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  • Residency Requirements


    The applicant must have resided continuously in the United States for at least five years immediately preceding filing for naturalization (three years for the spouses of citizens) as a permanent resident.  The one exception to this rule is if a foreign national served honorably in active-duty status with the U.S. military during a time of war can be naturalized without first becoming a permanent resident if they were in the U.S. at the time of induction or enlistment.


    A naturalization application can be filed up to three months before the applicant has met the continuous residence requirement. However, the applicant must have resided for at least three months immediately preceding the filing for naturalization in the state in which the application is filed. This requirement is met concurrently with the five-year or three year continuous residence requirement.


    The applicant must have been physically present in the U.S. for an aggregate total of at least one half of the period of required continuous residence (two and a half years for most aliens, one and a half years for spouses of citizens). The alien must account for every absence from the U.S., with an exact starting and termination date for each trip. For aliens who must travel frequently on business, this requirement can present difficulty, and in some cases the naturalization examiner will literally count days to determine whether the alien has sufficient periods of physical presence in the U.S. to qualify for naturalization.


  • Long-Term Travel As A Permanent Resident


    Maintaining residency for naturalization purposes is oftentimes a problem for permanent residents.  This is because they confuse maintaining residency for permanent residency purposes with maintaining residency for naturalization purposes.


    • Less than 6 months: Remaining outside of the United States for less than 6 months will have no impact on a person’s naturalization residency.

    • 6 months-1 year:

    • More than 1 year: Absences of one year or more create an absolute bar to meeting the naturalization residency requirement, unless the person takes steps before the expiration of the year abroad to preserve his or her continuity of residence.

  • Ability to Read and Write English


    The speaking and understanding part of this requirement is met from the answers provided by the applicant to questions normally asked during the interview with a USCIS examiner.


    To test the applicant’s reading and writing skills, the applicant will be asked to read one simple sentence out of three correctly in English, and to write one simple sentence out of three correctly in English.


    The following people do not need to comply with this requirement:

    1. A person who is physically unable to comply because of a disability such as blindness, deafness or other illness;
    2. A person those who is unable to comply because of a developmental disability or mental impairment;
    3. A person who is over 50 years old and who has lived in the United States for at least 20 years as a permanent resident; and
    4. A person who is over 55 years old and has lived at least 15 years in the United States as a permanent resident.

    NOTE: Persons who are exempt from the English literacy requirement based on their age and length of residence in the United States must still meet the U.S. history and government knowledge requirement, although in these cases the test may be conducted in the language of the applicant's choice.


  • Knowledge of U.S. History and Government


    Applicants must have some basic knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and government of the United States.  This requirement is tested at the time the applicant’s naturalization interview.  The questions come from a list of 100 standardized questions.  The applicant will be asked ten questions from the list and must answer six correctly to achieve a passing score


    As with the English language requirement, there are some exceptions to this requirement.  Specifically, the following people do not need to comply with this requirement:


    1. An applicant who is physically unable to comply; and
    2. An applicant who is unable to comply because of a developmental disability or mental impairment.


    The USCIS is also authorized to provide "special consideration" to applicants who have been permanent residents for at least 20 years, and who are over 65 years of age.  Such applicants are asked 10 questions from a list of 20, but are still required to answer six out of 10 questions correctly.  Such applicants may also be tested in the language of their choice.


    Study guides for the naturalization test can be found on the USCIS web site at the following link: USCIS Naturalization Resources Page.

  • Good Moral Character


    All applicants must have good moral character. Good moral character must be shown for the required period of residence (five or three years). Some of the reasons why an applicant may be found to not have good moral character include, but are not limited to, the following:


    • An applicant who has been involved in prostitution, alien smuggling, and most criminal activity. If an applicant has a criminal conviction of any type, particularly one for which he or she has been confined in prison for six months or more, it is unlikely that the applicant will be considered a person of good moral character.

    • An applicant who has been on probation, parole, or suspended sentence during all or part of the period of continuous permanent residence for any reason is not precluded from establishing good moral character, but such status may be considered by USCIS in determining good moral character. As a result, a naturalization application will not be approved until after the probation, parole, or suspended sentence has been completed.

    • An applicant who has committed adultery in a "notorious" and open manner, such as in a case in which the adultery has broken up a marriage.

    • An applicant who has been convicted of an aggravated felony conviction permanently bars a naturalization applicant from establishing good moral character.

    • An applicant who has unlawfully voted or who has made a false claim to U.S. citizenship while voting or registering to vote. However, the act of voting by itself does not establish that the applicant voted unlawfully. It must be determined if the applicant violated any election law.  This is because some local municipalities permit permanent residents to vote in municipal elections.  Some election laws also penalize the act of voting only if the person acted “knowingly” or “willfully”.

    • An applicant who fails to file tax returns may be found to not have good moral character if it is determined that the applicant's failure was a “willful attempt” to conceal income or avoid paying income tax. However, even if a willful failure is not involved, the failure may still prevent the applicant from establishing the requisite residence for naturalization purposes. This is because such a failure can cause the USCIS to conclude that a person has abandoned his or her permanent residence.  This is because such a failure can be seen as proof that a person considers himself or herself to be a nonresident non-citizen.

    • An applicant who was required to register with the Selective Service (i.e., draft) and who knowingly or willfully failed to register cannot be considered a person of good moral character.

    • An applicant who has given “false testimony” for the purpose of obtaining any immigration benefits is barred from establishing good moral character. Such testimony must have been made orally and under oath, and the person must have had a subjective intent to deceive the USCIS for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit.

    IMPORTANT: The law does not distinguish between material and immaterial false testimony. As a result, misrepresentations that are completely irrelevant to the case may still bar naturalization. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that if the person has told even the most immaterial of lies with the subjective intent of obtaining an immigration benefit, the person lacks good moral character. However, the USCIS must establish that the lie was told in order to obtain a benefit; and when a lie is not material, subjective intent becomes hard to prove. Willful misrepresentations made for other reasons, such as embarrassment, fear, or a desire for privacy, are not done with subjective intent to obtain the immigration benefit, and are thus not covered by the false testimony bar.


  • Additional Requirements


    The following additional requirements must be met by all naturalization applicants:


    1. Agreeing with the principles of the U.S. Constitution.  This is demonstrated by affirming this fact on the naturalization application, and taking the oath of allegiance at the naturalization ceremony;
    2. Continuous “residence” (which is different from “physical presence”) in the United States from the date of filing the naturalization application until actual admission to citizenship; and
    3. Attainment of 18 years of age at the time of filing for naturalization (with certain exceptions).


Permanent residents are not required to become citizens of the U.S.  They can live here forever as permanent residents if they like.  This is commonly done because a permanent resident does not wish to give up their citizenship in their native country.


In order to be eligible for citizenship, a permanent resident must meet the requirements outlined below.


Please remember that this is not a complete discussion of these requirements, but only the basic requirements.  If any part of these requirements make you stop and think, then you should speak with an attorney before you proceed.



© 2017 Thompson Immigration Law Associates