Can Immigrants Get Automatic Citizenship After 20 Years?

Posted by Frank Gogol
Updated on May 16, 2022

The process of getting U.S. citizenship can be very long and confusing. There are different paths to becoming a U.S. citizen, each of which has different requirements. All of these paths have requirements regarding the time spent in the United States, but none of them is automatic. Read on to learn more about automatic citizenship after 20 years.

Can You Get Automatic Citizenship in the U.S. After 20 Years?

In short, no. In the United States, automatic citizenship is only obtained by birth. Every other person must apply for naturalization. 

The federal government agency responsible for processing applications for naturalization is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). 

There are several different ways to get citizenship in the U.S.:

  • As a Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder) for 5 Years or more
  • By marriage to a U.S. Citizen
  • By serving in the U.S. Military 
  • As a child of a U.S. Citizen.

Each path to naturalization has specific requirements that you must meet for your application to be successful. Some of these requirements are outlined in the section below.

USCIS Citizenship Requirements

The most common path to becoming a U.S. citizen is through being a lawful permanent resident (a green card holder). 

To qualify for naturalization, you must:

  • Be 18 years old or older when you submit a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
  • Show that you have been a lawful permanent resident of the United States (a green card holder) for 5 years or more
  • Show that you have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years before you submit your application
  • Show that you have been physically present within the borders of the United States for at least 30 months in the five years before you apply
  • Prove that you have lived for three months or more in the state or USCIS jurisdiction where you want to submit your application (if you are a student you can apply in the place where you go to school)
  • Demonstrate that you are a person of good moral character and that you have been one for at least five years before you submit your application (this requirement essentially refers to criminal, legal, or tax issue.)
  • Show that you believe in and are committed to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution
  • Know how to read, write and speak basic English
  • Know and understand the basics of the history of the United States
  • Understand the principles of the U.S. government and how it works. This is called civics (you can take this test in another language if you also bring an interpreter who is fluent in English and your language to the naturalization interview)
  • Be willing to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

If you want to apply for naturalization through the other paths, such as to get citizenship through military service, marriage, or family, there are other requirements. 

When Are Exemptions Made for The U.S. Citizenship Process?

There are some exemptions to the naturaliation requirements for people who meet specific conditions. A few of these exemptions are explained below.

Exemptions for the English Language Requirements After 20 Years

If you meet the conditions listed below, then you do not have to take an English test as part of your application and can disregard the English language requirement for citizenship:

  • 50 years old or older when you apply and a green card holder for at least 20 years (sometimes called the 50/20 exemption)
  • 55 years old or older when you apply and a green card holder for at least 15 years (sometimes called the 55/15 exemption).

Please note you are not exempt from taking the U.S. history and civics test even if you are exempt from the English language test based on a 50/10 or 55/15 exemption. 

However, if you are 65 or older and have been a green card holder for 20 years or more, you are eligible for special consideration on the civics test.

Exemptions for Members of the Military

In effect, members of the military have a separate path to naturalization with different requirements than people who apply based on being lawful permanent residents of the United States.

As a former or current member of the United States military, you may be eligible for the following exemptions:

  • No requirement for continuous residence in the United States as a green card holder
  • No application fees are required for the naturalization application.

Eligibility for these exemptions depends on a few factors. These include how long you have served, and whether you served during a period of hostility, as defined by the USCIS.

Exemptions and Accommodations for the Disabled 

People with physical or mental disabilities or impairments are eligible for exemptions concerning the English language and civics tests. If you qualify for this exemption, you may not need to take those tests. 

To receive this exemption you will need a licensed medical doctor, or clinical psychologist to complete a Form N-648 Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions on your behalf. 

Alternatively, if you inform the USCIS of any physical or mental impairments you have on the Form N-400 Application for Naturalisation, they will provide ways to make it possible for you to complete the tests.

In other words, even if you do not submit a Form N-648, you are still entitled to help, but you will need to pass the English and civics tests.

United States Citizenship FAQ

The questions that are answered below often come up when discussing automatic citizenship after 20 years.

What are the requirements for U.S. naturalization?

There are a lot of requirements you must meet when applying for naturalization in the United States. The requirements if you have a green card are detailed in the section above entitled ‘USCIC Citizenship Requirements’. The exact requirements that apply depend on several factors. 

These factors include:

  • your age: generally you must be 18 years and older
  • whether have served in the U.S. military
  • whether one of your parents or your spouse is a U.S. citizen 
  • how long you have been in the U.S. – generally you must have been in the country for at least 5 years.

Can I still get U.S. citizenship if I have bad credit?

Yes. The naturalization process does not take your credit history into account. However, it does require good moral character. Being in debt is not a barrier by itself. 

However, certain kinds of financial problems may be an issue. For example, if you have failed to pay your taxes, this could interfere with your application.

Can I get my citizenship taken away?

Yes, but there are specific situations in which this can happen:

  • Illegal means used to apply
  • Deliberately hiding or misstating important facts
  • Membership or affiliation with certain organizations
  • Other than honorable discharge after less than 5 years served in the military.

Read More

Final Thoughts

Automatic citizenship after 20 years does not exist. Every non-U.S. citizen who wishes to obtain citizenship must submit an N-400 Application for Naturalization. However, if you are older than 50 and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years or more, you do not have to prove that you can speak English when you apply for naturalization. Several other exemptions may apply to you.


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