What Are The Requirements For U.S. Citizenship?

A foreign national who is eligible for U.S. citizenship must meet some requirements before filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. There are general requirements for every applicant, however, there may be a few exemptions for some requirements in some special cases. This article will take you through all the requirements for U.S. citizenship you need to know before applying for naturalization.

The Age Requirement

The United States government requires that the applicant must be at least 18 years of age by the time of filing the naturalization application. However, applicants who are seeking U.S. citizenship based on their service in the military at any wartime period may be of any age. In this case, the age restriction may not apply to such individuals.

The Continuous Residence And Physical Presence In the United States Requirement

Any lawful permanent resident of the U.S. without special circumstances must have continuously lived in the U.S. for at least five years. A lawful permanent resident who is married to a U.S. citizen requires to have continuously lived in the United States for only three years.

The Meaning Of Continuously Living In The United States

The US government has set a statutory period in which a lawful permanent resident, who wishes to apply for naturalization, must reside in the United States. This statutory period is 5 years for any typical applicant, and 3 years for a lawful permanent resident who is married to a U.S. citizen.

Within either of these statutory periods, the permanent resident must not take trips abroad and stay there for six months or more before coming back to the United States. If that happens, the applicant will be considered not to have continuously lived in the United States.

They will no longer be eligible to apply for naturalization, except for a few exceptions. This does not mean that the applicant is not allowed to travel outside the United States. They may do so, however, they must return before six months are over.

It is important to note that the USCIS will presume that you have abandoned your permanent resident status if you spend six months or more outside the United States. Spending such a prolonged period outside the country means you will no longer qualify for your application for naturalization which requires one to also be a lawful permanent resident. Foreigners who are filing their applications based on their service in the military with regard to a certain period are exempted from the continuous living requirement.

How to Overcome The Presumption of Abandoned Permanent Residence

If you have taken a trip outside the US for a period of six months or more, and the USCIS presumes that you abandoned your residence, you may need to have enough proof that you did not intentionally abandon your permanent residence in the U.S. The decision to reverse this presumption may depend on the following factors:

  • The length of the period you spent outside the United States
  • The reason for your extended stay outside of the United States
  • The decision the USCIS officer examining your case: there may be other factors that the officer may consider such as the frequency of your trips out of the country

If You Stayed Abroad For Over Six Months But Under One Year

The USCIS will assume that you have abandoned your permanent residence in the US if you extend your stay abroad for more than six months. However, if the extended period is between six months and one year, you may have a chance to convince the USCIS that the extension was not intentional. Here are some reasons that the USCIS may consider reversing the presumption of abandoned residence:

  • You still had your employment in the United States and did not seek new employment abroad
  • Your immediate family members such as children remained in the U.S. while you were away
  • You did not lease out your home in the United States
  • Your children still studied in the United States and you paid for their tuition while away
  • You continued to pay your bills in the United States despite being away.

If You Stayed Abroad For Over One Year

If you stayed outside the United States for over one year, the USCIS will assume that you abandoned your permanent residence. You will be required to wait longer upon your return from the trip before you may apply for U.S. citizenship.

If you were required to wait for at least five years before applying for U.S. citizenship, you must wait for four more years and one day after returning from your trip before you can apply for naturalization.

If you were required to wait for at least three years before applying for U.S. Citizenship, you will be required to wait for additional two years and one day before you may apply to become a U.S citizen.

How to Ensure That You Do Not Break Your Continuous Residence Pattern While Abroad

There are some reasons that may require a permanent resident of the United States to spend more than six months abroad. If you presume that your trip will be longer than the statutory period, there are a few steps that you may need to take to ensure that you do not break this cycle. Here are these steps below:

Application Of A Re-Entry Permit

If your trip abroad is going to take more than one year, then you need to apply for a re-entry permit by filing Form I-131, Application For Travel Document. Form I- 131 is used for the application of both a travel document and a re-entry permit. The difference between these two is that the former is applied for by U.S green card applicants, while the latter is applied for by U.S green cardholders. In this case, the green card holder who is planning to travel abroad for a period of at least one year will be issued with a re-entry permit.

You will be required to submit the form while in the U.S. before you travel. If your trip is due to an emergency, you may request to collect your permit from the U.S Embassy or Consulate of the country you are planning to visit. Alternatively, you may request for quicker processing of your permit. The permit is valid for two years and cannot be extended. If you spend more than two years outside the United States even after having a permit, you may not be allowed to enter the country.

Application For Preservation Of Permanent Residence Status

If you are planning to travel for work outside the United States and you will be required to stay there for at least one year, then you must apply for preservation of permanent residence. However, your job abroad must be approved by the U.S. government. You will be required to file Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes.

Application For A Returning Resident Visa

Sometimes, you may have planned to spend no longer than 12 months during your trip abroad but some unavoidable circumstances such as medical emergencies forced you to do so. This means that you did not apply for a re-entry permit or preservation of permanent residence status. In this case, you need to apply for a returning resident visa from the U.S Embassy or Consulate nearest to you. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate will guide you on the required application process, which includes filing Form DS-117, Application to Determine Returning Resident Status. You will also undergo an interview (read more), after which the officer will decide whether to award you with a returning resident visa according to the evidence you provided.

Physical Presence In The United States Requirement

A typical applicant is required to have physically lived in the United States for at least 2.5 years. If the applicant is married to a U.S Citizen, they will be required to have physically lived in the U.S. for 1.5 years. You must ensure that you keep in mind the continuous residence requirements when you travel abroad so that you also do not disrupt the physical presence requirements. The day of departure and the day of return for your trip abroad is also counted as days that you were physically present in the United States.

Physical presence requirement does not apply to an applicant who is seeking U.S. citizenship based on their military service status.

Residency Requirement

An Applicant is required to have lived in the state or USCIS district for at least three months prior to their application for naturalization. This requirement is not necessary for applicants who are seeking naturalization based on their service in the U.S. military. The following areas are also recognized as states:

  • The District of Columbia
  • Puerto Rico
  • Mariana Islands
  • Guam
  • U.S Virgin Islands

Good Moral Character Requirement

A person with a good moral character may be defined as someone who upholds values and that are acceptable to society. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will decide whether an applicant is of a good moral character, and is beneficial to the American society. The USCIS may use the following cases to determine whether you are a person of good moral character:

  • You are not a criminal, especially where certain crimes such as murder and fraud are involved
  • You did not lie to the USCIS officer during the naturalization interview
  • You have not been convicted for driving under the influence (DUI) two times or more during your statutory period

Generally, the USCIS expects that an applicant is a person of good moral standing that will not bring any harm to society.

Oath Of Allegiance To The United States

A naturalized citizen must show attachment to the U.S. constitution by taking the oath of allegiance (read more). The oath is taken during the naturalization ceremony at the end of the naturalization process. This oath of allegiance to the United States is not taken under duress. The applicant renounces allegiance to any other countries by accepting to protect and defend the U.S. constitution. The applicant also accepts the responsibility of US citizenship, including military and civics service.

Oath of Allegiance Ceremony Explained | Read more

English Proficiency And Civics Knowledge Requirements

The applicant will be invited to sit for a basic English test and civics test as part of the naturalization process. The applicant must prove their ability to read, write, and speak the English language during the test. Civics test proves how well the applicant is familiar with the knowledge of U.S history and government.

If you are a permanent resident and have not been physically present in the U.S. for more than a year, or you need further help understanding the requirements for U.S. citizenship, it s advisable to talk to an immigration lawyer from a reputable law firm. This legal expert may be able to convince the U.S. government that you are eligible for citizenship.

Read more: The U.S. Citizenship Test, Explained

Read more: How Much Does It Cost to Become a U.S. Citizen?

Read more: What Documents Are Required For U.S. Citizenship?

Read more: What Are The Benefits Of Becoming A Naturalized U.S. Citizen?


  • Commit To Citizenship Staff

    Commit To Citizenship‘s team consists of individuals who have successfully immigrated to the United States and have learned how to avoid common mistakes in filling out immigration applications. Our team works closely with immigration lawyers to ensure that all content provided on our website is up-to-date and accurate. We offer guidance on a range of immigration topics, including green cards, diversity visas, and DACA.