An individual who was born outside the United States to non-U.S. citizen parents can only become an American citizen via the naturalization process.

What Should I Know about the Naturalization Process?

After five years of being a permanent resident in the U.S., an individual can apply to become a citizen by completing the Application for Naturalization Form 400. However, they should keep in mind some legal considerations when completing and filing the application, such as:

  • Criminal record: A naturalization applicant must possess good moral character. This means an individual with a criminal record, such as felony charges or multiple convictions, may have trouble becoming a citizen.
  • Immigration fraud: An applicant should avoid trying to misrepresent their status or commit fraud during the immigration process. Any misrepresentations made during the application process lead to criminal charges and or rejection of the naturalization application.
  • Residency requirements: One of the eligibility requirements is for the applicant to physically reside in the country for a specific amount of time prior to applying for citizenship.

Do I Need to Wait for Five Years before Starting the Process?

Whether a person actually needs to satisfy the five-year residency requirement before beginning the naturalization process depends on that individual’s circumstances. A legal permanent resident can file for naturalization before completely satisfying the five-year waiting period if they are:

  • Married to a U.S. Citizen: A permanent resident who is married to a US citizen can apply for naturalization three years after receiving their green card.
  • Political Refugee: Anyone who arrives in the United States as a political refugee can apply for naturalization approximately four years after receiving their green card.

Remember, the individual must meet specific eligibility requirements, including:

  • Being 18 years old or older
  • Residing in the US full-time for at least two and a half years
  • Residing in the state or jurisdiction where they filed for citizenship for at least three months prior to filing
  • Not have resided outside the United States for more than one consecutive year after becoming a permanent resident
  • Possessing the intent to make the United States their primary home

Should I Consult a Lawyer about the Naturalization Process?

If you are seeking to become a U.S. citizen, it is in your best interest to speak to an immigration lawyer. The lawyer will discuss the process with you, and they will file all pertinent paperwork on your behalf.