Residency Requirement When Applying for Citizenship
Applications for Naturalization and the Continuous Residence Requirement
Applying for U.S. citizenship requires a green card holder to have lived in the U.S. under that status for five years. Their green card will provide the official date on which they became a legal permanent resident. If you received conditional resident status prior to permanent resident status, you can count your two years as a conditional resident toward the five-year requirement, assuming that you became a permanent resident when the two-year period ended. (Most conditional residents receive their status from marrying a U.S. citizen or getting an investor visa.) Several exceptions apply to the five-year rule, so you may want to find out whether you can apply for citizenship sooner. On the other hand, you may need to wait more than five years if you do not meet the other requirements for citizenship once the five-year period expires.
Regardless of whether an exception applies to your situation, you can file your naturalization application (Form N-400) with USCIS up to 90 days before the five-year period expires. Since USCIS needs time to process the application, set up your fingerprinting appointment, and schedule your official interview and citizenship tests, it accounts for the inevitable waiting period by subtracting 90 days from the five years. Even after you complete all of those steps, USCIS will require more time to make a final decision on your application. It is nearly impossible for it to reach a final decision within less than 90 days after you file your application.
Exceptions for Foreign Nationals Married to U.S. Citizens
If you have held a green card for three years and have been living with a U.S. citizen spouse for that time, you can apply for U.S. citizenship once the three-year period expires. In addition to submitting Form N-400, you will need to submit proof that you are eligible to file after the three-year period. You do not necessarily need to have obtained your green card or immigrant visa through your marriage. To preserve your eligibility for citizenship, you must remain married to the U.S. citizen until the naturalization ceremony. You must live with your U.S. citizen spouse until you file for naturalization, but you do not need to continue living with them until the naturalization ceremony, as long as the marriage is still valid. If your spouse dies, you will not be able to continue pursuing the citizenship application.
An important exception to these rules protects victims of domestic violence perpetrated by a U.S. citizen spouse. They are not required to live continuously with the abusive spouse for three years to get citizenship. If you got your green card based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen, but you are filing a self-petition under Form I-360 because of their abuse, you still can get citizenship after three years.
Exceptions for Refugees and Asylees
A foreign national who arrived in the U.S. as a refugee can count the time that they lived in the U.S. as a refugee toward the five-year rule. However, they cannot count the time during which they held refugee status but were not present in the U.S. You will need to refer to the date on which you entered the U.S.
A foreign national who received asylum in the U.S. can count one year of their asylee status toward the five-year requirement. Any additional time prior to getting legal permanent resident status will not count. In other words, you will need to wait four years after you receive your green card before you apply for citizenship. Moreover, you will need to check the date that your green card provides for the start of your permanent resident status and wait five years after that date. A green card for a former asylee should be automatically backdated by one year to take the one-year reduction into account.
Exception for Spouses of U.S. Citizens Working Abroad
Sometimes a U.S. citizen will need to live in a foreign country because of their job duties. A green card holder who is married to the U.S. citizen may be able to pursue citizenship at any time after they get their green card if they return to the U.S. to apply for it. They would need to show that they are required to live in a foreign country because of the U.S. citizen spouse’s job, but they intend to live in the U.S. when the spouse’s job duties end.
Only certain types of employers will qualify a green card holder for this exception. Their spouse must work for a U.S. government organization, a U.S. research institution on a list provided by federal regulations, a public international organization on a list provided by federal regulations, a U.S. business that is developing trade or commerce between the U.S. and the foreign country, or a religious entity that has a presence in the U.S., for which the U.S. citizen spouse is a priest, minister, or missionary.