Most people who are green card holders have a fairly good idea of the requirements it takes to be a citizen. Even still, some of the requirements are quite technical. Making a mistake on a citizenship application is generally not a disaster, but it does mean wasting significant time and money. Below, then, are some of the most common technical issues in applying for citizenship. Please note, this is not a comprehensive list of the requirements, but highlights some of the most common issues.
1. Amount of Time Having Green Card
The general rule is that if you obtained your green card through marriage, you must wait three years from the date you got the green card to become a citizen. If you got the green card in any other way, the time period is five years. Sometimes, however, a person who got a green card through marriage ends up being divorced to their sponsor. In this case, the three year rule does not apply. Instead, the green card holder must now wait five years before applying for citizenship, even if the divorce happens after their I-751 gets approved.
2. Physical Presence Requirements
There are two important rules for citizenship to keep in mind with respect to how long outside the United States you can stay without having problems when you apply for citizenship. Some people think that as long as you don’t stay outside for more than a year and you’ll be fine. While this is a good principle to follow, it’s not the only thing to keep in mind. First, as this rule suggests, if you stay outside the United States for more than one year while you’re a green card holder then you have to wait five years from returning before you apply. Also, if you travel outside the United States more than six months but less than one year you very well may have to wait five years from returning before applying for citizenship. Special documentation will be needed to avoid this five year wait, to show that you were continuously residing despite your time outside the United States.
Besides these rules though, there is an additional requirement for presence in the United States. Both this requirement and the prior rule about no trips that are too long must be met. Simply put, the additional rule is that you must have been in the United States for more than half of the five years preceding when you apply for citizenship. (Or, for more than half of the three years before you apply for citizenship if you are applying based on marriage). An issue often comes up where people are not sure how long they’ve been outside the United States. Guessing is not good enough and being precise is important. Luckily, if you do not have the records yourself, requests can be made to the government to get record of all your entry and exits to and from the United States.
3. Criminal Issues
There are two different ways criminal convictions can be an issue for citizenship. First, if the conviction is for what’s called an “aggravated felony,” citizenship will be denied. “Aggravated felony” has a legal definition, though, and not all felonies are an “aggravated felony,” and some crimes that are not “felonies” under state law are still an “aggravated felony.” If you have a serious crime, consulting with an immigration attorney is most likely necessary before applying for citizenship. Second, if you have a less serious crime, you still must disclose it and it could pose an issue. You must show that you have been a person of “good moral character” in the last five years, although crimes beyond the five year period can also influence this determination. The factors that go into this determination are beyond the scope of the article, but generally speaking, the more serious the crime, the more time distance between the crime and applying for citizenship the better.
Disclaimer: Although I'm an attorney, unless I am retained by you, I am not your attorney. The information in this blog is solely general legal information. Especially in immigration law, the particular facts of your individual case are vitally important and general legal information alone should not be used to make a personalized decision. In addition, the law can change rapidly, and what is found in a particular post may not be the most current reflection of the law. Thus, please speak with an attorney before either taking or choosing not to take any action relevant to your case.