In this article we discuss the top requirements to qualify for US citizenship. The top requirements to meet when applying for US citizenship with USCIS are:
1. You must be 18 years or older at the time of filing the Application for Naturalization.
The applicant submitting an application for US citizenship must be at least 18 years old at the time he or she files the application with USCIS. If the applicant is not 18 years old, he or she must wait until their 18th birthday before they can apply for naturalization.
2. You must be a green card holder (be a lawful permanent resident) for at least 5 years or 3 years if you are married to a US citizen immediately prior to filing the application for naturalization.
At the time of filing the application for US citizenship through naturalization, the applicant must have a Permanent Resident Card, commonly known as a “Green Card.” However, possession of a Green Card alone does not determine the eligibility of the applicant for US citizenship. In addition to possessing a Green Card, USCIS determines if the applicant lawfully obtained the green card.
The applicant for US citizenship for naturalization must be a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of application for US citizenship. If the applicant is the spouse of a US citizen, then he or she must have been a green card holder for at least 3 years prior to the time of application for citizenship.
The effective date when the applicant became a lawful permanent resident for USCIS purposes is the date when USCIS approves the applicant’s adjustment of status application to permanent resident or when the applicant enters the United States and is admitted by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) into the US with an immigrant visa that the applicant received at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad.
In the case of individuals who were admitted as lawful permanent residents under the Cuban Adjustment Act or obtained parole, refuge or asylum status, the effective date of becoming a permanent resident may be earlier than the actual approval of status date.
3. Show that you resided continuously in the United States for at least 5 years as a green card holder; simply put, you were a permanent resident for at least 5 years at the time of filing the application for US citizenship.
The applicant must reside continuously in the United States after becoming a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) for at least 5 years prior to filing for US citizenship and up to the time of naturalization. However, the applicant can file the application up to 90-days before meeting the 5-year continuous residence requirement.
In order to show that the applicant satisfies this requirement, he or she must maintain a permanent place of residence in the United States for at least 5 years. The 5-year period is measured from the time the applicant established residence in a particular location, which is in general determined by the actual physical location where he or she lives.
The applicant must show proof that he or she complied with the 5-year continuous residence requirement when submitting the application for US citizenship through naturalization. Some of the documents the applicant can include to prove residence in the United States include:
- residential lease
- real estate purchase agreement
- utility bills
- medical treatments
- professional licenses
Lengthy or many trips outside of the US can break the continuous US residence requirement
In addition, the USCIS reviews the travel record to determine how many times and for how long the applicant traveled abroad and was not in the United States and if he or she broke the 5-year continuity of residence requirement.
To break the 5-year continuous residence requirement for purposes of the naturalization, USCIS questions the following:
- The applicant is absent from the US for more than 6 months but less than a year, or
- The applicant is absent from the US for 1 year or more, or
- The applicant has multiple absences from the US of less than 6 months
USCIS can deny the application for citizenship for green card holders with lengthy or frequent absences from the US during the required 5-year period and view these absences as abandonment of permanent residence. However, if the applicant has an approved Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes, then he or she is considered to maintain continuous residence in the US.
Trips outside the US for more than 6 months but less than 1 year are presumed to interrupt the residence requirement but can be overcome
If the applicant took trips outside of the US of more than 6 months (more than 180 days) but less than 1 year (less than 365 days) during the 5-year period, then the applicant is presumed to break the continuous residence requirement and the applicant must provide proof to show that the continuity of his or her residence was not interrupted.
To prove that residence was not interrupted the applicant can include documentation to show that:
- The applicant was employed in the United States or was not employed abroad,
- The applicant’s immediate family members were in the United States, and
- The applicant had full access or continues to own or lease a home in the US
Trips outside of the US for 1 year or more in one trip automatically interrupt the US residence requirement
If the applicant traveled outside of the US for 1 year or more (more than 365 days) in one trip during the 5-year period, then the absence automatically breaks the continuous residence requirement. This applies regardless if the 1-year absence occurs before or after the applicant submits the application for naturalization with USCIS.
After reviewing the travel history of the applicant, if USCIS determines that the applicant broke the continuity of residence, then the applicant must establish a new 5-year period of continuous residence in order to qualify for naturalization and obtain the US citizenship.
4. If you are married to a US citizen, you must show you resided continuously in the US for at least 3 years as a green card holder, instead of 5 years.
In the case of applicants who are married to US citizens, the requirement for continuous residence in the US as permanent residents is 3 years instead of 5 years.
The USCIS reviews travel history of the applicant to determine if the applicant continuously resided in the US. If the applicant traveled abroad for 1 year or more in the previous 3-year period, then the applicant automatically broke the continuous residence requirement.
In cases where the applicant went on a trip outside of the US for more than 6 months but less than 1 year during the required 3-year period, then the applicant must show that the trip did not interrupt his or her continuous residence in the US.
Finally, if the applicant took many trips abroad of less than 6 months, then the applicant should prove that he or she did not break the residence requirement.
In addition, the applicant must have been married with the US citizen spouse and the spouse must have been a US citizen during the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the US citizenship application and until USCIS examines the application.
5. You were physically present in the United States for at least 30 months (913 days) in the last 5 years, or at least 18 months (548 days) in the last 3 years if you are married to a US citizen.
The applicant must be physically present in the US for 913 days during the 5-year period prior to filing the application for US citizenship. Applicants filing for US citizenship through naturalization based on marriage to a US citizen must be physically present in the United States for at least 18 months during the preceding 3-year period.
USCIS counts the day on which the applicant leaves the United States and the day on which the applicant returns to the US as days of physical presence in the US.
6. You lived for at least 3 months in the state or USCIS district where you claim residence.
7. Show good moral character.
The good moral character of the applicant is determined after USCIS examines the totality of circumstances. In determining the applicant’s good moral character, the USCIS takes into account the following factors, among others:
- Employment history
- Criminal history
- Financial history
- Family ties and background
- Time in the United States
- Community involvement
- Compliance with probation
Malescu Law can help
At Malescu Law, our immigration lawyers in Miami, Florida USA can assist you with understanding top requirements for US citizenship and with preparing, planning and filing the US citizenship application with USCIS.
Certain cases of obtaining US citizenship through the process of naturalization can be complicated especially with respect to proving continuous residence and moral character.
Immigration laws are complex and provide for many rules and exceptions and our immigration attorneys can help you navigate and plan your application for naturalization to obtain US citizenship. Contact us now or book a consultation!
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