Up to Date on Immigration – Basic Requirements in Applying for Citizenship

I want to apply for Citizenship. What are the basic requirements that I need to meet in order to apply?


EHN Staff
Up to Date on Immigration – Basic...

By Thomas W. Roach and Eamonn P.S. Roach, Attorneys

Lea esta nota en español.

I’m a Legal Permanent Resident and I want to apply for Citizenship. What are the basic requirements that I need to meet in order to apply?

Before applying for Citizenship there are potential Timing, Good Moral Character, Civics and Language issues that need to be addressed.

Can you tell me more about these four main issues to consider before starting the Citizenship process?

In applying for Citizenship status, you must look at the following:

  1. Timing: The general rule is once someone gets their Green Card, they must wait for 5 years before applying for Citizenship. However, if the Green Card was obtained through marriage to a U.S. Citizen, you only need to wait 3 years before applying for Citizenship.
  2. Good Moral Character: The United States of America does not want a person to become a Citizen if they aren’t a good person. Good Moral Character is defined as having strong ties to community, being a law-abiding citizen and not having any disqualifying criminal or immigration issues.
  3. Civics: In applying for Citizenship, a person must have basic knowledge of the history of the U.S. and basic knowledge of our democratic form of Government.
  4. Language: Unless someone qualifies for an exception, a person who wants to become a U.S. Citizen must demonstrate that they can read, write, and speak basic English.

If I obtained my Green Card through my U.S. Citizen brother, can I apply for Citizenship after 3 years?

No. The only exception to being able to apply for Citizenship after 3 years of having Green Card status is if the Green Card was obtained through marriage to a U.S. Citizen. Otherwise, you must wait for 5 years, prove Good Moral Character and take the Civics and Language tests in English.

If I have had contact with the police or have criminal issues, will that disqualify me from being able to apply for Citizenship?

That depends. If you have any Immigration or Criminal history, you should discuss these issues with a competent attorney to see if any of those issues will disqualify you from becoming a U.S. Citizen. Even very old or seemingly unimportant past criminal issues can cause you to not only be denied Citizenship, but also lose your Legal Permanent Resident status.

Am I required to take the Civics test?

As a general rule, everyone is required to take the Civics test which is comprised of 100 questions. However, there is an exception if you can show a serious mental disability that prevents the person from being able to take the test. This must be very well documented by a medical doctor who must fill out and sign a form stating this.

I’ve heard that if you have had your Green Card for a long time then you can apply for Citizenship without knowing any English, is this true?

Yes. If you are 50 years of age and have had your Green Card for a minimum of 20 years you still must take the Civics test, but you can do so in your native language. The same is true if you are 55 years of age and have had your Green Card for a minimum of 15 years. Finally, if you are 65 years of age and have had your Green Card for a minimum of 20 years, you can interview in your native language AND you only have to study 20 Civics questions instead of the full 100 questions.

What if I have some other issue like not registering for the U.S. Selective Services, or I have traveled outside of the country for more than 6 months, or I have some other issue with tax or medical matters, what should I do?

Consult with an experienced immigration attorney. Immigration Law is a very complicated area with many potentially devastating consequences, so talking with a competent representative will help you determine whether it is safe to apply for Citizenship.


Thomas W. Roach and Eamonn P.S. Roach are attorneys of the firm Roach & Bishop, LLP in Pasco, Washington, who practice immigration law. This information does not constitute legal advice. It is possible that this information does not apply to you. Each case depends on specific facts. If you have questions regarding the immigration laws that you would like answered in this column, please send them to: Thomas W. Roach and Eamonn P.S. Roach, 9221 Sandifur Pkwy, Suite C., Pasco, WA 99301, phone: (509) 547-7587, fax: (509) 547-7745; or email troach@roachlaw.com or eroach@roachlaw.com.

Header photo credit: Lynn Friedman via photopin (license).

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