How Many Years To Become U.S. Citizen After Green Card? | Naturalization Explained

After maintaining Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status for a period of 5 years, all Green Card holders become eligible to initiate the naturalization process for U.S. citizenship. Individuals who obtained their permanent residency through marriage to a U.S. citizen can apply for U.S. citizenship after 3 years of being a Lawful Permanent Resident. The timeline of becoming a U.S. citizen after Green Card is affected by the workload of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and any potential delays or complications that may arise during the process.

Becoming a U.S. citizen can involve several steps, including submitting an application, attending a Green Card interview, passing the civics test, and taking an Oath of Allegiance. In addition to meeting the residency requirement, individuals must demonstrate good moral character and be proficient in English to become a permanent resident of the United States.

How Long After a Green Card Can You Apply for Citizenship?

The waiting timeline after obtaining a green card to apply for U.S. citizenship varies depending on your naturalization eligibility category. If you’re applying for citizenship through marriage to a U.S. citizen, you’ll wait 3 years to apply for citizenship. When applying for citizenship through a parent or as a Lawful Permanent Resident with no special circumstances, you’ll have to wait 5 years to apply for naturalization.

What is Naturalization?

Naturalization is the process of admitting a foreign citizen into the citizenship of another country. In the United States, only certain immigrants can be eligible for naturalization. This includes permanent residents and immigrants in military service. However, these individuals must meet specific requirements to qualify for citizenship.

USCIS Citizenship Requirements

The citizenship requirements of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services vary depending on an individual’s eligibility criteria. For instance, some immigrants must wait between 3 to 5 years after becoming permanent residents to be eligible for U.S. citizenship.

Citizenship by Marriage

If you’re married to a U.S. citizen, you may become a citizen after a 3 years of marriage. But first, you must obtain a marriage green card through the Adjustment of Status process if you live in the U.S. or Consular Processing if you live abroad. This may take several months, depending on the USCIS green card processing timelines, among other factors.

Once you have your green card through marriage, you can file your application for citizenship after 3 years. However, you must meet other requirements within that timeframe to be eligible for the naturalization process. Also known as the “3-year rule”, here’s what it entails. 

To be eligible for a citizenship, you must: 

  • Be 18 years or older by the time of filing the naturalization application,
  • Your U.S. citizen spouse must have been a citizen for at least 3 years,
  • Maintain your LPR status at the time of filing the naturalization application,
  • Remain married to your U.S. citizen spouse until you take the Oath of Allegiance,
  • Stay married to your U.S. citizen spouse for at least 3 years before filing the citizenship application,
  • You must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 18 months out of the 3 years preceding the citizenship application,
  • Live within the state or USCIS district with the jurisdiction over your place of residence for at least 3 months prior to filing for naturalization,
  • Meet all other eligibility requirements for the naturalization process, such as being a person of good moral character and demonstrating proficiency in the English language.

Citizenship Through Parents

A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can sponsor their child for a family-based green card, but they must fulfill a waiting period of 5 years after obtaining their own green card to be eligible. This process is known as the “5-year rule”. Other requirements besides the 5-year rule include the following:

  • Being 18 years old by the time of filing for naturalization,
  • Being a U.S. resident continuously for at least 5 years before filing for naturalization with no single absence from the U.S. country lasting more than a year,
  • Being physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the 5 years before filing the application,
  • Meeting all the eligibility requirements of the naturalization process, including demonstrating proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking English.

Citizenship As a Lawful Permanent Resident With No Special Circumstances

An eligible individual can apply for naturalization after 5 years of being a Lawful Permanent Resident. To be eligible, the applicant must meet the physical presence requirement, meaning they must have physically lived in the United States for at least 30 months after receiving the green card. For example, if you have been a permanent resident for 5 years but have not spent at least 30 months in the U.S., you’re not eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Citizenship Through the Military

Foreign citizens who serve in the U.S. military or are directly related to military servicemen must meet different eligibility requirements before applying to become U.S. citizens. An individual must meet the following criteria to apply for citizenship through military service:

  • Be at least 18 years old,
  • Serve honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least one year,
  • Take the English and civics test (and pass),
  • Be a Lawful Permanent Resident at the time of enlistment or reenlistment in the military,
  • Demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and government,
  • Demonstrate a history of good moral character for at least 5 years before applying through to their naturalization,
  • Prove attachment to the U.S. constitution,
  • Have the ability to read, write, and verbally communicate in English.

You don’t have to wait 3 or 5 years to apply for citizenship as a military serviceman. If you meet the above requirements, you can apply for naturalization while serving in the military or within six months of being honorably discharged from service. 

There are a few exceptions to some of these requirements. Here are a few scenarios.

1. A Green Card Holder With Less Than One Year Of U.S. Military Service During Peacetime

Permanent Residents who have served in the U.S. Military for less than six months during peacetime may be eligible for naturalization. The applicant must prove to have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months after getting a Permanent Resident Card as part of the eligibility requirement. Once eligible, the applicant may file for naturalization after 5 years of being a permanent resident. 

2. A Green Card Holder With At Least One Year In Service During Peacetime And Honorably Discharged More Than Six Months Ago

The foreign citizen who has served at least one year in service during peacetime and has been honorably discharged more than six months ago may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship by demonstrating a physical and continuous residency in the United States for a minimum of 30 months after becoming a lawful permanent resident. This applicant may file their application after 5 years of permanent residence status.

3. A Foreign Citizen Without A Green Card But Served In The Military During The Wartime Periods

Foreign veterans or active duty service members who served in any U.S. wartime period can apply for U.S. citizenship. They are not required to prove continuous physical residence in the United States and have no waiting period restrictions. These wartimes periods are:

  • Sept. 1, 1939 – Dec. 31, 1946
  • Jun. 25, 1950 – Jul. 1, 1955
  • Feb. 28, 1961 – Oct. 15, 1978
  • Aug. 2, 1990 – Apr. 11, 1991
  • Sept. 11, 2001 – present

4. Posthumous Citizenship For U.S. Military Servicemen

Any foreign citizen who honorably served in the U.S. Military and died due to injury or disease they acquired in the line of duty during specified hostile periods is eligible for posthumous citizenship. This type of citizenship establishes that the person was a U.S. citizen at the time of their death while on active duty.

The applicant files Form N-644, Application For Posthumous Citizenship, on behalf of the deceased within 2 years after the veteran’s death. A citizenship certificate will be issued after a successful application, bearing the deceased serviceman’s name. The immediate relatives of the surviving family of the deceased veterans are entitled to some immigration benefits. For example, the deceased veteran child may become a naturalized citizen. 

5. Immediate Relatives Of The Deceased Veteran

The USCIS recognizes a deceased veteran’s spouses, children, and parents for the Family Based Survival Benefits. U.S. citizenship is one of them. Once the USCIS, as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), establishes that you are an immediate relative of a military serviceman who died due to injury or disease acquired while in the line of duty, they may let you apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship. In this case, the applicant does not need proof of physical and continuous stay in the U.S. There is also no waiting time limit before starting the naturalization process.

The Naturalization Process, Explained

Transitioning from permanent residency to naturalization is easy once you have confirmed that you are eligible and have all the necessary documents and fees required for the process. 

Step 1: Filing Form N-400

You must complete Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and file it online or via mail. If filing online, you must create a USCIS online account, submit the required supporting evidence, and pay the mandatory fees electronically. If filing through the mail, you must read the filing instructions for the form, which includes the direct filing address.

Additionally, you must complete and sign the form, provide all the required supporting documents, and pay the applicable fees.

Step 2: Biometrics Appointment

The USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment to collect your fingerprints and photos. Ensure you attend this appointment to avoid delaying or possibly abandoning your citizenship application.

Step 3: Attend the Citizenship Interview

Next, the USCIS will schedule an interview with you after the preliminary processing. During the interview, the officer will ask questions about your application and U.S. history and government.

Step 4: Pass the Naturalization Test

As part of the interview, you must also pass the naturalization test, proving your knowledge of U.S. history and government. It’s important to prepare for these tests ahead of time.

Step 5: Await USCIS Decision

After your interview, the USCIS officer will review your application to make the final decision and mail you a notice of the decision. If the USCIS approves your application, you’ll receive another notice to take the Oath of Allegiance. If the USCIS denies your application, they’ll include their reasons for denial of your application in the notice.

Alternatively, the USCIS may decide to continue your application under certain circumstances. For instance, suppose you failed the English or civics test. In that case, the USCIS may continue your application, allowing you to retake the test.

Step 6: Take the Oath of Allegiance

If your application is approved, you must attend the naturalization ceremony, where you take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and officially become a U.S. citizen.

Step 6: Become A U.S. Citizen

After taking the Oath of Allegiance and being awarded a certificate of naturalization, the applicant officially becomes an American citizen. This marks the end of the citizenship process. A naturalized U.S. citizen has equal rights and responsibilities just like any other U.S. citizen through birth.

Benefits Of U.S. Citizenship

There are several benefits of American Citizenship status. First, the U.S. passport is one of the most powerful in the world; it allows a U.S. citizen access to over 180 countries without requiring a visa. Children of naturalized citizens automatically qualify to become American citizens even if they may be living abroad. 

Citizens of the United Sates of America are entitled to the federal benefits of U.S. citizenship. These include:

  • Right to vote,
  • Eligibility for federal jobs,
  • Protection from deportation,
  • Ability to file green card petitions for some family members ,
  • Ability to run for public office,
  • Ability to travel freely,
  • Access to government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.


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