The Transition Process: From Green Card to Citizenship
For many permanent residents, the prospect of becoming a U.S. citizen is an exciting one. Gaining citizenship provides numerous benefits and opportunities. It also reflects your commitment to fully integrating into American society.
However, the path from green card holder to naturalized citizen is not always straightforward. It involves a multi-step process with specific eligibility requirements. Navigating the transition can feel complex and intimidating.
The good news? With careful planning and legal guidance, you can successfully complete the process.
Green Card vs. Citizenship
A green card grants you lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. There are various paths to obtaining one, including family connections, employment, the diversity visa lottery, or refugee/asylum status.
As a green card holder, you enjoy many of the same rights as U.S. citizens. You can live and work permanently in the country. You’re also eligible for Social Security, Medicare, and most federal benefits.
However, permanent residents have restrictions citizens don’t face. For instance, you can’t vote, run for public office, or travel abroad for extended periods without special permission. Gaining citizenship lifts these limitations.
Are You Eligible for Naturalization?
To qualify for naturalization, you must check several vital boxes:
- Holding your green card for a required period. For most applicants, you must be a permanent resident for 5 continuous years. Spouses of U.S. citizens can qualify after 3 years of holding their green card.
- Meeting continuous residence requirements. In the 5 or 3 years leading up to your application, you must show that you’ve made the U.S. your permanent home. That means limiting extended trips abroad.
- Being physically present in the U.S. Over the previous 5 or 3 years, you must show that you have been physically present for at least half the statutory period.
- Demonstrating good moral character. You must display ethical behavior over the statutory period, verified by thorough background checks. Certain criminal offenses can bar you from establishing good moral character.
- Complying with tax laws. You must have filed and paid federal, state, and local taxes over the statutory period.
Depending on your specific situation, other prerequisites may apply. Meeting these core requirements is critical for citizenship eligibility.
Becoming a U.S. Citizen: The Naturalization Process
Completing the Citizenship Application
Once you meet the requirements, it’s time to complete your application. This involves Form N-400, the central naturalization application.
When filling out the N-400, you’ll provide detailed background information. This includes:
- Your employment history
- Time spent outside the U.S.
- Marital details
- Information on children
- Former immigration petitions
- Tax compliance
- Selective service registration (for men), and more.
You’ll also pay $640 in application fees, although waivers are available in some cases.
After filing, you’ll be scheduled for biometrics. This entails providing fingerprints, having your photo taken, and undergoing background checks. The biometrics fee is $85. Once biometrics are completed, you’ll be scheduled for a naturalization interview by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Passing the Naturalization Interview and Test
The interview involves two key components:
- Interview with a USCIS officer. You’ll meet with an officer who will go through your N-400 line-by-line. They’ll confirm its accuracy and clarify any issues. Notably, the officer will evaluate your moral character, loyalty to the U.S., and attachment to Constitutional principles. Honesty is imperative, even regarding minor issues from your past.
- Civics and English test. You must pass a two-part test. The civics portion covers important U.S. history and government topics. The English test evaluates your proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking. There are exemptions available for certain applicants, particularly older permanent residents.
With thorough preparation using official USCIS study materials, most applicants pass on their first try. You’ll likely feel relief knowing your hard work paid off after succeeding at this crucial step.
Taking the Oath of Allegiance
You’re nearing the finish line. The final requirement is to take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony.
At these moving events, you’ll renounce loyalty to foreign states and pledge your fidelity solely to the U.S. Afterwards, you’ll finally receive your certificate of naturalization!
You can now claim all the benefits of citizenship. After years as a permanent resident, you’ve officially become a U.S. citizen and member of our national community.
Other Paths to Citizenship
For some applicants, exceptions can accelerate the naturalization timeline. Here are key scenarios:
Spouses of U.S. Citizens
As mentioned earlier, you may qualify after 3 years of permanent residence instead of 5 if married to a U.S. citizen. You must demonstrate the relationship’s authenticity.
U.S. Citizen Parents
A child with U.S. citizen parents may derive citizenship under certain conditions. This often applies if the parents naturalize before the child turns 18. Children who derive citizenship do not need to file a separate N-400 but are automatically granted citizenship upon their parent’s naturalization.
Asylees and Refugees
Individuals granted asylum or refugee status can qualify for expedited naturalization. This recognizes the risks they would face returning to their country of origin.
For refugees, any years spent in the U.S. with refugee status can count toward the 5-year permanent residence requirement. Therefore, refugees who wait over 5 years to get a green card can apply for citizenship right away.
Asylees can only count up to 1 year with asylum status toward permanent residence. If they wait longer than a year for a green card, they’ll still need to wait 4 more years before applying for naturalization.
Those serving honorably in the U.S. armed forces can sometimes qualify on an expedited basis. Green card holders who have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least one year may be eligible to file for naturalization.
Additionally, military applicants don’t need to pay application fees.
How an Immigration Lawyer Can Help You
Navigating the path from green card holder to U.S. citizen can feel daunting. An experienced immigration attorney can provide invaluable guidance and support through the process. Here are some key benefits of partnering with a lawyer:
- They will assess your eligibility and create a customized roadmap to citizenship based on your unique situation. Their knowledge helps identify and address any potential hurdles.
- They will ensure your N-400 application and supporting documents are error-free before submission. Even small mistakes can lead to delays, so their review is critical.
- They will thoroughly prepare you for the high-stakes naturalization interview and test. Their insights help you anticipate questions and avoid missteps.
- If any issues arise, an attorney has the skills to swiftly intervene on your behalf. They can navigate bureaucracy and get problems resolved efficiently.
Partnering with the right legal team provides invaluable support through the complex naturalization process. They smooth the path toward finally becoming a proud U.S. citizen. At the Law Office of Lina Baroudi, our family immigration lawyers have guided many permanent residents to citizenship. Schedule a consultation to discuss your case and get dedicated guidance tailored to your unique situation.