Becoming a United States citizen is the dream of many, but the path to citizenship has strict requirements for eligibility. The naturalization process tests an immigrant’s commitment to assimilating and embracing American values.

Before even being eligible to apply, immigrants must first obtain permanent resident status and spend years as green card holders. From length of residency to moral character, there are several criteria and tests required on the journey to naturalization. Let’s take an in-depth look at what’s required to become a U.S. citizen.

The Basic Requirements for Citizenship

To be eligible for naturalization and U.S. citizenship, an immigrant must meet certain fundamental prerequisites. First, you must be of legal age, specifically 18 years or older, and have maintained a permanent residency status with a valid green card for a duration of no less than 5 years. You must have continuously resided in the U.S. during this time, with no single absence longer than 6 months.

In addition, you must have been physically present in the country for at least 30 months out of the previous 60 months prior to filing the citizenship application. This ensures you have spent ample time residing in the country to assimilate.

Moral Character and Attachment to the Constitution

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also requires applicants to show moral integrity and commitment to the Constitution. You cannot have certain criminal convictions, nor have committed offenses that make you removable from the U.S. Applicants must show good moral character during the 5-year period before filing.

Language and Civics Knowledge

Two other key requirements for citizenship are proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking English as well as familiarity with American history and civics. Applicants take an English and civics test to demonstrate proficiency. There are exceptions for certain age groups and residency lengths.

The civics test draws from a question bank on topics like the branches of government, rights and responsibilities, U.S. history, and important documents. You must correctly answer at least 6 out of 10 questions.

U.S. Residency Requirements

In addition to the nationwide requirements for citizenship, you must meet state or USCIS district residency requirements. For at least 3 months prior to filing, you must have lived in the state or USCIS district where you are filing. Students and members of the military have some exceptions.

Pathway Differences for Spouses

Spouses of U.S. citizens have a slightly different naturalization pathway. The residency requirement is reduced to 3 years instead of 5 if married to a citizen. However, you must show that you lived in marital union with your citizen spouse for those 3 years. There are also exceptions for spouses who are separated or subjected to domestic violence.

Requirements for Citizenship in the US: The Bottom Line

As earlier mentioned, before you’re eligible to apply for naturalization, you must first obtain lawful permanent resident status. Each eligibility pathway to permanent residency has unique requirements related to family, employment, investment, or humanitarian factors.

The most important thing to note is that you basically have to demonstrate strong strong ties to the United States. Make sure you understand and meet all the legal requirements before applying. To make things easier during your application, you can enlist the help of a qualified immigration attorney to guide you through the process and you’ll soon be calling yourself an American citizen.

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