Naturalization is the process by which a foreign citizen obtains U.S. citizenship.  After becoming naturalized, the foreign citizen becomes a U.S. citizen and is granted all of the rights and privileges of a natural-born citizen.  In general, only lawful permanent residents (permanent visa or green card holders) may apply for naturalization. 

A lawful permanent resident (LPR) may apply for naturalization 5 years after they have received their green card.  This is the normal, standard waiting period for all LPR’s seeking to be naturalized. 

In addition to the 5 year naturalization waiting period, the LPR must meet certain eligibility requirements.  For example, the applicant must be able to prove that they:

  • Are 18 years of age or older
  • Have been in the U.S. for at least half of the time (2 ½ years)
  • Have resided for at least 3 months in the state where they filed for citizenship
  • Have not been outside the U.S. for more than one consecutive year
  • Intend to make the U.S. their primary home

Are There Any Exceptions to the 5-year Naturalization Waiting Period?

Yes- there are a few instances where an LPR can file for naturalization earlier, before the 5-year waiting period is over.  Some of these include:

  • Political Refugees:  May apply for naturalization 4 years after receiving their green card
  • Persons Married to a U.S. Citizen:  May apply for naturalization 3 years after receiving their green card

While these persons may apply for naturalization earlier than normal, they may also be required to provide additional documentation of their circumstances before they can be naturalized. 

For example, a political refugee may be required to prove that they would undergo extreme hardship or persecution if they return to their country of origin.  Similarly, an LPR who is married to a U.S. citizen may have to prove that they are still married to the U.S. citizen, and that the marriage was not for the purpose of evading immigration laws. 

Finally, in some instances, an LPR can file for naturalization as early as three months before the 5 year waiting period is over.  That is, the applicant may file for naturalization after 4 years and 9 months.  However, they may need to prove that they have been in “continuous residence” in the U.S. for the 4 years and 9 months.

How Long Does the Naturalization Process Take After the Application is Submitted?

Of course, the process of naturalization may be different for each applicant.  This is because each individual case is different, and each person may require additional steps or documentation during the process.

Generally speaking however, an applicant for naturalization must wait another 12-15 months from the date that the application is submitted until the date of the first interview. 

From there, the wait period will again vary depending on each individual applicant.  The person may require additional interviews or may need to submit additional documentation.  Also, the applicant still needs to undergo several important steps in the naturalization process, such as taking the naturalization test and oath.

Thus, an applicant for naturalization can expect anywhere from 1-2 years for the entire process once their application has been submitted.  Factoring in the 5 year wait period, this makes for a total of about 7 years from the time that the person has received their green card.

Is it Necessary to Speak with a Lawyer for Naturalization?

Applying for naturalization can be a lengthy and complicated process.  You may wish to contact an immigration attorney for assistance with the process.  Your lawyer can help you compile the necessary forms and documents that will be needed for the application.  Also, an experienced immigration lawyer can be able to tell you whether you qualify for an exception- this may make the waiting periods shorter and can save you time and money.