Citizens of foreign countries can become full fledged citizens of the United States, with all the rights and privileges of natural born U.S. citizens, by completing a process known as “naturalization.” In the United States, foreign citizens wishing to become naturalized citizens must meet several requirements, and are generally required to pass a naturalization exam covering basic English and U.S. civics (exemptions to testing requirements exist, which can be explained by an immigration attorney if the foreign citizen happens to meet exemption requirements).
Permanent Resident Status Requirements
Any foreign citizen at least 18 years old who has been a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) for at least five years can apply for naturalization. This waiting period is reduced to three years if the foreign citizen is currently and for the last three years been married to a U.S. citizen, living with the U.S. citizen, and whose citizen spouse has been a citizen for at least the last three years. Whether waiting three or five years, the foreign citizen is required to have not left the United States on trips lasting more than six months.
Foreign citizens who served in the U.S. armed forces for less than one year, or those that served in the armed forces for more than one year but who have been discharged for more than six months, are also required to wait five years as a permanent resident who has not taken a trip out of the country lasting more than six months. If they traveled outside of the U.S. for any amount of time on official military orders, the time spent out of the country is not counted against the veteran in terms of calculating trips outside of the country lasting more than six months.
Veterans who served on active duty during WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, or on or after September 11th, 2001 are not required to wait any amount of time as a permanent resident in order to apply for naturalization, and there is no requirement for the person to have not taken any trips lasting longer than six months outside of the country.
Individuals who were married and living with a U.S. citizen who died while on active military duty are also not required to wait any amount of time as a permanent resident to be eligible for naturalization, but the person must be a permanent resident on the day of his or her interview. Like those who served on active duty, trips outside of the country lasting longer than six months will not count against the person’s application.
Specific Rules and a Confusing Process
With all the government rules and regulations in place which govern the naturalization process, it is always best for foreign citizens interested in becoming naturalized citizens of the United States to seek the advice of experienced immigration attorneys. Immigration attorneys have specific experience with naturalization procedures and are in the best position to advise foreign citizens on how they can become a naturalized American citizen as quickly and painlessly as possible.