Citizenship is often felt to be an easy application to file. However, it is also the application that involves many problematic issues: residence and good moral character are two of the most complex issues that arise in citizenship applications. Many individuals are not eligible for citizenship and, therefore, should not apply. This is often the case for individuals convicted of one or more crimes. Filing an application for naturalization can lead to removal proceedings for these individuals. If a permanent resident has ever been arrested, he should consult an immigration attorney prior to filing for naturalization.
Permanent residents who have spent significant amounts of time outside of the United States should consult an experienced immigration attorney who knows how to perform citizenship eligibility date calculations prior to filing for citizenship.
General requirements for naturalization are:
- The applicant must be lawfully admitted for permanent residence;
- The applicant must be eighteen years of age or older at the time of filing the application for naturalization (unless the applicant has served in the United States military, in which case the applicant may naturalize regardless of age, or the applicant is a minor with at least one United States citizen parent, who may then be naturalized upon application of the parent);
- The applicant must have satisfied certain residency requirements:
- The applicant must have been domiciled (legally resident) in the United States for five years immediately preceding the filing of the application unless permanent residence is obtained as the spouse of a United States citizen, in which case the period of legal residence is three years;
- The naturalization application may be filed after four years and nine months after the grant of permanent residence;
- The five year period of residence must be fulfilled before the grant of citizenship
- The applicant must reside within the state or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district where the application for naturalization is filed for at least three months immediately prior to the filing of the application;
- The applicant must be physically present in the United States for at least half of the required residence time preceding the filing of the naturalization application which is two and one half years for all applicants (except those who acquired permanent residence as the spouse of a United States citizen who must only have eighteen months of physical presence in the United States prior to applying);
- The applicant must possess the requisite physical presence eligibility at the time of filing the application for naturalization; at the time of the naturalization interview; and at the time of the oath ceremony;
- The applicant must retain residency in the United States from the time of filing of the application until the time of admission for citizenship;
- The applicant must no longer intend to reside in the United States after acquiring citizenship;
- The applicant’s absences from the United States during the required periods of statutory residence may impact the applicant’s eligibility for citizenship: absences from the United States for more than six months create a presumptive break in residence that is rebuttable; absences of one year or more break continuous residence; and certain employees of United States government agencies and companies may file applications to preserve their residence with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; and
- Applicants who are religious missionaries and those applicants serving in the United States armed forces have special rules for their physical presence and residence.
- The applicant must be a person of good moral character:
- This qualification for citizenship can be an obstacle for those who have been convicted of certain crimes; and
- This qualification for citizenship can be an obstacle for those men who have not registered with the Selective Service when they were required by law to do so.
- The applicant must fulfill literacy and knowledge of United States history and government requirements:
- Certain applicants may be exempt from these requirements due to age or disability.