There are two rules for the naturalization process of US conditional permanent residents: the 3-year rule and the 5-year rule. The rules state that anyone with permanent residency can start the naturalization application after three or five years of living in the US.

The three-year rule is for a lawful permanent resident who is married to a US citizen; such is eligible after only three years. That means a conditional permanent US resident can apply for citizenship after three years instead of five.

There are a lot of pieces of general information that applicants need to know concerning this rule. That’s why we’ve compiled these questions and provided answers to them to help you understand naturalization under the three-year rule.

Can I Start My Citizenship Process In 3 Years?

If you’re married to a U.S. citizen and have permanent residence, you can start your citizenship application process after three years. To be eligible, you must have resided in the United States continuously for three years immediately after filing Form N-400.

Also, you must be married to the same US citizen spouse for the entire three years. You can find the details of the citizenship requirements under the 3-year rule in the Immigration and Nationality Act 391(a).

To be eligible, you must be at least eighteen years and be a permanent green card holder for at least three years. You also must have been living with your spouse for those three years and within the state for at least three months before applying.

Can a Conditional Green Card Holder Apply for Citizenship Before the Statutory 3 Years?

You can apply for citizenship ninety days before the three years rule – that is if you’re married to a US citizen. All conditional permanent residents can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years, although married residents can apply after three.

To make it count, you need to fulfill all the requirements, which include remaining with the same permanent resident spouse. If you leave the country in those three years, the time you spent away will be deducted from the three years.

If you obtained the card on the basis of a marital union, you can apply after three years; otherwise, five. Meanwhile, it is important that you and your spouse remain married until you naturalize. The “living in marital union” clause is only required until you file the citizenship petition.

What Is the 4-Year-1-Day Rule for US Citizenship?

The 4-year-1-day rule in US citizenship applies when you break continuous residency – that is when you leave the country. A new period will begin to run on the day you reenter the US. Then, you must stay at least four years and one day before you can reapply for naturalization. The rule applies to US lawful permanent residents required to continuously be in the US for five years but who broke it.

To file for naturalization, you must have been lawfully admitted into the US; otherwise, the petition will be denied – and worse. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will review your lawful permanent resident status before it grants you citizenship.

Can I Apply for Citizenship with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services 6 Months before 5 Years?

An applicant may apply for citizenship six months before the statutory 5 years on certain conditions. If the applicant breaks the continuity of their residence within the five years, such must establish a new period. The establishment of a new period of continuous residence is essential or the applicant will be ineligible for naturalization.

The requisite period duration depends on why the applicant wants to naturalize or obtain permanent US citizenship. In the scenario above, the applicant is eligible to apply for naturalization six months before the end of the 5-year period.

What Are the General Eligibility Requirements for Spouses Residing in the US?

The U.S. citizen’s spouse who lives in the US may be eligible for naturalization based on their marriage. To be eligible, such must have continuously resided in the country after becoming an LPR for at least three years. That is three years immediately before filing the application for naturalization. In addition, such spouse must have lived in marital union with the same US citizen spouse for those three years.

The spouse may also apply for citizenship under general naturalization provisions for an applicant who has been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years. There are other requirements aside from this that the spouse needs to fulfill to get approved.

U.S. Citizenship Requirements for 3-Year Married Permanent Resident

For spouses of U.S. citizens residing in the country, they must establish that they meet the following criteria before they can become a lawful permanent resident:

  • They are at least 18 years old at the time of filing,
  • They are lawful permanent residents at the time of filing the application for naturalization,
  • They remain the spouse of the U.S. citizen until when the applicant swears the Oath of Allegiance,
  • They fulfill the continuous residence requirement, remaining in the United States as an LPR for at least three years immediately before filing the naturalization application until its approval,
  • They lived in marital union with the U.S. citizen spouse within the statutory three years before filing the naturalization application,
  • They were physically present in the US for at least 548 days out of the specified three years before the application filing date,
  • They are within the USCIS district or state with jurisdiction over their place of residence for at least three months before applying,
  • They demonstrate good moral character for the stipulated three years before filing the naturalization application until the approval time.

What If You and Your Citizen Spouse are Separated but Still Legally Married?

If you and your U.S. citizen spouse are separated, although still legally married, the three-year rule doesn’t cover you. One of the eligibility requirements is that you and your citizen spouse must live together within the statutory relevant periods of three years. If you’re divorced or separated but legally married and are living separately, you’re no longer eligible for this exception.

This clause also applies if you had a permanent resident spouse at the beginning of the three years and just became a U.S. citizen. In this case, you must wait to use the three-year rule after your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for three years.

How to Get a U.S. Citizenship after a Marriage-Based Green Card

First, download, fill out, and submit the Application for Naturalization form, Form N-400 with the required proper documentation, and pay legal fees. Then, you’ll attend a biometrics appointment with the USCIS where you’ll have your signature, photo, and fingerprints processed.

After this, the USCIS will send a notice with the date, time, and venue for your citizenship interview. Finally, you will take the Oath of Allegiance, which may or may not be administered on the interview day.

What Should a Lawful Permanent Resident Expect From the US Citizenship Interview and What Is the Best Way to Handle It?

The USCIS officer will ask you a series of questions during the government test, including sensitive or confidential information about your marriage. They will ask questions to determine your naturalization eligibility for US citizenship, including questions to determine if you lived in a marital union.

If you’re applying for citizenship under the three-year rule, the officer has free evaluation rights to determine if you have a bona fide marriage. The USCIS will typically tell you at the end of the naturalization interview if your application was successful or not.

You are also expected to prove a healthy marital union with a U.S. citizenship holder. In addition, if you are part of the armed forces, you must show you’re in compliance with the controlled substance law for members of the armed forces.

When Can You Apply for Your U.S. Passport?

You can apply for your U.S. passport once you’ve become a full U.S. citizen. Once you’ve taken the Oath of Allegiance, the USCIS will issue you a certification of naturalization; then, you can apply for your passport and vote.

The physical presence requirements that are in place are to ensure the person applying for a green card or seeking to get U.S. citizenship can necessarily secure every requirement to apply for U.S. citizenship.

You can apply when you are married to a U.S. green card holder and living in a marital union with such holder of U.S. citizenship. For ordinary usage, a civics test will be provided which applicants must pass before being eligible. When speaking to your lawyer, you can also find anything that constitutes acceptance in the green card application process.

How Much Does Filing Form N-400 Cost?

It currently costs $725 for a prospective U.S. citizen to fill out the form N-400, which includes $85 for biometrics services and $640 for processing. The fees paid for the filing are non-refundable regardless of the status of the application. However, some applicants may be eligible for a waiver or reduction of the legal fees for filing form N-400.

Worthy of mentioning is that message and data rates may differ based on the government agency you are working with. To avoid being exploited, getting an experienced immigration attorney from a reputable law firm is essential to your permanent residence process. Without your physical presence, your attorney can help with your green card application.

All they must do is prove, among others, that you have good moral character and that your continuous residence in the United States will not affect the good moral character of others.

How Long Does Form N-400 Processing Take?

It takes six to twenty-four months on average to process Form N 400 for a U.S. citizen. However, the statutory period and the processing speed of the form depend on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services local office handling your application. We recommend researching this to know what to expect at each stage of the process and the naturalization requirements to keep up with.

Considering that we are in an era of automated technology, new methods are being designed to ensure compliance with the five-year rule is tracked online. That way, it becomes easy for any person seeking immigration to know whether they meet the eligibility criteria without being physically present.

Let Herman Legal Group Help You With the Naturalization Process

Many applicants for naturalization tend to have one lawyer issue or the other and others fail to get the approval of the attorney general. If you belong to any of these categories, what you need is a professional immigration attorney and that is what we offer you at Herman Legal Group. Immigration attorneys at this firm will carefully review pre-recorded messages or information from any other automated technology that will aid green card applications.

To schedule a consultation with us today, contact us via +1-216-696-6170 and you can have a meeting with us in-office or virtually. If you want to schedule a direct consultation with the best immigration attorney in the United States – Richard Herman, you can book online.


Naturalization under the three-year rule only applies to applicants who obtained their permanent resident card based on marriage or qualifying military service. Such a person must fulfill the criteria for eligibility, which includes the physical presence requirement in the US for three years. You can employ the services of a law firm and let your lawyer talk you through the application process. On the other hand, you may leave the entire process to the hands of an experienced immigration attorney.

However, you’ll need to maintain an attorney-client relationship to ensure you’re kept abreast of every primary immigration issue. With a confidential relationship with your attorney, you’ll have sufficient attorney advertising, which will save you from deportation proceedings. You can find a good attorney through a zip code search; they’ll help you in difficult cases, including those involving battered spouses.

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