Citizenship And Naturalization

Individuals may qualify for naturalization if they meet the following requirements:

  1. Requisite number of years as a lawful permanent resident (generally, five years with certain exceptions)
  2. Physical presence in the US for a majority of the requisite number of years as a lawful permanent resident
  3. Good moral character
  4. At least 18 years of age
  5. Ability to pass the English test (with some exceptions)
  6. Ability to pass the civics test (with some exceptions)

Who are exempt from the general rule of 5 years as a lawful permanent resident? Individuals who meet the eligibility requirements to file as a spouse of a U.S. citizen may be able to file for naturalization if they have been a permanent resident for at least three years. Those who have served or in active military duty may also qualify within a shorter period of time.

One important requirement to obtain citizenship is showing good moral character.  This is a complex area of law that the applicant should discuss with a lawyer. Individuals, who have failed to file their taxes, have a criminal history, have failed to pay child support, and other issues must consult with a knowledgeable attorney.

  • Be eligible for one of the immigrant categories established in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • Have a qualifying immigrant petition filed and approved for you (with a few exceptions)
  • Have an immigrant visa immediately available
  • Be admissible to the United States

Exceptions to the 5-year LPR Status Requirement

The 5-year legal permanent resident “continuous resident” status requirement has an exception for those applicants working abroad for:

  • The United States government 
  • Military Contractors of the United States government
  • A recognized American institution of research
  • A public international organization
  • An organization designated under the International Immunities Act

A file Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes, must be filed in order to preserve “continuous residence” for naturalization purposes while employed abroad.
An organization may obtain USCIS recognition as an American institution of research for the purpose of preserving the continuous residence status of its employees who are, or will be, naturalization applicants assigned abroad for an extended period of time.

Good Moral Character Issues

One of the most important basic requirements in naturalization is that of good moral character (GMC). An applicant for naturalization must show that, during the statutorily prescribed period, he or she has been and continues to be a person of good moral character. This period includes the time between the examination and the oath of allegiance. Although the law specifies that the good moral character requirement applies to the statutory period, conduct prior to that period may impact the adjudicator’s decision regarding whether or not an applicant meets the requirement. Consideration of the applicant’s conduct and acts outside the statutory period is specifically sanctioned by law if the applicant’s conduct during the statutory period does not reflect reform of character or the earlier conduct is relevant to the applicant’s present moral character. Thus, when addressing the issue of good moral character, the examination should be broad enough and sufficiently detailed to disclose all relevant adverse conduct or activity. Although the focus should be on conduct during the statutory period, the inquiry should extend to the applicant’s conduct during his or her entire lifetime.

A good moral character should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Section 101(f) of the Act and 8 CFR 316.10 specifically provide that certain criminal conduct precludes a finding of good moral character. Section 101(f) also provides that an applicant may lack good moral character for reasons other than those described in 101(f)(1) – (f)(8). The courts have held that good moral character means a character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides. Any conduct or acts which offend the accepted moral character standards of the community in which the applicant resides should be considered, without regard to whether the applicant has been arrested or convicted.


Under the Child Citizenship Act, a child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when the following conditions have been met:

  • At least one parent is a U.S. citizen,
  • The child is under 18 years of age, and
  • The child is residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent,
  • A stepchild who has not been adopted does not qualify for citizenship under this Act. There are other requirements for children residing outside the United States or adopted children that should be discussed with a knowledgeable attorney in detail.