San Diego Citizenship Lawyer – Naturalization Basic Eligibility Requirements

Readers often inquire about the general requirements for Citizenship and when can one apply. A number of criteria must be reviewed to determine if a person is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. As a starting point, the applicant must be a legal permanent resident (LPR) and at least eighteen years old. There are limited exceptions to this rule, including honorable service in the U.S. military during a time of war or declared hostility. The basic rule, however, is LPR and eighteen years of age.

Continuous Residence

In order to be eligible for naturalization, after Green Card has been obtained, one must be able to establish “continuous residence” in the United States for a period of five years before filing the application. This period is reduced to three years for individuals who are married to U.S. citizens, or who obtained Green Cards based on marriage but were battered or abused by their spouses. With the exception of cases involving abuse, in order to be eligible for the three-year period based on marriage to a U.S. citizen, the applicant must be married and living in marital union with the U.S. spouse for the past three years and the spouse must have been a U.S. citizen for the past three years.

Physical Presence

1. The applicant must be physically present in the United States for at least half the statutory five- or three-year period preceding the date of filing the application. The number of days spent in the U.S. must equal at least one half of the total days in the five- or three-year period at the time of filing in order to be eligible to naturalize.

2. No individual trip outside of the U.S. can be of one year’s duration or greater. Trips of this duration are considered to automatically break the physical presence requirement. A reentry permit does not overcome this requirement. In the event that the applicant was outside of the U.S. for one year or more, s/he would have to wait at least four years and one day from the time of return to the United States to apply for naturalization. Certain Exceptions apply.

3. Trips that are longer than six months but shorter than one year in duration are presumed to break the continuity of residence. This legal presumption can be rebutted with evidence that the applicant did not abandon residence.

Residence in State

Applicant must establish residency in a specific state in the United States for a three-month period in order to file an application in that jurisdiction.

Good Moral Character

To become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you must have “good moral character.” This is a legal term. It is not necessarily the same as a “good person,” as opposed to a “bad person.” A person whom you might think of as a “good person,” Immigration might think is a person who does not have “good moral character” and should not be allowed to become a U.S. citizen.

The following are just some of the situations where Immigration might say a person does not have “good moral character” and deny citizenship:
* the person has worked but has not always filed income taxes when he should have;
* a man has lived in the United States at some point during the ages of 18 and 25 but did not register for “Selective Service”; (See Special Privileges and Obligations of Living in the U.S.)
* the person has a drinking problem (especially if arrested for driving while drunk);
* the person has ever had children with a person to whom he was not married;
* the person has children but does not live with them, and is not paying child support for the children;
* the person got public benefits such as food stamps, but did not tell his benefits caseworker right away when he began working again or when he took a brief trip outside of the U.S.;
* the person has ever lied to Immigration, for example, on earlier applications for permanent residency;
* the person has ever been arrested by the police for any reason;
* the person has been convicted of any crimes. This includes nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting.

Each applicant for naturalization must establish that s/he is a person of good moral character during the statutory period, which continues until the applicant is sworn in as a U.S. citizen. However, the USCIS is not limited to reviewing only the statutory period to determine the individual’s character. If the person has a criminal record or any other character problem that precedes the statutory period, the USCIS will determine whether there has been rehabilitation or if the prior acts should be considered relevant to the current moral character of the applicant. Good moral character evaluations are made on a case-by-case basis. In its regulations, the USCIS states that it will take into account “the standards of the average citizen in the community of residence.”
It is necessary to meet all the above requirements at the time of filing the application and, for most, during the process, through to the oath ceremony. The oath ceremony can occur several weeks later. Therefore, the applicant needs to be conscious of travel and other requirements until s/he is actually sworn in as a U.S. citizen. Click here for dates of ceremony in our county.