The most common path to citizenship for immigrants is to obtain a permanent resident green card. The receipt of a green card, however, does not guarantee that citizenship will follow. Before an individual who possesses a green card can become a citizen, a number of criteria must be met. Individuals desirous of U.S. citizenship should be aware that when their green cards have been obtained through marriage to U.S. citizens, these criteria are slightly different.
Criteria for Application for Citizenship
In order to be eligible to apply for citizenship, an individual must meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 18 years old;
- Be in possession of a green card for at least 5 years, or 3 years if a spouse of a citizen;
- Live in the same state for 3 months preceding application;
- Maintain residence in the U.S. continually for the 5 years preceding application;
- Be physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the 5 years preceding application; and
- Remain in the U.S. while the application is processed.
Once these criteria have been met, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will qualify the applicant to take the naturalization test. The test comes in two parts: English and civics (history and government). The English test may be waived if the applicant is over 50 years of age and has lived as a permanent resident in the U.S. for 20 years (the "50/20" exception) or is over 55 years of age and has lived as a permanent resident in the U.S. for 15 years (the "55/15" exemption).
The law also requires that an applicant for citizenship be of good moral character, show "attachment to the principles of the Constitution," and be "well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States." Having met all these qualifications successfully, the applicant is permitted to make an oath of allegiance to the United States and become a naturalized citizen.