Lawful permanent resident to naturalized citizen: the basics

For many lawful permanent residents in the United States, their ultimate goal is to apply for naturalization and become a citizen. The process can be complex and time-consuming, but it’s important to have at least a general understanding of the requirements.

Time matters

There are a number of eligibility requirements that are based on time. For most lawful permanent residents, five years must pass before they may apply for naturalization. For those married to U.S. citizens, the time is shortened to three years. The applicant must be at least 18 years of age and needs to have maintained a continuous residence in the United States for five years.

The continuous residence requirement does not mean that you can’t leave the country at all during the five-year period. But extended stays outside the United States, particularly for six months or more, can disrupt the timeline requirement. Additionally, you must show that you were physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months of the five years. And you need to have lived for at least three months in the state where you intend to apply for naturalization.

Other requirements

Beyond the lengthy time requirements for naturalization, a lawful permanent resident must demonstrate that they are a person of good moral character. Committing certain crimes, such as murder or other serious felonies, will likely violate this requirement. But there are also non-criminal activates that can hurt the applicant’s chances – examples include failing to pay child support or taxes.

The applicant needs to be able to read, write and speak basic English. Older applicants may be exempt from this requirement, depending on their age and how long they have been a lawful permanent resident. Applicants will also be tested on their knowledge of U.S. history and its government. The test can be waived in specific circumstances, such as a medical disability – otherwise, lawful permanent residents will have two chances to pass the test.

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