If you’re a green card holder, chances are applying for citizenship is the next step in your immigration journey. To apply for citizenship, you first need to be aware of when you’re allowed by immigration law to file your application for naturalization. This article discusses the timeline for gaining citizenship along with important exceptions.

Speak with an immigration lawyer if you’re thinking of applying for citizenship to determine whether or not you’re qualified to obtain citizenship in the US.

Five-Year Rule

Green card holders who’ve had lawful permanent residence for at least five years can submit a citizenship application. However, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows you to file as early as 90 days before the five-year mark. This is to account for the time it takes to process your application and schedule your biometrics appointment and interview.

However, applying earlier will get your naturalization application denied. It’s also important to know that several important exceptions will allow you to apply earlier. It’s best to seek legal assistance from a reliable immigration attorney to ensure that you have all the necessary paperwork and avoid facing delays in your processing times.

Exceptions to the Five-Year Rule

Certain situations may allow you to avail of an exception to the five-year rule. These include spouses of United States citizens who meet certain criteria, as well as immigrants who were granted protected status.

Who Qualifies for the Exception? When to Apply for Citizenship?
Permanent residents married to and living with a US citizen Three  years from the  date of marriage
Battered Spouses of US Citizens Three-year exception through a self-petition
Spouses of US Citizens in Certain Overseas Jobs Any time after you return to the US and obtain permanent residency
Asylees Four years after receiving asylum or getting a green card
Refugees Five years after your date of entry to the US

For Spouses of Citizens of the United States

Apply for CitizenshipSpouse. Green cardholders who are married to and currently living with their spouses who have American citizenship can obtain citizenship sooner. If you qualify for citizenship, the USCIS allows you to apply three years from the marriage date, regardless of whether or not you got your green card through marriage. Note that this exception will no longer apply if you divorce, legally separate, or stop living with your American citizen spouse at any point during the naturalization process.

Battered Spouse. The Violence Against Women Act or VAWA protection allows victims of domestic abuse to be exempt from the three-year rule. Instead, they can become a citizen of the US through a self-petition on Form I-360. Children can also become naturalized this way, but their petition can only be filed once they turn 18.

Spouse of Americans in certain overseas jobs. If you and your spouse (who has American nationality) are required to stay abroad due to work, you can become a naturalized citizen after returning to the US and declaring your intention to live here once your spouse’s employment ends. This exception only applies if your spouse’s employer is:

  • the US government;
  • A corporation engaged in US foreign trade and commerce;
  • A public international organization;
  • A research institute recognized by the attorney general; or
  • Religious domination where your spouse serves as the missionary or performs ministerial and priestly functions.

For Immigrants Protected by Asylum or Refuge

Refuge. If you came to the US as a refugee, a portion of your time as a refugee can be considered as part of your lawful permanent residency through a process known as rollback. If you received this status outside the country, your entry date to the US serves as the date when you became a legal permanent resident.

Asylum. Similarly, if you were able to get a green card through asylum, you can consider a year of your time as an asylee as part of your legal residency. As such, you only need to wait four years after receiving a green card to qualify or be eligible for citizenship.

If you’re considering applying for naturalization to be a citizen of the United States, it’s best to get an immigration case analysis from experienced immigration attorneys. At Diener Law, we can evaluate your circumstances to determine if you meet the citizenship requirements and provide legal assistance throughout the citizenship process. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation!