U.S. Citizenship Requirements – When to Apply?

There are many requirements you must meet to be eligible for U.S. citizenship. However, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not always make locating this information as easy as they could. Details are often scattered across several sources. Having a single resource that gives you all the information you need can make all the difference.

Obtaining U.S. citizenship can offer you many benefits, rights and protections. However, many people eligible for citizenship delay applying for years and, in some cases, never do so. One of the main reasons people put off citizenship is because they are intimidated by the process and worried their application will get denied. Knowing what to expect can alleviate these concerns.

What Are the Requirements for U.S. Citizenship?

Many things are taken into account when determining eligibility for naturalization. The requirements for obtaining U.S. citizenship are nearly universal. However, there are certain groups that may be exempt from some requirements, such as those serving in the U.S. military.

For those applying for U.S. citizenship, the basic eligibility requirements are:

  • Meet the minimum age requirement, which is 18 in most cases
  • Continuously and physically reside in the U.S. as a permanent resident for a specified period of time
  • Establish residency in the state or USCIS district where you will apply
  • Possess good moral character
  • Possess proficiency in basic English and knowledge of U.S. civics
  • Register for Selective Service (males between 18 and 25)
  • Swear your allegiance to the United States of America

See Also: Different Ways to Become U.S. Citizens

Minimum Age

To apply for citizenship through naturalization, you must be at least 18 years of age. There is one rare exception to this rule that states that those applying for citizenship based on a period of wartime military service may apply at any age. Since people are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military unless they are 18 (or 17 with parental consent), this exception is very rarely met.

Continuous and Physical Presence

Most people applying for naturalization must show that they have lived continuously in the United States as a green card holder for at least five years. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, the time requirement drops to three years. The continuous part of this requirement means that you can not take a trip outside of the U.S. that lasts six months or longer.

Such a trip would result in USCIS presuming that you have abandoned your permanent resident status. However, there are exceptions to this rule if there was a compelling reason that you had to stay away longer. There are many actions you can take to keep your permanent resident status and citizenship eligibility. These circumstances get reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

The physical presence requirement means that you need to have physically lived in the United States for at least half of the five or three years you were a permanent resident.

Those serving in the U.S. military are exempt from these requirements. For military members, there is no requirement for continuous presence. For those serving in the military, the amount of time you need to be a permanent resident varies from one year when serving during peacetime to one day when serving during periods of hostilities.

Residency

When applying for citizenship, you must first establish residency in the state, territory, or USCIS district where you intend to apply. Before you can submit your application for naturalization, you must meet this requirement by maintaining residency in your chosen state or district for at least three months immediately before applying.

A USCIS district is the geographical area that is served by a specific USCIS office. These districts are determined by zip code. To establish residency at a location you must have certain documentation linked to that address, including:

  • Voter registration
  • Tax payments
  • State ID
  • Driver’s license

Some exceptions to this rule exist, including for dependent students who may be allowed to apply for residence in the district where their parents live or in the district where they attend school.

Good Moral Character

Good moral character is one of the more ambiguous requirements for U.S. citizenship. USCIS defines it as character, which measures up to the standards of an average citizen. USCIS is not likely to do a deep dive into your personal life to determine whether or not you display good moral character. Instead, they will focus mainly on your criminal history.

Some criminal convictions will result in an automatic rejection of your right to citizenship while others will be judged on a case by case basis. Generally, the USCIS officer who examines your case will focus on the three to five year period preceding your application. However, they may consider prior offenses at their discretion.

The other main thing that could count against you for this naturalization requirement is if you lie during your citizenship interview.

English Proficiency and Civics Knowledge

When you go to your naturalization interview, you will be tested on both your English proficiency and your knowledge of U.S. civics.

Your English proficiency is judged based on your conversation with the USCIS officer during your interview as well as simple reading and writing tests where you will be asked to write and read sentences provided by your examining officer.

Your knowledge of U.S. civics is judged based on an exam where you will be asked 10 questions from a list of a potential 100. If you meet certain age and length of permanent resident status requirements, the pool of questions from which you will have to answer will be reduced to 20 potential questions. Additionally, certain groups are exempt from taking one or both tests.

Military and Civil Service Registration

Men between ages 18 and 25 must meet an additional requirement to be eligible for citizenship. This group must register with the Selective Service System. Selective Service is a government program that collects data on individuals who may be eligible to serve in the military if it is ever deemed necessary to reinstate the draft.

If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25, you must register with Selective Service before applying for citizenship. You can register for Selective Service:

  • Online
  • At your local post office
  • Returning a Selective Service registration card you received in the mail

After you register, you will get a “registration acknowledgment card” by mail which serves as proof of registration.

If you have already turned 26 and did not register when you were eligible, you may need to take further action. If you are between the ages of 26 and 31, you will need to explain why you did not enroll. Your eligibility for citizenship will be determined by the USCIS officer conducting your interview. For those over age 31, USCIS often does not take registration into account.

Allegiance to the United States

After your citizenship application has been processed, and you have passed your interview and exams, there is one more requirement that must be met before you can obtain citizenship. You will be required to attend a naturalization ceremony where you will recite the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

Before you take this oath, you will be asked questions to determine that you fully understand the pledge you are making. These questions will aim to ensure that you understand that:

  • You are taking the Oath of Allegiance voluntarily
  • You are giving the U.S. your full allegiance and renouncing your allegiance to all other countries where you claim citizenship
  • You understand that and accept your responsibilities as a U.S. citizen and intend to fulfill your duties to the nation.

Make Sure You Meet All the Requirements Before You Apply

When applying for citizenship, it is essential that you meet all requirements before you apply. Otherwise, you will likely be wasting both money and time. Additionally, you could be obstructing your path to obtaining citizenship in the future.

At ImmigrationDirect, we can help ensure that your application is filled out completely and accurately and that you have all the necessary supporting documentation to meet your eligibility requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen. Contact us today to get started.

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