How to qualify for citizenship through naturalization

Naturalization refers to obtaining citizenship voluntarily, typically after holding a green card for a certain number of years.  In general, to obtain citizenship by naturalization, you must file an N-400 application with USCIS, pay a filing fee, submit to a background check, and satisfy the following requirements:

  • You are 18 years old;
  • You have been a permanent resident for 5 years (see exception below for spouses and members of our Armed Forces);
  • You have not left the United States for a long period of time during the 5-year period (i.e., trips lasting 6 months or 1 year);
  • Even if you have taken numerous short trips abroad, you have been present in the U.S. for a total of 30 months during the last 5 years;
  • You have lived in your USCIS filing district or State for 3 months;
  • You are a person of good moral character;
  • You can pass an English and Civics test; and
  • You will swear an oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.

There are many exceptions and wrinkles to the requirements listed above, so it is always important to speak with an attorney if you think you come close to satisfying them.  But, for purposes of this page, I will discuss the most common exceptions.

Notable exceptions for spouses of U.S. citizens and members of the U.S. Armed Forces

The 5-year residency requirement noted above may not apply to you depending on your situation.  For example, if you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen and have been married to that person for the past 3 years at the time of filing your N-400 application, you only need to show that you have been a permanent resident for 3 years.  And if you fall within that category, you should know that your time as a conditional resident counts toward the 3-year requirement.

  • But please note:  if you have divorced or separated from your U.S. spouse, you may no longer take advantage of the 3-year residency requirement; you must instead satisfy the 5-year requirement.

The residency requirement does not apply at all if you have performed active duty military service during an armed conflict — including on or after September 11, 2001.  As a way of thanking you for your service in an armed conflict, the U.S. government allows you to apply for citizenship right away, without first becoming a permanent resident.

In some instances, you merely need to be a permanent resident at the time of your citizenship interview with USCIS.  This applies to you if:

  • You have been a member of the U.S. Armed Forces for at least one year;
  • Your U.S. citizen spouse is member of the U.S. Armed Forces, or is involved in other specified U.S. government work; or
  • You were married to a U.S. citizen who died during a period of honorable active duty service in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The effect of a criminal conviction — such as a DUI or domestic violence conviction — on your application for citizenship

If you have any prior criminal convictions and you wish to apply for citizenship, it is very important to speak with an immigration attorney.  As noted above, to qualify for citizenship, you must show that you are a person of good moral character.  Some criminal convictions will serve as an absolute roadblock to getting citizenship, while others may simply act as a minor speed bump.  You and your attorney will have to discuss your past in detail and decide the best course of action.  Sometimes it may mean waiting a few years to apply for citizenship.  Other times it may mean taking steps to show that you are sorry about what you have done and are trying to turn your life around.

For now, the best thing you can do is obtain any and all documentation relating to your criminal conviction — e.g., arrest reports, charging documents, records of conviction, proof that you have completed any court-ordered programs — and get involved with your community.  It is always a good idea to show that you are the kind of person who deserves a second chance.

Registering for the Selective Service

If you are a male who lived in the United States between the ages of 18 and 26, you will likely have to show that you registered with the Selective Service.  If you did not register for the Selective Service (or if you simply do not recall), you must contact the Selective Service (1-847-688-6888), and request a Status Information Letter.  You will have to submit it with your N-400 citizenship application, along with your other supporting documents.


If you are interested in applying for citizenship, contact me today.Call (480) 404-6334 or schedule a consultation online

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