How to Apply for U.S. Citizenship After 3 Years with a Green Card

American passport and US flag in envelope on blue background.
Picture of Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

Counting down the days until you can apply for U.S. citizenship? Under specific circumstances, you can apply for citizenship after just three years of holding a green card, particularly if you are married to a U.S. citizen. Understanding the requirements and process for naturalization is crucial to ensure a smooth transition from permanent resident to citizen.

Key Points to Remember

Eligibility for Spouses of U.S. Citizens:

  • If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply for citizenship after three years of obtaining your green card.
  • You must have continuously lived in marital union with your U.S. citizen spouse for the entire three-year period.

Continuous Residence Requirement:

  • You must have resided continuously in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for at least three years immediately preceding your application.

Physical Presence Mandate:

  • You need to be physically present in the U.S. for at least 18 months (548 days) during the three years before filing your application.

Special Provisions for Military Members:

  • S. Armed Forces members may qualify for expedited citizenship under more lenient rules.

Steps in the Application Process

  1. Filing Form N-400: The Application for Naturalization is the first step.
  2. Biometrics Appointment: Provide fingerprints, a photograph, and a signature.
  3. Citizenship Interview and Exam: You will be interviewed by a USCIS officer and tested on U.S. history, government (civics), and English proficiency.

Benefits of U.S. Citizenship

  1. No Need to Renew Your Green Card: Avoid the hassle and fees of periodic renewal.
  2. Voting Rights: Participate in federal and local elections.
  3. Family Sponsorship: Sponsor immediate relatives for green cards.
  4. Job Opportunities: Apply for federal jobs requiring U.S. citizenship.
  5. Protection from Deportation: Gain stability and security in your residency status.

Understanding the Basics

A green card grants you lawful permanent residency, allowing you to live and work in the U.S. legally. Typically, you need to have your green card for five years before applying for citizenship, but if you are married to a U.S. citizen, this period can be reduced to three years.

Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

To apply for citizenship after three years, you must:

  • Continuously reside in the U.S. as an LPR for three years.
  • Live in marital union with your citizen spouse for those three years.
  • Be physically present in the U.S. for at least 18 months (548 days) in the three years before applying.

Process of Applying for Naturalization

Naturalization Application:

  • Fill out Form N-400 and gather necessary documents, including proof of marriage, tax forms, and evidence of green card status.

Biometrics Appointment:

  • Attend your biometrics appointment as scheduled, bringing identification documents like your green card or driver’s license.

Citizenship Interview and Exam:

  • Be prepared for an interview and tests on U.S. civics and English proficiency. Honesty and preparation are crucial.

Oath of Allegiance:

  • The final step is taking the Oath of Allegiance, committing to uphold the U.S. Constitution and laws.
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Benefits of U.S. Citizenship

Voting Rights:

  • Gain the right to vote in federal and local elections.

No More Immigration Forms:

  • Avoid green card renewals and additional immigration paperwork.

Family Sponsorship:

  • Sponsor relatives for green cards and help them call America home.

Additional Benefits:

  • Obtain a U.S. passport, apply for federal jobs, and enjoy protection from deportation.

Commonly Asked Questions

  1. Can I apply for U.S. citizenship if I’ve been a Green Card holder for less than five years? Yes, if you are married to and living with a U.S. citizen spouse during this period.
  2. What does “continuous residence” mean for applying for citizenship? Continuous residence means living in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident without long trips abroad. For spouses of U.S. citizens, this period is three years.
  3. How do I prove my physical presence in the U.S.? Use documents like employment records, school records, or travel records to show you’ve been physically present for at least 18 months of the three years.
  4. What if my spouse and I have spent significant time outside the U.S. during our marriage? Maintaining a U.S. domicile and limiting absences are important to meet continuous residence and physical presence requirements.
  5. Can military service members or their spouses apply for U.S. citizenship earlier? Yes, they may qualify for expedited citizenship with reduced residency and physical presence requirements.
  6. What are the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization? Rights include voting, obtaining a U.S. passport, sponsoring family members, and securing your legal status in the U.S.


Applying for U.S. citizenship after three years as a green card holder, especially if married to a U.S. citizen, is an achievable goal. Ensure you meet all eligibility requirements, gather necessary documents, and consult with an experienced immigration attorney if needed. Embrace the process and look forward to becoming a proud U.S. citizen.

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