Having the process of moving from green card holder to naturalized citizen go smoothly is best accomplished by understanding the rules around naturalization and the procedures involved in gaining citizenship.
In general terms, immigrants seeking naturalization are required to be at least 18 years old. Green card holders who have achieved continuous residency in the U.S. for at least five years can then file the application for naturalization—Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. The application can be filed up to 90 days before reaching the five-year continuous residency period.
It’s important to note that with the Form N-400 application, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) requires immigrants to demonstrate legal residency in the country. While a permanent residency card (PRC) shows the date and the classification under which an immigrant is awarded lawful permanent residency (LPR) status, the PRC by itself doesn’t establish lawful admittance. In other words, immigrants must be able to prove LPR status wasn’t established through a mistake or fraud.
Although part of the naturalization rules require immigrants to have continuous residence in the United States as a green card holder for at least five years prior to filing the application, the requirement is not the same as requiring five years of continuous physical presence in the country. In other words, “continuous residence” refers to a place that is returned to even after durations of absence.
By the same token, USCIS rules do include physical presence time frames that immigrants are required to meet. While “continuous residence” involves a five-year time frame, USCIS requires that immigrants be physically present in the United States for about half that time—30 months out of the five years. In another portion of the physical presence requirement, USCIS rules say immigrants must have lived within their state or the USCIS district with jurisdiction over an application for the three months prior to the naturalization application filing date. The rules also say immigrants must continuously reside within the United States from the date of the application up to the time of naturalization.
Understanding the USCIS rules around granting naturalization is the first step in gaining citizenship. While USCIS requirements means immigrants must include lots of planning to ensure the rules are followed, avoiding mistakes is the best way to make the naturalization process moves as quickly as possible.