Green Card to Citizen

The process of converting from a green card to citizen is called naturalization, and there are specific requirements that must be met before a green card holder can apply for citizenship. There aren’t many requirements for permanent residents when applying for U.S. citizenship, or alternatively, from green card to citizen.

Applicants must show that they were present in the United States for 30 months within the five-year period. Spouses of U.S. citizens applying for citizenship must show proof that they were present in the country for 18 months within the three-year period. Be mindful that extended absences will likely break the presence requirement, particularly for those spending time outside the U.S. for over a year.

However, people who have traveled abroad for a period of six months will not break the continuance requirement. But what about those who were abroad between six months and one year? Those who fall into this category may have a harder time proving that they didn’t break the continuance requirement due to the length of time they were absent. For those who were abroad for greater than one year can still apply for citizenship at some point in the future, but cannot tack on prior time spent in the U.S. 

There are in fact some exceptions to the continuance rule. Some applicants may be eligible for a reduced period of continuous residence, and some may be exempt entirely. Such exceptions apply to those working abroad for the U.S. government, recognized American Institutions of research, public international organizations, and contractors working for the U.S. government. Those falling into these four categories can file Form N-470 (Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes).

Other ways in which immigrants can become U.S. citizens is by being born in the U.S., birth overseas to a U.S. citizen parent, and living in the U.S. as a child when a parent naturalizes. Generally, the only way in which someone can go straight from having no U.S. status to being a U.S. citizen is by joining the U.S. military.

90-day Early Application

During the five-year time period, you can submit your application for citizenship 90 days prior to the five-year mark. The application, called N-400, must be submitted through mail to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS will then process your paperwork, arrange to have you fingerprinted, and call you for an interview. The interview will consist of a more thorough review of your application, test you on English language knowledge, and make a final decision as to whether to deny or approve your application. Generally, it can take USCIS up to 90 days to bring you in for an interview.

Exceptions to the 5-year Rule

Exception to 5-Year Rule for Battered Spouses of a U.S. Citizen Granted VAWA Protection: For those suffering from abuse at the hands of a spouse, Congress didn’t want those suffering to have to remain in a marriage that’s abusive for 3 years just to get citizenship. Therefore, a battered spouse can file Form I-360, which is a document indicating such abuse at the hands of the U.S. citizen spouse.

Limited Exception to 5-Year Rule for Refugees: If you received a green card as a refugee, a portion of the time spent as a refugee may count toward the five-year requirement. If you were allowed status as a refugee while in a different country, you can use the time when you came to the United States to count the clock.

Limited Exception to 5-Year Rule for Those Granted Asylum (Asylees): If you received your green card due to asylee status, 12 months of your time as an asylee counts toward the permanent resident requirement. However, if you waited more than 12 months after getting asylum to apply for a green card, the extra time cannot go toward the period of permanent residency, and you’ll have to wait an entire 5 years from the time your green card states you became a permanent resident.

Exception to 5-Year Rules for Spouses of U.S. Citizens in Certain Overseas Jobs: If your spouse’s job requires that both of you live overseas, you might be allowed to apply for citizenship without the five-year permanent residency requirement. If you’re ready and able to come back to the U.S. to apply, you may file the application any time after you are granted permanent residence. However, there are several limitations to this exception, which includes: [1] Your spouse must regularly be stationed overseas; [2] You must declare an intention to live in the U.S. after your spouse’s employment ends; [3] Your spouse’s employer must be the U.S. government (i.e. military, CIA, etc.); a U.S. research institution that is recognized by the U.S. attorney general; a U.S. corporation or firm that’s entirely or partially engaged in developed U.S. commerce and foreign trade; a public international organization that the U.S. participates by statute or treaty; or a religious denomination that contains an organization in the United States in which your spouse performs priestly or ministerial functions.

Additional Requirements for Citizenship

Even if you’ve spent the mandatory extent of time as a green card holder, you might need to wait even longer before applying for U.S. citizenship if you haven’t spent the mandatory period of time in the U.S. physically, haven’t subsisted in the state or district in which you’re filing your application for a minimum of three months, have spent more than 12 months not in the country, and/or can’t prove that you are of good moral character.

Difference Between U.S. Green Card and U.S. Citizenship

There is often confusion concerning the differences between green card holders and those with citizenship status. For most immigrants who wish to make U.S. their home, becoming a lawful permanent resident is the first step. Lawful permanent residents, also referred to as green card holders, have certain rights and responsibilities; however, those rights are not as extensive as those with citizenship status. Generally, green card holders must wait a few years before they can apply to become U.S. citizens, or naturalize.

Rights and Benefits of U.S. Citizenship

U.S. citizens hold the highest status of what can be attained under U.S. immigration law. Some rights and benefits include:

  • Citizens are not subject to deportability
  • The only way citizenship can be taken away is if a former immigrant commits fraud in obtaining it in the first place
  • Citizens can vote.
  • Citizens can reunite family in the United States. To promote such a right, U.S. citizens and legal residents can petition for certain relatives to come and live in the U.S. permanently.
  • Citizens can obtain citizenship for children born abroad. If your child was born outside of the United States, he or she can become a U.S. citizen based on your citizenship status.
  • Citizens can travel across U.S. borders with no issues as the former non-citizen will have a U.S. passport.
  • Citizens can collect benefits, including social security benefits and Medicare.
  • Citizens can become federal employees
  • Citizens can become an elected official

Rights and Benefits of U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence

Being a green card holder means that you have many rights, including lawful rights to work and permanently reside in the United States; travel abroad; and file a petition for family members to receive green cards. However, green card holders do not have as many rights as citizens. Green card holders cannot vote; they can’t travel abroad for more than 6 months without risking losing their green card status and/or being refused re-entry into the U.S.; cannot generally receive the same assistance and benefits as those with U.S. citizenships can. In addition, if a green card holder commits certain crimes or acts of terrorism, he or she will likely be forced out of the U.S. and back to his or her respective country.

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