When to Apply for U.S. Citizenship if you are a Permanent Resident
The five year “permanent resident” rule
If you are a U.S. permanent or conditional resident — that is, someone with a green card — the basic rule is that you cannot apply for U.S. citizenship (or apply to naturalize) until you have lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years. That means exactly five years, to the day.
However there are a few exceptions.
90 Days Early Application Rule
Despite the five years of permanent residence requirement, you are actually allowed to submit your naturalization application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the 90-days before your five-year anniversary has arrived. The reason has to do with timing.
Your application must be submitted by mail, using form N-400 (you can download here) USCIS will take a long time to process the N-400, to arrange for you to be fingerprinted, and to call you in for the interview at which it actually reviews your application, tests you on your knowledge of English and U.S. government, and makes a decision on whether to approve or deny you. In fact, USCIS will in all likelihood take at least 90 days to call you in for your interview, which is why it has officially said that you are safe applying within that time period.
Exception to 5 Years Rule through Marriage
You need to wait a mere three years to apply for U.S. citizenship if, during that time, you have been a permanent (or conditional) resident married to, as well as living with, a U.S. citizen.
This exception applies even if you did not get your green card through this marriage. So, for example, you could have gotten a green card through your employer, then married a U.S. citizen soon after, and you still need wait only three years from the date of your marriage to apply for citizenship.
You will, however, need to stay married to your U.S. citizen spouse all the way through to your citizenship interview. The exception won’t work if you separate or divorce legally prior to your interview, or even if you choose to stop living with your spouse. Unfortunately, you will also lose the exception if your spouse dies before your naturalization interview.
If your spouse has a job requiring the two of you to live overseas, you may be able to apply for citizenship without five years of permanent residence. If you are willing to come back to the United States to apply, you can file your application any time after you receive your permanent residence.
Partial Exception to 5 Years Rule for Refugees and People of Granted Asylum
If you got your green card based on having come to the United States as a refugee, part of your time as a refugee can be counted as if you were a permanent resident (known as “rollback”). If you were granted refugee status while you were in another country, use the date you entered the United States as the beginning of your permanent residence. No matter how many years you lived in the United States as a refugee before eventually becoming a permanent resident, those years will count as if you had been a permanent resident the whole time.
If you got your green card based on having received asylum in the United States, one year of your time as an asylee counts as if you were a permanent resident (known as “rollback”). Note, however, that if you waited longer than one year after receiving asylum to apply for your green card, that extra time will not be counted toward your permanent residency period. You will have to wait a full four years from the actual date when you’re approved for a green card.
Note that you may have to wait longer if you:
- have not spent the required amount of time physically present in the United States (for most people, at least half of your required years as a permanent resident)
- have not lived in the district or state where you are filing your application for at least three months
- have spent more than a year outside the United States, or
- cannot yet demonstrate that you’ve had good moral character for the required amount of time before applying for citizenship.
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Learn the basic rights and responsibilities for all U.S. citizens
U.S. Citizenship is the common thread that connects all Americans. We are a nation bound not by race or religion, but by the shared values of freedom, liberty, and equality.
Throughout our history, the United States has welcomed newcomers from all over the world. The contributions of immigrants have helped shape and define the country we know today. More than 200 years after our founding, naturalized citizens are still an important part of our democracy. By becoming a U.S. citizen, you too will have a voice in how our nation is governed.
The decision to apply is a significant one. Citizenship offers many benefits and equally important responsibilities. By applying, you are demonstrating your commitment to this country and our form of government.
Below you will find several rights and responsibilities that all American citizens should exercise and respect. Some of these responsibilities are legally required of every citizen, but all are important to ensuring that America remains a free and prosperous nation.
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