U.S. citizenships is not a free-for-all in which anyone who wants to become a citizen may. There are certain criteria that – with some exceptions – must be met in order for an immigrant to become a U.S. citizen. The criteria are not difficult to meet, though they may take time to accomplish, and if you are hoping to become a U.S. citizen, now is a great time to start checking the criteria off your list.
Criteria for Citizenship: Permanent Residence
In most cases, you must have maintained permanent residence status for at least five years before applying for citizenship. This applies only to adults over the age of eighteen, and the number of years may fluctuate slightly depending on your particular circumstances.
Criteria for Citizenship: Physical Presence
Citizenship laws require that immigrants be “physically present” in the United States for at least half of the time that they have been permanent residents before achieving citizenship. This means that if you must be a permanent resident for five years, then you must be physically present in the U.S. for at least 2.5 years.
Criteria for Citizenship: Continual Presence
Not only must you be physically present, but also continually present. This helps to weed out immigrants who have permanent residence status, but who actually live in a different country. If you have traveled outside of the U.S. for long stretches of time – usually six months or more – then you might not meet the criteria for citizenship.
Criteria for Citizenship: Proximity
USCIS (U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services) usually will not grant a citizenship application unless the applicant has lived in the same state for at least three months prior to requesting citizenship status. In some cases – especially for smaller states – there might be a tri-state rule that applies. Check the USCIS website for their district information.
Criteria for Citizenship: Age
If you are not at least eighteen years old, then you cannot apply for citizenship. However, if your parent or guardian has achieved citizenship status, then you should be granted citizenship as well.
Criteria for Citizenship: Morality
You must be able to show that you have followed U.S. law for as long as you have lived within its borders. In other words, you must be able to show USCIS that you have paid your taxes and child support, that you have stayed away from drugs and alcohol abuse, that you have not been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, and that you have obeyed and respected U.S. laws.
Criteria for Citizenship: Language
All immigrants who apply for U.S. citizenship must demonstrate that they can speak, understand and write in English.