Become a US Citizen While Waiting for Your Ten-Year Green Card

Erick Widman

If you are a permanent resident and getting ready to apply for a ten-year green card, it’s a good idea to consider becoming a US citizen. Here’s a quick overview why.

It used to take about six months for USCIS to process Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residence. However, as of 2018, the processing time has changed dramatically. It now takes about two years for this petition to be processed. This is certainly frustrating, but there is some good news.

First, applicants with petitions pending will retain all the rights and privileges of being a permanent residence. They can continue to live and work in the United States, as well as to travel freely. Upon submitting Form I-751, applicants will receive a receipt notice that officially extends their status beyond the expiration listed on their green card. In most cases, this extension is good for eighteen months. If this extension’s expiration date approaches while the petition is still pending, applicants can request an additional extension by filing an InfoPass appointment. For more information about scheduling an InfoPass appointment, see here.

Second, most applicants will become eligible for US citizenship while their petitions are still pending. A conditional permanent resident will become eligible for naturalization two years and nine months before their third anniversary of residency. In other words, a permanent resident will become eligible for naturalization less than three years after the date they received their green card.

As previously stated, the processing time for a petition to remove conditions on permanent residence is about two years. However, the processing time for a petition to naturalize is often between six and nine months. An applicant who files both petitions will likely attend a USCIS citizenship interview while their ten year green card petition is still being processed. In these cases, the USCIS officer at the interview will simply adjudicate both petitions during the interview.

The advantages of US citizenship heavily outweigh those of permanent residency. Citizens can vote, petition for more relatives’ immigration, are eligible for jobs in government, and can travel as much and for as long as they want.

In short:

  • You are eligible to apply for a ten-year green card one year and nine months before your green card expires. This application will likely take two years to process.
  • You are eligible to apply for naturalization after you’ve had your green card for two years and nine months. This application will likely take less than one year to process.
  • You may become a US citizen before ever receiving a ten-year green card.

So what does this look like in practice?

Let’s say Jennifer met Hassan while studying abroad in Jordan. The two hit it off, fell in love, and married in 2015. Soon after, Hassan applied for permanent residency. He received his conditional, two-year green card on August 1st, 2016, and it is set to expire on August 1st, 2018. Three months before that date, or May 1st, 2018, he will want to submit an application to remove the conditions on his permanent residency. The goal is for him to secure a new green card that is valid for ten years.

Before applying for his ten-year green card, Hassan will want to collect documentation that shows his marriage to Jennifer is legitimate and ongoing. Examples of supporting documents include photographs, lease agreements, utility bills, joint bank statements, and itineraries from trips taken together.

In May 2018, Hassan will submit these supporting documents alongside a completed Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residence, and a check for the filing fee of $680. Hassan’s petition will take up to two years to be processed.

In May 2019, while Hassan’s petition is still pending, he will become eligible to apply for naturalization. Hassan will collect additional evidence of his genuine marriage to Jennifer, as well as his tax documents and a copy of his green card. He’ll complete Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and submit it to USCIS alongside his supporting documents.

Sometime around December 2019, Hassan will attend a citizenship interview at USCIS. He’ll do a great job speaking with the officer, and crush the citizenship test. Consequently, his petition will be approved and Hassan will schedule an oath ceremony. Suddenly, Hassan will become a US citizen without ever receiving his ten-year green card. (After all, he no longer needs it!)

Here’s an overview of the timeline:

  • August 1, 2016: Hassan receives his conditional, two-year green card;
  • May 1, 2018: Hassan submits a petition to remove the conditions on his permanent residency and apply for a ten-year green card;
  • May 1, 2019: Hassan submits a petition to naturalize and become a US citizen;
  • Around December 2019: Hassan attends his naturalization interview at USCIS and both petitions are adjudicated.

Ultimately, we generally recommend that conditional residents prepare to apply for naturalization at the same time they prepare their application for ten-year green cards.

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