Does Living in the United States for 20 Years Grant Automatic Citizenship?


Can you get automatic citizenship in the United States after living here for 20 years? No, but certain applicants don’t have to meet the English language requirements when applying for naturalization. For example, if you’re at least 50 years old when you file for naturalization and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years while possessing a valid green card, you’re exempt from having to prove you know English. 

However, you’ll still have to take the civics test as part of the naturalization requirements. Certain people (like military service members) will have a more direct path to becoming citizens. In some cases, working with an immigration lawyer is essential for solving your problems related to pursuing United States citizenship.

What to Keep in Mind Regarding U.S. Naturalization

  • Living in the United States for 20 years doesn’t grant you automatic citizenship
  • If you’ve lived in the U.S. for 20 years, you’re exempt from having to meet the English language requirements for citizenship
  • Some exceptions exist to citizenship requirements, including serving in the military or having a disability
  • Immigration law is complicated and changes often, so working with a legal professional who understands it is invaluable

USCIS Citizenship Requirements

USCIS (U.S Citizenship and Immigration Service) has firm rules on requirements for foreigners who wish to become citizens of the United States. Immigration law usually requires that applicants wait until they’ve had five years of legal residency before applying for naturalization. However, some lawful permanent residents who are married to United States citizens only have to wait three years, as long as they meet these requirements:

  • They’ve lived in a valid marriage with their U.S. citizen spouse for the 3-year period
  • Their spouse meets U.S. residency requirements and has been a United States citizen throughout the 3-year period
  • The applicant meets the other requirements for naturalization

Keep in mind that the rule on physical presence in the U.S. (residence) may be waived if you’re a lawful permanent resident and your American spouse is stationed abroad or employed by the U.S. government (including the military), officially recognized U.S. research institutes, and other specific lines of work or service.

Members of the Military

Those who have honorably served in the United States military (and their immediate family) will get a more direct path to American citizenship. Foreign-born U.S. service members, for example, can apply for citizenship immediately after serving for a year instead of waiting five years. In addition, the children and spouses of U.S. service members killed in action can apply immediately for citizenship if they’re already lawful permanent residents.

Exemptions for the English Language Requirements

As briefly mentioned before, applicants don’t have to meet the English language requirements to become citizens if they’re 50 or older and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years with a valid green card. This also applies to those who are at least 55 when they apply for naturalization and have lived in the U.S. for 15 years with a valid green card.

Accommodations for the Disabled 

If you’re having trouble meeting the civics or English language requirements due to a mental or physical disability, you might get the requirements waived with form N-648. The naturalization application form has a space where you can list your needs as they relate to the process of applying for citizenship. 

How Working With an Attorney Can Help

It isn’t required that you work with a lawyer during the citizenship application process, but it can be helpful. If you have specific questions that you haven’t been able to find answers to or complicating factors on your application, an immigration attorney is a valuable asset. They can also help if you’re simply overwhelmed by the paperwork involved in the naturalization process. 

In some cases, an attorney can represent you in immigration court. Immigration law is complex and constantly changing, and you might not know which route is best for you to go. Working with a legal professional who has seen cases like yours before can help you increase your odds of a favorable outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions on United States Citizenship

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding naturalization and attaining citizenship in the United States:

Q: What are the requirements for U.S. naturalization?

Unless you’re eligible for an exemption, you must be at least 18 years of age, physically and continuously live in the U.S. and hold a green card for a number of years, in addition to having “good moral character.” You must also show that you’re proficient in basic written and spoken English and show that you have knowledge of United States history and government, among other requirements. Again, some will be exempt from taking the language or civics test either due to their age or a mental disability.

Q: Can I get my citizenship taken away?

If you attained citizenship through the naturalization process, the government may revoke your citizenship in some cases. The government might take away someone’s citizenship for obtaining it through lies or illegal means, for example. However, if you have citizenship because you were born in the U.S., they can’t just take it away from you.

Q: Can I still get U.S. citizenship if I have bad credit?

There are many reasons why citizenship may be denied, but having debt isn’t a block to naturalization. Keep in mind that some specific financial issues (like failure to pay taxes) could interfere with citizenship due to the requirements about good moral character.

What to Do if You Need Help

As you can see, you can’t achieve automatic citizenship after living in the United States for 20 years. This only makes you exempt from the English language requirements. You can achieve citizenship through following the necessary steps (with some exceptions). You’ll have to prove that you understand United States history and laws before you can attain citizenship. If you have complicating factors like a crime on your record, working with an immigration attorney is your best bet for making sure you’re prepared. 

Call our Immigration team at (480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.

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