by Lawrence Gruner, California Attorney
You might have heard that, for some people who hold a green card (lawful permanent residence), it's possible to apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship after three years rather than the usual five. This article will take a closer look at who might be eligible for this.
WARNING: Expect delays in all parts of the process as a result of the COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic. As of early 2020, there is no way to complete the naturalization application process, owing to government office closures to in-person visits. Even after they reopen, you can expect long delays as the backlog is cleared.
Again, most lawful permanent residents must wait a full five years before applying for U.S. citizenship. Here are the main exceptions.
Your permanent residency begins on the date you were granted your permanent residence status. Look at your permanent residence card. It will state the date on your card.
Special rules apply if you have taken trips outside of the United States of six months or longer. In these cases, you might have disrupted your "continuous residence" (unless you can prove otherwise), and you will not be eligible for naturalization without waiting longer.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule, which are beyond the scope of this article. If this is your situation, you might still be eligible to successfully apply for naturalization at a later time. Speak to an immigration attorney to review the facts and circumstances of your case.
If your application is based on being a permanent resident for three years, then you must prove that you were physically present in the U.S. for 18 months within that three-year time period before applying for naturalization.
If your application is based on being a permanent resident for five years, then you must prove that you were physically present in the United States for 30 months within the five-year time period before applying for naturalization.
You must also have resided in the district or state in which you are applying for citizenship for the last three months before submitting your naturalization application. Students may apply in the district either where they go to school or where their family lives (as long as they are still financially dependent on their parents).
According to USCIS, you may file for your naturalization 90 calendar days before you complete your permanent residence requirement if your eligibility for naturalization is based upon being a permanent resident for at least five years; or a permanent resident for at least three years, if married to a U.S. citizen. (Again, note that you need to have lived with your spouse in the United States for three full years before applying for naturalization under the three-year exception.)
There are many other eligibility requirements that you must satisfy, besides those listed above, in order to qualify to become a naturalized United States citizen. (See 8 U.S.C. § 1427.) As you can not only be denied your citizenship but also lose your permanent residency should problems arise in your case, it is always a good idea to consult with a lawyer before applying for naturalization.