Applicants must be present in the United States, and must meet every
requirement for naturalization, unless they are persons who fall within
special classes that are exempt from some of those requirements. The
basic requirements for naturalization are set out below.
A person must be at least 18 years of age before he or she can apply for
Only an alien who has been lawfully admitted to this country for
permanent residence can be naturalized. This means that the alien must
have been lawfully allowed to live permanently in this country as an
immigrant. Not all aliens in the United States have been given this
privilege. Some, for example, visitors, students, and seamen, have been
allowed to come into this country only temporarily and, therefore,
cannot lawfully remain here permanently. These persons do not meet the
requirements of this paragraph. Neither does an alien who succeeded in
getting into the United States unlawfully, such as by hiding convictions
for serious crimes, or by deserting a ship, or by sneaking into the
An alien who has been allowed to live here permanently as an immigrant
loses that privilege, as well as the privilege of becoming naturalized,
if he or she leaves the United States with the intention of abandoning
residence in this country.
Caution: An alien who has been admitted to the United States for
permanent residence and who established residence in the United States
may choose to be treated as a nonresident alien for the purpose of
gaining certain benefits under the income tax laws. In order to become a
nonresident alien for that purpose, the alien must leave the United
States and in doing so must intend to abandon residence in the United
States. The intent to abandon may be formed also after the alien has
left the United States.
An alien who chooses to become a nonresident for tax purposes may be
considered as having also given up and lost his or her status as an
immigrant under the immigration and naturalization laws. This could mean
that the alien may become ineligible for an immigrant visa, or a reentry
permit or other document, for which permanent residents are eligible;
may become inadmissible to the United States if seeking readmission as a
returning resident with a reentry permit, an alien registration receipt
card or a returning resident visa; and may become ineligible for
Aliens should give careful consideration to the possible consequences
mentioned above, before deciding to claim nonresident alien status for
Residence and Physical Presence
After an applicant has been admitted for permanent residence, he or she
must reside in the United States continuously for at least five years
just before filing an application for naturalization with the Service.
At least the last three months of that five years' residence,
immediately before the filing of the application, must also be residence
in the State or Service district where the application is being filed.
The applicant is not obliged to stay in the United States during every
day of the five-year period. Short visits may be made outside the United
States, either before or after applying for naturalization, and may
include as part of the required five years' residence the time absent.
However, the applicant must be sure that:
(a) he or she is not absent for a continuous period of one year or more
(b) he or she is not out of the United States for a total of more than
30 months during the last five years.
Generally, if the applicant is absent for one year or more at any one
time during the five-year period just before filing the application, he
or she breaks naturalization residence and must complete a new period of
residence after returning to the United States. This means that he or
she will have to wait at least four years and one day after coming back
before he or she can be naturalized. Furthermore, if during the five-
year period he or she has been absent for a total of more than 30
months, he or she will have to stay in the United States until he or she
has been physically present for at least a total of 30 months out of the
last five years just before filing an application for naturalization.
Permission to be Absent
Under certain circumstances, persons and their dependents who expect to
be continuously absent from the United States for a year or more in work
within one of the below listed classes may be given permission to be
absent without breaking their naturalization residence. To obtain this
permission, an application must be made on Form N-470, "Application to
Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes," in accordance with the
instruction on the form. The fee must be submitted with the form. No
currency should be sent in the mail.
Persons and dependent members of their households who may qualify for
this permission fall into three categories as discussed below. It should
be particularly noted that there are important differences between the
classes with regard to what is necessary to be eligible for the
permission, when the application must be made, and whether the person
may be considered to be physically present as well as residing in the
United States during the absence.
(a) Employment by American Organizations. Such organizations include:
(1) American firms or corporations, or their subsidiaries, which are
developing foreign trade and commerce of the United States.
(2) American institutions of research recognized by the Attorney
(3) Certain public international organizations in which the United
States takes part.
To be eligible to obtain permission, employees within this class must
first have been physically present in the United States for an
uninterrupted period of at least one year after their lawful admission
for permanent residence.
If possible, the application for permission should be filed before the
applicant leaves the United States. It must be filed before the
applicant has already broken residence by being continuously absent from
the United States for as much as one year. It must be filed even though
the employee has been issued a reentry permit to use to come back to the
United States after the absence. The reentry permit alone is not enough
to protect naturalization residence. Unless the application is filed and
approved by the Immigration and Nationalization Service, absence for a
year or more will break naturalization residence even though the absence
may have been for employment by one of the above organizations.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Immigration and Naturalization Service
may have granted permission for the absence and, therefore, the
applicant's naturalization residence remains unbroken by the absence of
a year or more, employees within this class cannot include the time they
are absent as any part of the 30 months' physical presence required to
qualify for naturalization. Care must be taken, therefore, to have been
actually physically present in the United States for not less than 30
months of the five years just before filing applications for
naturalization. The benefit of this section includes the applicant, the
spouse and dependent unmarried sons and daughters.
(b) Employment by the United States Government. The requirements to
obtain permission to be absent and the benefits of being granted
permission are the same for United States Government employees and their
dependents as for the employees of American organizations above, with
Government employees are regarded as physically present in the United
States during the time they are absent with the required permission.
They may include, therefore, as part of the 30 months' physical presence
for naturalization purposes the time that, with permission, they are
absent in Government employment.
Government employees who are to be absent for continuous periods less
than one year do not have to apply for permission to be absent, and may
count each continuous period of less than one year abroad toward the
thirty months that they must be physically present in the United States.
(c) Service for Religious Organizations. Persons engaged abroad as
priests, ministers, missionaries, brothers, nuns, or sisters by a
religious denomination or interdenominational mission organization which
has an organization in the United States and who are granted permission
to cover the absence enjoy the same benefits that are granted to
Government employees, including the right to count as physical presence
in the United States the time they are absent with permission.
Persons within this class have the additional privilege of applying for
permission to cover the absence at any. time. They may also be granted
permission to be absent even though they have not yet completed a year
of uninterrupted physical presence in the United States after their
lawful admission for permanent residence. If they have not completed
this year of uninterrupted physical presence, however, they must
complete at least one year of uninterrupted physical presence in the
United States before they can file their applications for
naturalization. The benefit of this section is limited to the applicant.
Character and Loyalty
An applicant for naturalization must show that, during all of the five
years just before filing an application for naturalization, and up until
he or she is sworn in as a citizen, he or she has been a person of good
moral character who believes in the principles of the Constitution of
the United States and is favorable to the good order and happiness of
the United States.
The naturalization law states that an applicant for naturalization
cannot be considered to be of good moral character if he or she comes
within any of the following classes at any time during the five-year
period and up until becoming naturalized:
(a) Habitual drunkards;
(b) Polygamists, persons connected with prostitution or narcotics,
(c) Convicted gamblers, persons getting their principal income from
(d) Persons who lie under oath to gain a benefit under the immigration
or naturalization laws;
(e) Persons convicted and jailed for as much as 180 days.
A person also can never become a citizen if he or she has been convicted
of murder or an aggravated felony at any time.
The disqualifications listed above are not the only reasons for which a
person may be found to lack good moral character. Other types of
behavior may be taken into consideration by the Service officer in
deciding whether or not an applicant has the good moral character
required to become a citizen.
Aliens who have refused to performed their duties to serve in the armed
forces of the United States may also be denied citizenship. These
include persons who have been convicted of deserting or evading service
in the armed forces of the United States during time of war, as well as
persons who applied for and were given exemption from service on the
ground that they were aliens.
Communist Party and Similar Membership
A person cannot become a citizen who, at any time during a period of ten
years just before filing an application for naturalization, has been a
member of or connected with the Communist Party or a similar party
within or outside the United States; or a member of or connected with
any other party or organization that is against all organized government
or for world communism, dictatorship in the United States, overthrowing
the United States Government by force, injuring or killing officers of
the United States, or sabotage.
If the membership or connection with any of these parties or
organizations during the ten-year period was involuntary, or before 16
years of age, or compelled by law, or to get employment, food or the
necessities of life, the person may become a citizen if no longer a
member of or otherwise connected with the party or organization.
A person who has broken the immigration laws and as a result is under a
deportation order cannot be naturalized. This provision may not apply to
a person who is applying for naturalization based upon his or her
Literacy and Educational Requirements
Unless physically unable to do so, an applicant for naturalization must
be able to speak and understand simple English as well as read and write
it. However, if on the date of the examination the applicant is more
than 50 years of age and has been a lawful permanent resident for 20
years or more, or the applicant is more than 55 years of age and has
been a lawful permanent resident for 15 years or more, the applicant
will be exempt from the English language requirement of the law. If
exempt, the applicant may take the examination in any language.
All applicants physically able to write, must also be able to sign their
names in the English language. However, the person mentioned above who
is excused from knowing English is permitted to sign in a foreign
language if unable to sign in English.
Every person applying for naturalization, including the persons
mentioned above, must pass an examination showing that he or she is
knowledgeable about the history and form of government of the United
States. There are no exceptions to this requirement. The examination on
these matters and on English is given by a naturalization examiner at
the time the applicant appears for the examination on the application
for naturalization. The questions the examiner asks are in simple
English and to be able to answer them requires knowledge only of
subjects that anyone who has really tried to learn will be familiar
The Service recognizes certain standardized English Language/Citizenship
tests from private test givers that an applicant may take at approved
testing sites. The applicant may take the test several times until
achieving a passing grade. The Service is not advised of the identities
of those persons who do not pass the test, and failure of this test does
not have any effect in the applicant's ability to retake this
alternative test or be tested by a Service officer. The successful
results are transmitted to the Service. However, an applicant must
submit a copy of his/her test results with the application. The test
would be taken in place of the test given by a Service officer.
The applicant would still be examined by a Service officer on the
contents of the application and the ability to speak English.
In many places the public schools, as well as other community groups,
have citizenship classes to prepare persons to become citizens. Certain
educational institutions also offer courses by mail for persons who want
to study under their supervision at home instead of in school. The
nearest Immigration and Naturalization Service office can furnish
information about the correspondence courses. The Federal Government
also publishes textbooks to aid applicants for naturalization in
studying to become citizens. It is upon the information in these books
that the examination on history and government is given. Applicants who
attend citizenship classes in public schools or who are studying by mail
receive these books from the schools without charge. The books can also
be bought directly from the Superintendent of Documents, Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, and can be used to study
privately at home instead of under the supervision of a school.
Form M-132, "Information Concerning Citizenship Education to Meet
Naturalization Requirements," contains more information about the
Federal Textbooks on Citizenship and courses that can be taken by mail.
This form can be obtained without charge from the nearest office of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Oath of Allegiance
Before being admitted to citizenship (unless a child is too young to
understand), an applicant for naturalization must give up any foreign
allegiance and any foreign title and must promise to obey the
Constitution and laws of the United States. Unless it is against his or
her religious beliefs, the applicant must also promise to bear arms or
fight for the United States, to perform other types of service in the
armed forces of the United States, and to do work of importance to the
national interest when asked to do so.
If it is against the religious beliefs of a person to fight for the
United States or to perform other types of service in the armed forces
of the United States, that person can be excused from promising to do
these things and may become naturalized without making such a promise.
However, the person cannot be excused from promising to do work as a
civilian which is important to the nation.
excerpted from Form N-17 (Rev 11/30/92) N
by Dept of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service
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