When to File for U.S. Citizenship or Naturalization
Naturalization is the process to become a U.S. citizen if you were born outside of the United States. If you meet certain requirements, you may become a U.S. citizen by filing Form N-400 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Let’s discuss the different requirements to timely file your application for naturalization.
To be able to file application for naturalization under certain categories of the law, you must have been a Lawful Permanent Resident for a certain number of years and meet other requirements (such as passing a Civics and History Test, an English test, having resided in the U.S. for a certain amount of time, demonstrating that you are a person of good moral character, among others).
When should you file your Naturalization Application (Form N-400)?
You may file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, 90 calendar days before you complete your permanent residence requirement if your eligibility for naturalization is based upon being a:
Permanent resident for at least 5 years; or
Permanent resident for at least 3 years if you are married to a US citizen.
For example, if you became a permanent resident on December 17, 2017 (the date your Permanent Resident Card was issued), you would meet the 5-year permanent resident requirement on December 17, 2022.
If you meet all other eligibility requirements, the earliest date you may apply for naturalization would be September 18, 2022, which is 90 days before December 17, 2022.
What happens if you have already been a permanent resident for 3 years, but you are still waiting for your Form I-751 to be approved?
In the family-based immigration context, a person is granted only conditional permanent resident status if the residency application was based on a marriage that was less than 2 years old on the date the person was granted permanent residence status. For example, if a person was only married to their current spouse for one and half years at the time they were approved for permanent residence (either at an interview in the U.S. or at a U.S. embassy or consulate), they will only be issued a 2-year Permanent Resident Card or “green card.”
In general, a conditional permanent resident must jointly file an I-751 petition with his or her petitioning spouse to remove conditions on residency and obtain a 10-year green card. Such I-751 petition must be submitted to USCIS during the 90-day period prior to the 2-year conditional residence expiration.
However, all the rights and privileges that apply to lawful permanent residents still apply to conditional residents, including the right to apply for citizenship. So, if a “conditional” permanent resident is eligible to naturalize because they have already been permanent residents for more than 3 years, they may file their N-400 applications up to 90 calendar days before they complete their 3-year permanent residence requirement—regardless of whether they already have their 10-year green card or not.
Please have in mind that, due to the lengthening of processing times for I-751 petitions, both a request to remove the conditional status and an application for naturalization may be pending at the same time. This could mean that your interview for naturalization may also include an interview to make a decision on your I-751 petition.
To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys and discuss your questions regarding what happens when both petitions are pending and what to expect at an I-751/N-400 interview, please click HERE.