Common Questions Facing Applicants for U.S. Citizenship
July 11, 2003

The requirements to become a U.S. citizen by way of an N-400 Application for Naturalization are generally not complicated, although situations frequently arise where significant questions regarding an applicant’s eligibility are raised.

General Requirements for Naturalization:

  1. The applicant must be at least 18 years of age and a lawful permanent resident for 5 years. For those who are married to a U.S. citizen, the requirement is only 3 years or residence, although the applicant must have been married to and living with that U.S. citizen spouse for at least 3 years to qualify for this shortened eligibility period.
  2. The applicant must demonstrate “good moral character” during the qualifying 5 or 3 year period.
  3. The applicant must not have been absent from the U.S. for 1 year or more during any single stay outside the U.S. over the course of the qualifying 5 or 3 year period AND the applicant must not have been absent from the U.S. an aggregate of more than half of the qualifying time. Absences of more than 6 months, but less than a year, during the qualifying period can be problematic, depending on the circumstances.
  4. Applicants must demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak English along with a basic knowledge of U.S. government and history. Certain exceptions are made for various classes of older residents who have been residing in the U.S. for extended periods, as well as for individuals with physical and mental disabilities.

Naturalization Requirements Questions and Issues

Q: Can I submit my application prior to accumulating the requisite period of residence?

A: Yes. Applications can be filed during the 90 day window prior to accumulating the necessary years of residence.

Q: What if I was the subject of criminal charges during or even before the qualifying period?

A: Generally, criminal charges that are dismissed do not pose any eligibility problems, as long as the applicant discloses the fact that they were arrested (it will show up on the fingerprint report anyway). Criminal charges that lead to a conviction will definitely affect eligibility, even convictions for driving under the influence and even some convictions taking place prior to the eligibility period. Given the complexity of the law in this area, as well as the potential deportation consequences, I would advise all applicants with criminal backgrounds to consult an attorney before submitting an Application for Naturalization.

Q: What if I no longer reside with my U.S. citizen spouse, and the basis of my application was a 3 year qualifying residence period?

A: Unlike the 5 year qualifying period, applicants who apply based on a three year eligibility period carry the burden of demonstrating that they continue to reside with their U.S. citizen spouse up through the time of their interview and their oath ceremony.

Q: How will absences of longer than 180 days – but less than a year, affect my eligibility?

A: Applicants with such absences during the qualifying period will have the burden of demonstrating to the CIS (formerly INS) that they did not abandon their residence during this period, and therefore the extended departure should not constitute a break in the qualifying residency period. Factors considered by the CIS in assessing the nature of the departure include: did the applicant take work overseas? Did the applicant maintain a place of residence, bank account, business affiliation, employment ties, etc. in the U.S. during their departure? What was the intention of the applicant at the time they departed?

As far as processing times are concerned, applicants in Illinois are generally scheduled for their interview within 6 to 8 months from the date of application. Approved applicants are generally scheduled for their oath ceremony within the following 90 day period, although extended security clearance protocols have been delaying the scheduling of oath ceremonies for many applicants.

Copyright © 2003-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois