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Naturalization Requirements: Waivers & Exceptions

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is a federal agency that enforces the requirements to become naturalized U.S. citizens. The USCIS office conducts the naturalization test or citizenship test as an essential part of this process.

This article focuses on waivers, exceptions, and limited accommodations to these naturalization requirements. It includes information about foreign-born children of U.S. citizens, continuous residence exceptions, disability accommodations, and special rules for military service members and their families.

Spouses and Children of U.S. Citizens

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a five-year continuous residency is required for citizenship. But, spouses of U.S. citizens who are lawful permanent residents (also known as green card holders) may have different requirements. They may apply for naturalized citizenship after three years of continuous residency in the U.S. if they meet the following criteria:

  1. The applicant has been living in a valid marital relationship with the same spouse (who is a U.S. citizen) for three years.
  2. The U.S. citizen spouse has been a citizen for the entire three-year period and meets all residence requirements.
  3. The applicant meets all other requirements for becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. (See Naturalization Requirements for more information.)

Sometimes, if a person with a green card has a spouse who is a U.S. citizen working or based in another country, they might not need to meet the usual rules about living in the U.S. Their spouse's job might be one of these types:

  • U.S. government (including, but not limited to, the U.S. military)
  • U.S. research institutes officially recognized by the U.S. Attorney General's office
  • Officially recognized U.S. religious organizations
  • U.S. research institutions
  • U.S. firms involved in the development of U.S. trade and commerce
  • Certain U.S.-involved public international organizations

Parents who are U.S. citizens may file an Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600) on behalf of a child born abroad. The parent will submit this form, two photographs of the child, and other documentation.

Remember that foreign-born children of U.S. citizens derive their citizenship from their parents. Thus, filing Form N-600 merely records the child's citizenship. Adopted children of U.S. citizens also derive citizenship from their adoptive parents.

Military Service Members and Their Families

Under the Department of Homeland Security, those serving in the U.S. military and their immediate family members have a more direct path toward citizenship. For example, foreign-born U.S. military service members may immediately apply for U.S. citizenship after one year.

This process bypasses the standard five-year waiting period. Also, lawful permanent resident spouses and children of U.S. military service members killed in action may immediately apply for naturalization.

For more information about military-related waiver and eligibility, this article about Military Service and Immigration discusses this issue in detail.

English Language Exemptions

Under the following circumstances, applicants are exempt from taking the English test:

  • You are 50 years of age or older at the time of filing. And have had a valid green card. And have lived in the U.S. for 20 years. This is commonly called the "50/20" exception.
  • You are 55 years of age or older at the time of filing. And have had a valid green card. And have lived in the U.S. for 15 years. This is commonly called the "55/15" exception.

Note that these applicants can still be required to take the civics test. This is the case despite the exemption from the English test. Also, if an application fits the two profiles, the civics test may be taken in the applicant's native language. This is only if the applicant does not understand the spoken English language enough to take the exam.

People 65 and older get special consideration in civics tests. The special consideration applies if they have at least 20 years of permanent residence when filing.

Disability Accommodations

If a physical or mental impairment makes the English language and civics requirements difficult, these requirements may be waived. Submit a Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions (Form N-648). A clinical psychologist should complete this form. A qualified medical professional can also fill out the same. USCIS makes the appropriate accommodations for applicants with physical or mental disabilities. The accommodations are given if the disabilities affect the naturalization process. The Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) allows applicants to list their needs.

Citizenship Application and Legal Advice

Adjusting to a new country and navigating immigration law can be overwhelming. You can encounter challenges that would need professional help.

To make the process more manageable, it is best to seek legal advice from an immigration attorney. They can give you help throughout the process and advice tailored to your case.

Learning more about the steps and the requirements will avoid denial of your application or potential deportation. Contact an immigration attorney near you. These professionals can help with the processing of immigrant visas or citizenship applications.

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