People often ask me if they are eligible for citizenship. In order to be eligible for citizenship, you have to have a green card for three years if you’re married to a United States citizen or five years if you’re not married to a United States citizen. In order to be eligible, you also have to be over 18 years old, demonstrate both physical presence in the United States and continuous presence, and demonstrate that you are a person of good moral character.
The requirement for physical presence is that out of the last five years, you have been physically present in the United States for the last two and a half years, and you actually have to count the dates. In addition to the physical presence requirement, you need to show continuous presence. In order to demonstrate continuous presence, you need to show that you have not been outside the United States for more than six months at a time, consecutively. If you’ve been out of the United States once a week every year for the last five years, more likely than not you’re going to qualify for citizenship.
If you’ve been outside the United States consecutively for more than six months, there’s a presumption that you have broken up your continuous presence. It’s a rebuttable presumption if you can demonstrate that your absence from the United States was due to family illness or an emergency overseas, but you’ve maintained a bank account, your tax return’s here in the United States, and have kept your job. It’s very hard to get approved if you’ve stayed out of the United States for more than six months. If you’ve been out of the United States consecutively for more than one year, you are not going to be eligible for US citizenship.
In addition to the physical presence requirement and the continuous presence requirement, you need to demonstrate good moral character. That’s defined in the statute. Obviously, certain issues such as criminal history or lying to immigration under oath will possibly make you ineligible for citizenship. The rules for citizenship and being eligible can be very easy if you don’t have any negative history in your past. However, if you do have some type of negative history, it can complicate your situation. It’s important for the immigration lawyer to understand how you got your green card, to make sure that was done in a correct and legal manner. You don’t want to apply for citizenship and, at the same time, have your green card taken away. If you think you have issues concerning your citizenship or questions about whether you qualify, it’s really important to talk to an immigration lawyer, and I’d be happy to discuss your situation with you at any time.
Cheryl David is an experienced immigration attorney practicing in NYC. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding your specific case, or general immigration procedures and policies.