government test.
- Attachment to the Constitution: You must demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.
- Oath of Allegiance: You must take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
Let's find out detailed information of each naturalization requirement by Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Naturalization Requirements 1. Age
At the time of filing Form N-400, you must be at least 18 years of age to apply for naturalization. You may be exempted of this naturalization requirement if you are applying based on wartime military service in which case you may be any age.
Naturalization Requirements 2. Continuous and physical presence
For the next naturalization requirements, you must have physically and continuously present in the United States for at least 5 years after your Lawful Permanent Resident admission, in other words, since you became a green card holder or for 3 years if you are married to a U.S. citizen, prior to filing the naturalization application, the Form N-400. Although these naturalization requirements of continuous residence and physical presence are interrelated but are different requirements. Each naturalization requirement must be satisfied (unless otherwise specified) in order for you to be eligible for naturalization.
A. How to show “Continuous Presence”
According to INA, you must have continuously lived in the United States as a green card holder for at least 5 years, or 3 years if you are married to a U.S. citizen. For the purpose of naturalization application, to become a U.S. citizen, the “Continuous” means you did not travel outside of the United States that each lasted six months or longer during the 5 or 3 years required period. The period starts from the day you have received the green card and shall run until the present date, including the dates where your application is in process.
IMPORTANT 1: If you have left the United States for more than 6 months as a green card holder, USCIS will presume that you have abandoned your green card, or your permanent resident status and the USCIS may deny your form N-400 application.
IMPORTANT 2: Besides traveling abroad for more than 6 months, an Order of Removal will also terminate your status as a Lawful Permanent Resident and therefore your Continuous Presence requirement shall cease. However, if you are readmitted with a green card as a Lawful Permanent Resident (a.k.a. as a green card holder) after a deferred inspection or by an immigration judge in removal proceedings can satisfy or shall continue to count your continuous presence requirement.
IMPORTANT 3: Other examples that may raise a rebuttable presumption that you have abandoned your Lawful Permanent Residence include cases where there is evidence that you voluntarily claimed nonresident alien status to qualify for special exemptions from income tax liability or fails to file either federal or state income tax returns because you consider yourself to be a non-resident alien, not a green card holder.
B. Breaks in “Continuous Residence”
In general, according to INA, there are two ways outlined in the statute in by INA which the continuity of residence can be broken:
- Absent from the United States for more than 6 months but less than 1 year; OR
- Absent from the United States for more than 1 year or more.
*A lengthy or frequent absence from the United States, even though each trip is less than 6 months, can also result in a denial of the Form N-400, the Form N-400, due to abandonment of your Lawful Permanent Resident status.
- Absent for more than 6 months but less than 1 year
You may still qualify even if you have traveled abroad for more than 6 months but less than 1 year if you can show that you maintained strong ties to the United States. Some examples of evidence are:
- Kept your job in the United States and did not seek employment elsewhere
- Have immediate family member residing in the United States
- You retained full access to or continued to own or lease a home in the United States
- Your children are enrolled in a U.S. school
Bob, who is required to prove 5-year Continuous Residence requirement has left the United States for 8 months, returning on August 1, 2020. Bob has been absent for more than 6 months but less than 1 year. As such, Bob must be able to rebut the presumption of a break in the continuity of residence in order to meet the Continuous Residence requirement for Naturalization.
However, if Bob is unable to rebut the presumption, then Bob will have to wait at least 6 months from reaching the 5-year anniversary of the newly established statutory period following Bob’s return to the United States. Here, the newly established statutory period is August 1, 2020, when Bob returned to the United States. Therefore, the earliest Bob may re-apply for Naturalization is February 1, 2025.
- Absent for more than 1 year or more
If you leave the United States for more than 1 year or more, your application will automatically be denied due to failure to meet the Continuous Residence requirement unless you have had an approved Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes, Form N-470. The Form N-470 is similar to I-131, the reentry permit for green card holders but is slightly different. In this case, you will have to wait before you can reapply:
- If you had to wait for 5 years to apply, you will need to wait at least 4 years and 1 day upon returning from your trip abroad to reapply but must overcome presumption of break in continuity of residence OR may apply after 4 years and 6 months.
- If you had to wait for 3 years to apply, you will need to wait at least 2 years and 1 day upon returning from your trip abroad to reapply but must overcome presumption of break in continuity of residence OR may apply after 2 years and 6 months.
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C. How to avoid Breaking “Continuous Presence”
To avoid the presumption that you abandoned your Permanent Resident status, it is important that you take precautionary steps before leaving the United States.
- Green card holders should apply “RE-ENTRY PERMIT”
- If you, a lawful permanent resident, expect to stay abroad for at least one year or more, it is essential that you apply for a “RE-ENTRY PERMIT.” (Form I-131, Application for Travel Document).
- Green card holders should apply “PRESERVATION” of your Permanent Residence
- You will be allowed to keep your Green Card even if you stay abroad for more than one year or more because of your work. However, your work must be a specific type of work that is approved by the U.S. Government. (You can find the list of work at https://www.uscis.gov/n-470). (Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes).
- Green card holders can apply “RETURNING RESIDENT VISA”
- If you, a lawful permanent resident, stayed abroad for one year or longer due to unforeseen event, such as, emergency medical reason, and therefore did not apply for “RE-ENTRY PERMIT” prior to leaving the United States, then it is essential to apply for a RETURNING RESIDENT VISA. You will need to contact your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and follow their special guidelines for application. (The process usually involves completing Form DS-117, Application to Determine Returning Resident Status).
D. “Physical Presence”
As it was stated, Continuous Residence and Physical Presence are interrelated but different naturalization requirements. You will also have to demonstrate your physical presence in the United States during your required Continuous Residence period.
If you are required to continuously reside in the United States for 5 years, then you will have to show your Physical Presence at least 30 months of those 5 years or at least half of 3 years if your required statutory period is 3 years.
Naturalization Requirements 3. Residency
The Residency requirement is slightly different from the Continuous and Physical Presence requirement according to INA. Prior to filing of Form N-400, Naturalization application, you must have lived in the state or USCIS district with jurisdiction over your place of residence, for at least 3 months. Thus, if you have moved to another state then you must have to wait for at least 3 months before filing the application.
The “State” is to include all 50 states within the United States and,
- The District of Columbia - Puerto Rico
- The U.S. Virgin Islands of the United States
- The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)
The “USCIS District” refers to the geographical area served by a particular USCIS field office, determined by your ZIP code. The current physical address you provide on your N-400 application must be where you have established residency, meaning where you registered to vote, pay taxes, or obtained a State ID or Driver’s License, according to INA. But if you are a student and depend on your parents or guardians for financial support, you may apply for naturalization from either where you attend school or your family’s home.
Naturalization Requirements 4. Good moral character
The next part of the naturalization requirement is “Good Moral Character.” INA broadly defines it as a character that measures up to the standards of average citizens. In general, according to INA, you must show that you have been and continue to be a person of Good Moral Character during the statutory period prior to filing and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance. The USCIS officer will decide on a case-by-case basis whether you qualify this requirement. However, there are certain types of crime that automatically preclude you from establishing your Good Moral Character and place you in a removal proceeding.
IMPORTANT 1: USCIS is not limited to reviewing your conduct only during the applicable statutory period. Your conduct prior to the statutory period may affect your ability to establish Good Moral Character if your present conduct does not reflect a reformation of character or the earlier conduct is relevant to your present moral character.
Certain Types of Crime that Automatically Precludes you from establishing your Good Moral Character – Murder, Aggravated Felony (convicted of Aggravated Felony on or after November 29, 1990, you are permanently barred from Naturalization, however, if you are convicted after November 29, 1990, the officer should consider the seriousness of the underlying offense along with the current moral character),or Defrauding the U.S. Government for immigration purposes, including any false statements during your interview at the time of Naturalization.
In addition to the Permanent Bars to Good Moral Character, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and corresponding regulations include bars to Good Moral Character that are not permanent in nature but Conditional Bars.
Conditional bars to Good Moral Character 1
|One or More Crimes involving Moral Turpitude||INA 101(f)(3)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(i), (iv)
|Conviction or admission of one or more Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (other than political offense), except for one petty offense.|
|Aggregate Sentence of 5 Years or More||INA 101(f)(3)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(ii), (iv)
|Conviction of two or more offenses with combined sentence of 5 years or more (other than political offense)|
|Controlled Substance Violation||INA 101(f)(3)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(iii), (iv)
|Violation of any law on controlled substances, except for simple possession of 30g or less of marijuana|
|Incarceration for 180 days||INA 101(f)(7)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(v)
|Incarceration for a total period of 180 days or more, except political offense and ensuing confinement abroad|
|False Testimony under Oath||INA 101(f)(6)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(vi)
|False testimony for the purpose of obtaining any immigration benefit|
|Prostitution Offenses||INA 101(f)(3)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(vii)
|Engaged in prostitution, attempted or procured to import prostitution, or received proceeds from prostitution|
|Smuggling of a Person||INA 101(f)(3)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(viii)
|Involved in smuggling of a person to enter or try to enter the United States in violation of law|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(ix)
|Practiced or is practicing polygamy (the custom of having more than one spouse at the same time)|
|Gambling Offenses||INA 101(f)(4)-(5)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(x)-(xi)
|Two or more gambling offense or derives income principally from illegal gambling activities|
|Habitual Drunkard||INA 101(f)(1)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(xii)
|Is or was a habitual drunkard|
|Two or More Convictions for Driving Under the Influence (DUI)||INA 101(f)||Two or more convictions for driving under the influence during the statutory period|
|Failure to Support Dependents||INA 101(f)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(i)
|Willful failure or refusal to support dependents, unless extenuating circumstances are established|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(ii)
|Extramarital affair tending to destroy existing marriage, unless extenuating circumstances are established|
|Unlawful Acts||INA 101(f)(3)|
8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(iii)
|Unlawful acts that adversely reflect upon Good Moral Character, unless extenuating circumstances are established|
IMPORTANT 2: Juvenile Conviction, Deferrals of Adjudication, Vacated Judgment, Foreign Convictions, Pardons, and Expunged Records may all factor into when determining your Good Moral Character. If your moral character may be in question, we strongly suggest that you need to consult with an experienced immigration attorney before filing N-400 application.
Overall, having Good Moral Character means that you did not commit certain types of crimes stated above during the statutory period and until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance (unless other special circumstances exist), and did not lie to a USCIS officer during your Naturalization interview.
- If you have confidential questions about your criminal background that could affect your Good Moral Character, please consult with an experienced immigration attorney before filing an N-400 application.
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Naturalization Requirements 5. Proficient in English & knowledge of U.S. history and government
As part of the Naturalization requirements, you will be required to pass a two-part test (a.k.a. citizenship test):
- English language test – reading, writing, and speaking
- Civics test – your knowledge of U.S. history and government
These tests are given during your naturalization Interview. You will be asked during your interview about specific answers you provided on your form N-400 and you will also be asked to write and read simple sentences dictated to you by a USCIS Officer.
For the Civics Test, you will be asked approximately 10 questions about U.S. history and government from the list of 100 questions. You must answer correctly 6 out of 10 questions to pass the civics test.
You are given two opportunities to pass the U.S. citizenship test. If you fail any part of the naturalization test at your first interview, you will be retested only on the portion of the test that you failed, between 60 and 90 days from the date of your first interview.
Do you want to learn more about the citizenship interview questions? Click here.
Check the instructions and study materials for citizenship tests here.
IMPORTANT: Certain groups of applicants are exempt from one or both tests. Our guide to the U.S. Citizenship Exam Preparation has more details about those exemptions, along with how to prepare and links to study materials. Click here to learn more!
Naturalization Requirements 6. Attachment to the constitution
You must declare your willingness to support and defend the U.S. and the Constitution, as part of naturalization requirements. “Attachment” simply means that you believe, support, and are willing to defend the principles of the U.S. Constitution by accepting the democratic process and promising to obey the law.
Although this is one of the naturalization requirements, in general, you do not need to show your attachment separately. Once your application and interview are completed, along with passing the Two-Part exam, you will attend a public swearing-in ceremony, where you and other Naturalization applicants will recite the Oath of Allegiance.
During the ceremony, you will be asked to assure that you understand the following:
- You are taking the Oath of Allegiance voluntarily
- You are giving your full allegiance to the United States by renouncing your allegiance to all other countries where you claim citizenship
- You accept all the responsibilities of a U.S. citizen, including military and civil service if necessary
Click here to know more about the Oath of Allegiance ceremony.
Naturalization Requirements 7. Oath of Allegiance
Last step of naturalization is to attend the Oath of Allegiance Ceremony. The Oath of Allegiance is the public oath that you will take and declare, on oath, that you will be loyal to the United States, abide by the Constitution, and renounce your allegiance to your home county.
The Oath of Allegiance
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
You must satisfy all naturalization requirements stated above to successfully naturalize and become a U.S. citizen.
- Chart was provided by the USCIS Website↩