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When Is It Too Late to Apply for Citizenship?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 14, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As many people undoubtedly know, the U.S. citizenship and naturalization process can be fraught with complicated paperwork, legal requirements, filing fees, and a whole lot of waiting. The time it takes to gain citizenship can seem interminable. But is there a time by which you must apply for citizenship, or risk losing your opportunity?

Here's a look:

Eligibility Requirements

While there is no legal deadline for applying for citizenship, there are requirements an applicant must meet before filing, which can take time: An applicant must:

  • Already have a green card (although procedures for filing with an expired green card exist);
  • Be at least 18 years old;
  • Have lived in the U.S. lawfully as a permanent resident for at least five years (unless they are a spouse of a U.S. citizen, refugee, or received their green card through political asylum);
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the time during those five years;
  • Not have spent more than one year at a time outside the U.S.;
  • Not have established a primary home in another country; and
  • Have lived in the state or district where you are filing your application for at least three months.

Once a person meets all of these requirements they may apply, and may face filing deadlines within the process.

Internal Filing Deadlines

One other requirement that can impose a deadline on applicants is that they prove "good moral character." This can often be demonstrated by registering for Selective Service. Men between the ages of 18 and 26 (including U.S. citizens permanent residents, refugees, asylees, and even undocumented aliens) are expected to register for the Selective Service and provide proof of registrations for the purposes of naturalizing as a U.S. citizen. An applicant who fails to register for Selective Service will most likely fail the "good moral character" requirement and the application will be rejected.

Applicants between 18 and 26 years old can resolve this problem by simply registering for Selective Service, and applicants over the age of 31 fall outside this requirement. Applicants aged 26 to 31, however, are in a more difficult position if they've forgotten to register. It is too late to register for Selective Service, and they will not be able to demonstrate good moral character during their most recent five years as a permanent resident. So, it's best to register for Selective Service before turning 26, or you may have to wait five years to apply for citizenship.

As we noted above, the citizenship process can be long and complicated, and there may be deadlines by which you must file supporting documents once you've started the application process. Talk to an experienced immigration attorney for help.

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