Naturalization is the process by which a lawful permanent resident applies for and is granted U.S. citizenship.
U.S. citizenship is a legal status that offers many benefits and responsibilities, including the ability to vote in U.S. federal elections, serve on a jury, travel with a U.S. passport, and bring family members to the United States. Importantly, once obtained, U.S. citizenship cannot be abandoned or lost by spending extended periods of time outside of the United States (as is the case with permanent residence).
When you apply for citizenship, you are taking an oath to support the principles of the U.S. Constitution, to renounce allegiance to a foreign state, and to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law. In some cases, obtaining U.S. citizenship may mean losing the citizenship of your home country. This can make applying for U.S. citizenship a very personal decision.
For many people, the naturalization process is relatively simple and straightforward. However, if you have spent extended periods of time outside of the United States, have criminal convictions, or at first glance are unable to meet all naturalization requirements, you should speak to an attorney before making the important decision to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Naturalization applicants must:
Be at least 18 years old
Be a lawful permanent resident (hold a “Green Card”) for at least five years (or three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen)
Be able to demonstrate physical presence in the United States for at least 30 months out of the last five years prior to filing (or 18 months out of the last three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen)
Be able to demonstrate continuous residence in the United States (meaning you have not been outside the United States for more than six months in a row, with some limited exceptions)
Have resided for at least three months in the state where you are filing the naturalization application
Be able to read, write, and speak basic English
Understand the fundamentals of U.S. history and government
Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance
Meet the good moral character requirements
Note that there are exceptions to some of these requirements. If you are thinking about applying for naturalization but are concerned about one (or more) of the requirements, it is important to speak to an immigration attorney to determine whether an exception applies to you and/ or whether naturalization is right for you.