Naturalization is the process by which United States citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or foreign national. In order to become a naturalized citizen, an individual must fulfill all of the requirements set out by immigration laws.

In most cases, an applicant for naturalization must be at least 18 years old and a legal permanent resident (i.e., a “green card” holder) for a required amount of time before filing for citizenship. Except for certain U.S. military members and their dependents, naturalization can only be granted within the U.S.

The Continuous Residency Requirement:

One of the threshold requirements of eligibility for citizenship is meeting the continuous residency requirement. The lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse of a U.S. citizen who meets all other eligibility requirements need only have been a continuous resident in the U.S. for three years prior to applying, while other LPRs must have been a continuous resident in the U.S. for five years.

This residency requirement means more than just keeping a physical address within the U.S. for the required period. If an individual leaves the country for a period of six to twelve months, it may jeopardize the “continuous residency” requirement. In that case, it may be presumed that the individual did not intend to reside continually in the U.S., and that presumption must be overcome by some evidence showing otherwise. If an individual is absent for a twelve-month period, it will automatically break the “continuous” requirement, meaning that the applicant will have to start the clock all over again from the time of re-entering the U.S..

Individuals hoping to naturalize should also be aware that the continuous residency requirement refers to the period immediately prior to filing an application for citizenship. In other words, if an individual continuously resides in the U.S. for the necessary period, but then leaves the U.S. for twelve months prior to applying for citizenship, the requirement has not been met. In addition, an applicant must reside for at least three months in the district or state in which they intend to file an application prior to filing that application. Anyone who does not meet the residency requirement for the requisite period should not submit an application for citizenship.

Physical Presence Requirement:

In addition to continuous residency, if an applicant is out of the country too often, even if not for continuous periods, they will fail to meet the “physical presence” requirement. The physical presence requirement mandates that the applicant be physically present in the U.S. for a minimum of two and a half years during the five-year continuous residency requirement, and one and a half years during the three year residency requirement. If an individual seeking citizenship spends too much time out of the U.S., they will not be eligible for citizenship and should not apply.

Citizenship Test:

In addition to these requirements, applicants for citizenship must take a citizenship test. The test covers two main areas: English and Civics. The English portion of the examination assess proficiency. The Civics test covers U.S. history, basic facts about the structure of the U.S. government, and the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. More information on the test can be found here.

Other Requirements:

Immigration law mandates other requirements for citizenship eligibility. These include paying income taxes, demonstrating good moral character, registering for the Selective Service (applies only to males between the ages of 18 and 26), and not engaging in any serious criminal activity. Finally, becoming a citizen requires an individual to take an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S.

Why or Why Not apply for U.S. Citizenship?

For foreign individuals who intend to reside permanently in the U.S., citizenship has many benefits. U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in elections for public office and can run for and hold public office (except for the Office of President). Foreign-born citizens have become legislators and even governors of states, as well as members of Congress.

Naturalized citizens may exercise all the rights of native-born citizens, including the right to travel to and from the U.S. with a passport, and may obtain government jobs and benefits. Once naturalized, an individual may not be deported.

Individuals who do not meet all of the qualifications for citizenship should not submit an application. In addition, individuals should be aware that the application requires them to submit very detailed information about their personal history, and the USCIS will investigate thoroughly the background of those who apply for citizenship. If there is information that would demonstrate sufficient grounds for deportation, an individual may wish to refrain from seeking citizenship, and simply retain their LPR (green-card) status.


For many immigrants,  becoming a U.S. citizen is the dream of a lifetime. Unfortunately, becoming a U.S. citizen is a very long and arduous process. Too often, it is intimidating, frustrating, and confusing for many people. Although the requirements are fairly straightforward, they are seemingly never-ending. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to keep abreast of all the requirements and to ensure that each is met so that the naturalization application is not denied.

The immigration attorneys of Bushell & Widdison have a history of assisting and guiding our clients through the exhausting naturalization process, helping them realize their dream of becoming U.S. citizens.

Your immigration advocate will review and explain all the legal requirements, transforming the confusing and baffling process into an understandable and clear course of action. We help our clients seeking U.S. citizenship establish or obtain the appropriate documentation needed to demonstrate that requirements are met, filling out and filing the necessary paperwork with the appropriate U.S. immigration office. Additionally, the immigration attorneys of Bushell & Widdison will advise individuals when they may not or should not apply for citizenship.

Throughout the naturalization process, communication with your immigration attorney is crucial. All of our attorneys are fluent in Spanish. This allows us to communicate directly with our Spanish-speaking clients, as well as read and review documents written in the Spanish language. Our Spanish-speaking clients are given the assurance that they will be able to fully comprehend what the law requires and how their application will proceed, without any misunderstandings or miscommunication.

If you, a loved-one, or someone you know would like to become a U.S. citizen, let the immigration attorneys of Bushell & Widdison serve you. Please call us today.