What are the requirements to apply?
There are several requirements that green card holders must meet in order to apply to become U.S. citizens. This process is called naturalization. Generally, green card holders applying to naturalize must be at least 18 years old, have had their green card for 5 years, have lived in the state or district where they plan to apply for at least 3 months, be able to show continuous residence in the U.S. for at least 5 years and demonstrate that they have been physically present in the U.S. for 30 months out of the past 5 years. They must also demonstrate good moral character for the 5 years prior to filing the petition and be willing to support the U.S. constitution and take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. Additionally, during the naturalization interview, most applicants must pass tests to prove that they can read, write and speak English and that they have a rudimentary understanding of U.S. government and history.
What are the benefits of applying for U.S. citizenship?
If you are a green card holder there is no requirement that you apply for citizenship. You can continue to renew your green card indefinitely, as long as you continue to reside permanently in the United States and do not commit any crimes that would result in revocation of the green card. However, green card holders may want to apply for U.S. citizenship for several reasons. For example, green card holders must reside in the U.S. and if they leave the country for extended periods of time they may lose their green card. Green card holders who leave the U.S. for extended periods for work or other reasons can maintain their green card status by applying for a re-entry permit, however they must pay a fee of $660 and submit an application to USCIS before they leave the country. As a U.S. citizen, a person can travel freely and spend long periods of time outside the U.S. for work or personal reasons without worrying about losing citizenship. Green card holders also have to worry about fees that are not applicable to U.S. citizens, such as the fee for renewal of the green card, which currently costs $540. Additionally, U.S. citizens are able to sponsor a wider range of relatives than green card holders and immigrant visas are always available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouses, parents and unmarried minor children). Given the long backlogs for family-based sponsorship for green cards, becoming a U.S. citizen can greatly speed up the timeline for family petitions. Additional reasons to apply for citizenship include the ability to vote, automatic citizenship for children born abroad, assistance from U.S. government when overseas, eligibility for Federal jobs, ability to run for elected office and protection from deportation/removal.
When Can I Apply for Citizenship?
Most applicants are able to apply for citizenship after they have had their green card for 5 years. USCIS permits applicants to submit their applications 90 days prior to the 5 year mark. There is an exception for applicants who are married to U.S. citizens and have been married and living together for 3 years. These applicants can apply for citizenship after they have been green card holders for 3 years. The U.S. citizen spouse must have been a U.S. citizen for the full 3 year period as well. Prior to applying you should also make sure that you meet all of the eligibility requirements described above.
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