Gaining U.S. citizenship from permanent resident status

Permanent residency allows immigrants the right to live and work in the U.S., but another big benefit is that, after a certain amount of time, this status may make one eligible for U.S. citizenship. The process, known as naturalization, comes with the right to vote, among other privileges. However, there are other requirements and steps to naturalization, which you can learn about in advance to prepare yourself for the application process.

Requirements for U.S. citizenship
To be eligible for naturalization, you must be a permanent resident five years. However, those who have been permanent residents for only three years may qualify if they have been and still are married to someone with American citizenship for the duration of their residency. Those who have honorably served in the U.S. military may also apply after three years.

Additionally, you must fulfill the following basic requirements for citizenship:

  • Be 18 or older
  • Be of good moral character
  • Be able to speak, read and write basic English (this excludes seniors who have lived in the country a certain number of years and people with impairments that make them unable to fulfill this requirement)
  • Have a basic understanding of American government (this excludes people with impairments that make them unable to fulfill this requirement)
  • Have a period of physical presence and continuous residency in the country

While a permanent resident must have a period of physical presence in the U.S., this does not  mean that he or she must necessarily be located in the country when applying.

How to apply for naturalization
If you fulfill all of the requirements to be eligible for U.S. citizenship, you must fill out and file form N-400, Application for Naturalization. There is a filing fee of $595 as well as $85 for fingerprinting, if necessary. Those who are 75 or older do not have to pay the fingerprinting fee, while all fees may be waived for certain military applicants.

You may be required to appear at an Application Support Center to have your fingerprints taken and to submit a photograph and signature for display on your naturalization certificate. You will also be required to pass a naturalization interview, which involves an immigration officer asking you questions about your personal history and application. During this time, you can expect to sit for an English test made up of three components (speaking, reading and writing) as well as a civics test that assesses your knowledge of the U.S. government and history.