Transitioning From Permanent Residence to Citizenship

For many permanent residents, the ultimate goal is citizenship. This will remove the limitations of green card status, such as having to maintain a visa when traveling abroad or the risk of losing one’s status by spending too much time outside the country.

In parallel, for those looking internationally, programs offering citizenship by investment for Brits present an accelerated path to acquiring a second passport, bypassing the traditional residency requirements.

However, the process to becoming a citizen is a complex and lengthy one. The right legal team can provide valuable guidance through the transition from permanent residency to citizenship.

Getting Started

Depending on your specific circumstances, you may have a few different options for transitioning from permanent residence to citizenship. For most, though, it begins with obtaining a green card and then moving towards citizenship through naturalization. Citizenship provides a number of additional benefits, including the right to work and travel more freely without the worry of visas expiring or becoming overstayed.

It also allows you to apply for a passport from the country in which you reside. This is an especially important benefit in a time when cross-border travel is more common than ever before.

Once you have a green card, you will need to wait at least five years before you can file for citizenship through naturalization (service in the military counts toward this requirement). The exact timeframe can vary slightly based on how you obtained your green card and in what country you lived while getting it.

During this time, you must satisfy two separate but closely related requirements: continuous residence and physical presence. As a legal permanent resident, you are permitted to travel internationally as long as your trip does not exceed six months at a time. However, excessive traveling can negatively impact your ability to meet the citizenship requirements. In extreme cases, citizenship can even be revoked when granted to someone who has travelled abroad frequently and repeatedly during the process of becoming a citizen.

To satisfy the residency requirements, you will need to maintain an address in the United States and regularly file federal income tax returns. Additionally, you must keep an active bank account in the country, own property in it and maintain a valid driver’s license.

Additionally, you will need to meet the English and civics test requirements. In some instances, this can be waived for those with a mental or physical disability, but you will need to prove this by submitting documentation through Form N-648.

In addition, you will need to decide where you want your interview and oath ceremony to take place, and live in that state or USCIS service district for at least three months before submitting Form N-400.

Preparing for the Interview

Obtaining citizenship provides several benefits. Citizenship can make it easier to apply for work abroad or move between U.S. states, particularly in a situation where one spouse works in another state. It also enables you to get a passport for the country where you live, which opens up many travel opportunities. Finally, it makes you eligible for federal jobs and permits in the U.S. that are not available to permanent residents.

The process to become a citizen takes 3-5 years and requires you to have maintained continuous residence and meet the physical presence requirements. It also requires you to have a good understanding of the English language and U.S. history and government (known as civics). If you do not have enough knowledge to pass the citizenship exam and meet these other requirements, USCIS will deny your naturalization application.

If you are a legal permanent resident, you can travel outside the United States as you wish, but it is best to avoid extended trips. If you do, it is possible that port-of-entry staff will suspect you have abandoned your residence in the United States and deny you re-entry to this country. Immigration attorneys can help you overcome this presumption of abandonment if you have a legitimate reason for being outside the country, such as employment abroad or visiting family.

In addition, you must be in the United States for your biometrics appointment, interview, and swearing-in as a new U.S. citizen. If you cannot be present for these events, you may still qualify to be a naturalized citizen through consular processing. Consult a U.S. citizenship attorney to learn more about the various processes and determine the best option for you.

You must be of good moral character to gain citizenship in the United States. This means that you cannot have been convicted of a serious crime in the three or five years before you submit your U.S. citizenship application and must have satisfied any criminal convictions in the period from the date of your conviction through when you take your Oath of Allegiance. For minor offenses such as parking and speeding tickets, disorderly conduct convictions, or open container violations, you may be able to show that these are not sufficient to affect your good moral character.

red passport on top of a map - Transitioning From Permanent Residence to Citizenship
Filing for Naturalization

Becoming a naturalized citizen offers many benefits including voting rights, protection from the government and access to certain jobs and benefits. However, there are specific rules requiring residence and physical presence that must be followed in order to successfully become a U.S. citizen through the naturalization process. These rules are in place to ensure that only those who truly want to be citizens make it through the process.

One of the most important requirements is that you maintain continuous residence in the United States up through your oath ceremony, which can be held at any time during the three or five-year period following filing your Form N-400. This means limiting extended trips abroad and keeping a detailed travel log in order to preserve your status for citizenship.

It also means living in the state or USCIS service district that you choose for your interview and oath ceremony location and residing there (or nearby) for at least three months prior to submitting your N-400. This is because your interview, biometrics appointment and oath ceremony must take place within that region in order to be successful.

During the application process, you will be required to provide information about your employment and school history as well as your family history. You will also be asked to demonstrate that you have good moral character, which is determined by extensive background checks and compliance with tax laws. Those who break any of the above rules could find their citizenship process disrupted or even halted.

When preparing your N-400, you will need to complete Part 9. This section requires most applicants to list their travel history in the past five years (or three years if the basis of their case is marriage to a U.S. citizen). It is extremely important that you carefully review your travel history and consult with an immigration attorney before attempting to fill out this portion of the form, as leaving the country for extended periods can violate the continuous residence or physical presence requirement.

You will also need to take the civics and English tests at your interview, unless exempt due to military service or age. If you fail either portion of the test, USCIS will schedule a date for you to retake it.

Final Steps

Once you are a naturalized citizen, you will be able to enjoy all the privileges that citizens have, including voting in the elections and running for elected office. However, there are some limitations to citizenship that you should be aware of.

For example, if you are a lawful permanent resident and travel outside the United States for an extended period of time, it can be difficult to overcome the presumption that you abandoned your residency status in order to take up the position abroad. It is possible to obtain a “preservation” of your residency for up to one year if you are travelling for work purposes, and USCIS approves the position, but it’s always best to avoid extended trips in order to maintain continuous residence.

Another limitation is that LPRs are not eligible for certain employment opportunities, such as government jobs or military service, because those positions require a valid passport. This is an important consideration if you are planning to apply for citizenship, or if you intend to seek a job that requires a passport.

Finally, a key difference between citizenship and permanent residence is that citizens are able to get a passport. This can open up many additional employment opportunities and travel options for a citizen.

As mentioned above, you must be a legal permanent resident for five years before you can apply for citizenship. For people who received their green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen, that number can be reduced to three years. In addition to meeting the residency requirement, applicants must be able to pass both a civics and English proficiency exam. Applicants are also required to file a tax return and have some type of proof of financial stability. Some groups of individuals are exempt from the English and civics test requirements, and we can help you determine which exemption is appropriate for your circumstances. We can also help you complete the application, provide necessary documentation, and guide you through your interview process. Contact our office for more information. We serve clients throughout the state of Illinois and surrounding areas.

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