Naturalization Requirements: Waivers & Exceptions
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) enforces a firm set of requirements for foreign-born individuals who want to become naturalized U.S. citizens. This article focuses on waivers, exceptions and limited accommodations to these naturalization requirements, including those pertaining to foreign-born children of U.S. citizens; continuous residence exceptions; disability accommodations and special rules for military service members and their families.
Spouses & Children of U.S. Citizens
Immigration law typically requires a five (5) year waiting period before a legal resident may apply for citizenship. However, certain lawful permanent residents married to U.S. citizens may apply for naturalized citizenship after living in the U.S. for three (3) continuous years if they meet the following criteria:
- Applicant has been living in a valid marital relationship with the same spouse (who is a U.S. citizen) for three years;
- The U.S. citizen spouse has been a citizen for the entire three-year period and meets all residence requirements; and
- Applicant meets all other requirements for becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen (See Naturalization Requirements for more information).
In some cases, the physical presence (or residence) requirements may be waived altogether for a lawful permanent resident whose U.S. citizen spouse is employed or stationed abroad in one of the following capacities:
- 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, along with two photographs of the child and all other accompanying documentation (see Form N-600 instructions, linked above, for more information).
Keep in mind that foreign-born children of U.S. citizens derive their citizenship from their parents, so the filing of Form N-600 merely records the child's citizenship. Adopted children of U.S. citizens also derive citizenship automatically from their adoptive parents. See Foreign-Born Adoptees & the Child Citizenship Act for more information.
Military Service Members and Their Families
Those who serve honorably in the U.S. military, plus their immediate family members, are granted a more direct path toward citizenship. For example, foreign-born U.S. military service members may immediately apply for U.S. citizenship after just one year of service (bypassing the standard five-year waiting period). Also, the spouses and children (if lawful permanent residents) of U.S. military service members killed in action may immediately apply for naturalization.
For more information about military-related waivers and exceptions, see Military Service and Immigration.
English Language Exemptions
Applicants are exempt from the English language requirements for naturalization (but still must take the civics test) under the following circumstances:
- You are age 50 or older (at the time of your naturalization filing), 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 age 55 or older (at the time of your naturalization filing), have had a valid green card, and have lived in the U.S. for 15 years. This is commonly called the "55/15" exception.
If you fit any of the two profiles, you may take the civics test in your native language only if you do not understand spoken English well enough to take the exam in English and you must bring an interpreter to your interview. Those 65 and older with at least 20 years of legal permanent residence at the time of filing will be afforded special consideration with regard to the civics requirement.
If a physical or mental disability makes it especially difficult for you to meet the English language and/or civics requirements, these requirements may be waived. Submit a Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions (Form N-648) to request this particular exception.
In general, USCIS makes the appropriate accommodations and/or modifications for applicants who have either physical or mental disabilities that affect the naturalization process. The Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) provides a space for applicants to list their needs as related to the application process.
Have an Immigration Lawyer Evaluate Your Legal Needs for Free
Coming to a new country, learning its culture and language, and finding your way is difficult enough without trying to navigate the particulars of immigration law. If you are becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, you may have some legal questions that require professional counsel. Get a head start by having an attorney review your case, at no charge.