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Green Card Citizenship


Going from a green card to US citizenship ("green card citizenship") is ultimately the goal many permanent residents and soon-to-be permanent residents in the United States. If you are a permanent resident and married to and living with a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply to go from a green card to US citizenship within 3 years of being a permanent resident (this includes the time you were a “conditional permanent residence”). Let’s have a look at some of the common items related to the “green card citizenship” process when married to and living with a U.S. citizen.

If you are a permanent resident (aka green card holder), you can become a U.S. citizen through the naturalization process if you meet the following requirements:

  • you have resided in the U.S. as a permanent resident continuously for 3 years (5 if you have not been married to and living with a U.S. citizen during the entire 3 years)
  • you have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the 3 years (or 5 years)
  • you have resided for at least 3 months in the state in which you are filing your application
  • you are a person of good moral character
  • you have basic knowledge of the U.S. government and history (civics)
  • you are able to read, write and speak basic English (there are exceptions for some older and long-time permanent residents, and for some disabled permanent residents)
  • you are at least 18 years of age and legally competent to take an oath of allegiance to the U.S.
  • you express your allegiance to the U.S.

Continuous Residence Requirement

If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you can naturalize 3 years after becoming a permanent resident if you have been married to and living with your U.S. citizen spouse for the entire 3 years. If this is not the case, then you will have to wait 5 years until applying for citizenship. Continuous residence doesn’t mean that you have been in the U.S. the entire time without leaving, but it does mean that during the statutory period of time (3 years or 5 years) the following were true:

  • you didn’t abandon your permanent resident status
  • the U.S. has been your principal residence during the entire 3 year period
  • you have not been out of the country for more than 1 year (365 consecutive days) or more at a time

Scenarios that are acceptable in breaking the Continuous Residence Requirement

The following are scenarios where it may be acceptable to have been outside of the U.S. for 1 year or more:

  • If you went to work abroad for a U.S. business or research institution, to do religious work, or to work for the U.S. government, you may not be considered to have broken your continuous residence if you received prior approval from USCIS by filing a form to “preserve residence for naturalization purposes.”
  • If you broke continuous residence but have obtained a re-entry permit, you can file 2 years 1 day after re-entering the U.S. (4 years 1 day if not married to and living with a U.S. citizen).

Physical Presence Requirement

In order to meet the naturalization requirements, you must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the statutory period. That means if your statutory period is 3 years or 1,095 days, you must have been present in the U.S. for at least 1.5 years or 548 days (913 days if your statutory period is 5 years or 1,825 days). There is no flexibility in this requirement.

Good Moral Character Requirement

This can be ambiguous, as there is no black and white definition, aside from what has been established through case law. Generally speaking, minor offenses, such as parking and speeding tickets, disorderly conduct convictions, open container violations, and other similar matters will usually not prevent one from naturalizing. However, repeated minor violations could put one’s moral character in jeopardy.

Some items that will put your moral character in jeopardy are as follows:

  • failure to pay child support
  • problems with drugs or alcohol
  • incidents involving illegal gambling or prostitution
  • failure to pay or file taxes
  • failure to register with the Selective Service if so required
  • incidents of misrepresentation or fraud to obtain immigration benefits

Civic Knowledge Requirement

In order to successfully naturalize as a U.S. citizen, you must have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government, aka “civics”. In furtherance of this requirement, you must answer 10 questions correctly from a list of 100 provided by USCIS. Applicants who are 65 years of age or older and have been a permanent resident for at least 20 years at the time of application submission need to answer 10 questions correctly from a list of 25.

English Language Requirement

Each applicant must pass an English requirement where the applicant will be required to display a basic knowledge of English through a speaking, reading, and writing test. If an applicant is 50 or older and has been a permanent resident for 20 years they will be exempt from this requirement. The same exemption applies to an applicant who is 55 or older and has been a permanent resident for 15 years.

Naturalization Red Flags

The following are "RED FLAGS" for a naturalization application:

  • an arrest and/or conviction for certain crimes
  • lying to an immigration officer, consular official or government official
  • failure to register for selective service if required
  • marriage fraud
  • absence from the U.S. for long periods of time, especially over 6 months, since becoming a permanent resident
  • filing to file or pay taxes
  • failing to pay child support
  • drug or alcohol issues
  • registered to vote or voted in the U.S.

Naturalization Fees

The current USCIS fee for a naturalization application is a total of $680, which is comprised of $595 for the application filing fee and $85 for the biometrics fee.

Lightman Law Firm charges a flat legal fee for full representation throughout the naturalization process. Our flat legal fee varies depending on the details of the case. Contact us to discuss your case and we will be able to provide you with a flat fee quote.

When can you submit your application to go from a green card to citizenship?

The first thing to understand is that your status as a “permanent resident” begins when you are approved for a green card even if that green card is a “conditional” green card (aka “2-year” green card). You should keep that in mind when calculating when your status as a permanent resident (aka green card holder) began and when you will be eligible to file your naturalization application.

If you have been married to and living with a U.S. citizen since becoming a permanent resident, you will be eligible to file an application for naturalization within 3 years of being approved as a permanent resident assuming you meet all other requirements. If you have not been married to or living with a U.S. citizen for the 3 year period, then you will be eligible to apply for naturalization within 5 years of being approved as a permanent resident.

A naturalization application may actually be submitted within 3 months of the 3-year or 5-year eligibility anniversary.

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