Green Cards and the Path to U.S. Citizenship

Calendar Icon Updated January 15, 2019
Green Cards

Receiving a U.S. Green Card is significant for many reasons, but perhaps the most important of these is because it is the only recognized alien status that can lead directly to becoming a full United States citizen.

To become a U.S. citizen, with a Green Card in hand, lawful permanent residents go through a process known as “naturalization. This process has a number of steps and requirements established by Congress and the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The key requirements to becoming a U.S. citizen are:

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  • An applicant must be a Green Card holder for five years or more before applying. If they are married to a U.S. citizen, then the requirement drops to three years.
  • They must be at least 18 years old.
  • They must be able to write, read and understand English.
  • Applicants must have lived in the same place for at least three months prior to applying.
  • They must show a level of understanding about the United States government and civics.
  • Applicants must have lived in the United States for at least 30 months of the preceding five years as a way to show intent to become a permanent U.S. citizen. If they are married to a U.S. citizen, that requirement drops to 18 months out of the preceding three years.
  • They must not have committed crimes or denounced the United States government in a way that could be considered threatening.
  • These requirements may be different for Green Card holders who are members of the U.S. armed forces.

Once these requirements are met, applicants may begin the naturalization process. Key steps in this process include:

  • Compiling and organizing key documents that will help make the case for U.S. citizenship.
  • Complete and file a Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization form.
  • Once the form has been reviewed and approved, applicants are sent an interview appointment letter by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • Applicants will also probably need to attend a biometrics appointment, at which time they will be fingerprinted and have their signature captured electronically.
  • At the citizenship interview, the official will test the applicant’s knowledge of U.S. civics and government, English comprehension and ask several questions specifically related to the applicant’s petition. 
  • There are three possible outcomes to the interview. Applicants will be approved. Their case will be continued pending the gathering of more information, documents and background checks. Or, they will be denied if USCIS officials decide the applicant did not make a strong enough case for citizenship. 
  • For those applicants who are approved for U.S. citizenship, they will be invited to a ceremony where they will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, making the naturalized and full United States citizens.

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