4 Factors that Affect Your Eligibility for Naturalization

By Ruth Jean

Every year, thousands of people immigrate to the United States to accept a job offer or reunite with family. Once they become lawful permanent residents (otherwise known as green card holders), many of them choose to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. 

If this is your situation, congratulations! Not only are you affirming your dedication to your new home, but you will also enjoy rights and privileges only granted to U.S. citizens, such as:

  • Automatic citizenship for unmarried children under 18
  • The right to vote and run for public office
  • A U.S. passport
  • Ability to apply for federal civil service jobs

Before you can apply for naturalization, however, it is important to know what factors may affect your eligibility. Four of them are explained in detail below.

1. Your residency status

In general, once you receive your green card, you must maintain your status for at least five years before applying for citizenship. For example, if you were approved for permanent residency on July 1, 2020, you would be eligible for naturalization on July 1, 2025.

There are exceptions to this five-year requirement. If you received your green card under any of the following circumstances, you may apply for naturalization after only three years of being a lawful permanent resident:

  • You married a U.S. citizen and still live with your spouse.
  • You entered the United States on an employment or investor visa and then married a U.S. citizen.
  • You were selected in the ‘green card lottery’ (Diversity Immigrant Visa program) and then married a U.S. citizen. 

2. Physical Presence in the United States 

In general, you must have resided continually in the United States for at least five years before you are eligible for naturalization, and been physically present in the country for at least 30 months during that time. (Qualified spouses of U.S. citizens must have been present for 18 months during the three-year period before applying.) 

There are some exceptions to the continuous residency requirement, such as working abroad for the U.S. military. An experienced Florida immigration attorney can determine whether any of the approved exceptions apply in your case.

3. Your age 

You must be at least 18 years of age to apply for naturalization. If you are a minor, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows you to derive citizenship through your parents if:

  • At least one parent is a born or naturalized U.S. citizen
  • You are unmarried
  • You are living in the U.S. as a permanent resident
  • You are in the custody of your U.S. citizen parent or parents

If you are a minor who did not become a legal permanent resident and at least one of your parents is a U.S. citizen, he or she can seek a Certificate of Citizenship for you if you are legally present in the country and in your citizen parent’s custody.  

4. Your ‘good moral character’

Good moral character is usually connected to your criminal record but other factors, such as failure to pay child support and taxes, could result in a negative good moral character finding. To determine whether you have a good moral character, USCIS will subject you to a criminal background check and confirm that you did not lie at any stage during your naturalization application.

Crimes that could render you ineligible for U.S. naturalization include, amongst other things, murder, fraud, certain theft crimes, acts of terrorism, or lying to gain an immigration advantage. If you have any kind of criminal record, seek advice from an experienced immigration lawyer.

Let us help you get there

Many green card holders dream of becoming a U.S. citizen, and working with an experienced immigration attorney can help you succeed. Attorney Ruth Jean, who is a naturalized citizen herself, has a sincere interest in helping you achieve your citizenship goals and will provide you with expert legal advice and qualified representation. For more information, please contact Jean Law Group today.