It all depends. Technically, the process for applying for US Citizenship is called Naturalization. In general, green card holders who have been permanent residents for at least five years, or in some cases three (if married to and living with a US Citizen), apply on Form N-400. However, this is assuming that the applicant is not already a US Citizen. In some instances, a person may derive US citizenship through his/her parents: for example, if a green card holder is under 18 years of age at the time either one of his/her parents naturalize, citizenship will automatically be conferred on that child. Another situation where a person may already be a US Citizen is through acquisition via birth abroad to a US Citizen. An individual who is already a US Citizen who desires proof of his/her citizenship will generally apply either for a US Passport or a Certificate of Citizenship on N-600.
Aside from these situations, most permanent residents will need to apply for naturalization but may be anxious or worried about taking the examination. In order to become a naturalized citizen, an applicant must not only demonstrate general, basic proficiency with English (speaking, reading and writing) but also knowledge of American civics. Fortunately, there are some special provisions for certain pockets of the population that may make the process easier. For example, there is the 55/15 English waiver exemption. If an applicant is at least 55 years old and has had the green card for at least 15 years, he/she is exempt from the English language requirement and may take the history test in his/her native language. Alternatively, a permanent resident may qualify for the English Waiver by demonstrating that he/she is at least 50 years old and resided in the US with a green card for at least 20 years. There is also the 65/20 exception, which allows an applicant who is at least 65 years old and been a permanent resident for at least 20 years to request a special history test, which is comprised of less questions for the applicant to study. Importantly, these conditions must be satisfied at the time of the application, not by the time of the interview.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no law or provision within the Immigration and nationality Act that provides for automatic citizenship. No matter how many years an individual has been a permanent resident, he/she will be expected to take the history examination. The only issue is whether the civics exam will be given in English or conducted in the applicant’s native language. (The only waiver which exempts an applicant from taking the test would be the N-648 Medical Disability Waiver, which will be discussed in a future article.)
If you think you qualify for an exemption to the Naturalization test or would like to learn more about eligibility, please contact our office. We will be happy to meet with you and help you to assess when is the best time for you to apply.