Individuals who wish to become American citizens must meet several requirements. The most common way to become eligible for citizenship is by living in the country as a lawful permanent resident (also called a green card holder) for five years. However, there are some exceptions to the five-year requirement.
If you have been living in the U.S. as an asylee or refugee before receiving your green card, a portion of the time you had asylum or refugee status may count toward the required years of residency for citizenship. This is possible under a concept called “rollback.”
As a legal permanent resident who was previously granted asylum or refugee status, you could be eligible for citizenship sooner than you may think. A skilled immigration attorney can properly evaluate your case and help you navigate the application process.
If you entered the United States after being granted refugee status, the date you entered counts as the start of your permanent residence, assuming that you eventually apply for and receive a green card. All of the years you spent as a refugee in the United States will be applied to the five-year requirement for permanent residency to be eligible for citizenship.
For example, let’s say a person with refugee status spends five years in the country before applying for a green card. Once their green card is approved, and if they meet all other eligibility criteria, they can also apply for naturalization or citizenship right away because they have already met the five-year residency requirement.
When it comes to “rollback,” the rules for former refugees are not the same as for individuals who were granted asylum or asylees. Only one year of the time spent in the U.S. as an asylee may be applied to the five-year requirement for citizenship. This is true regardless of how long an asylee waits to obtain their green card after entering the U.S.
If an asylee enters the U.S. and applies for a green card after living there for two years, only one of the years they lived in the country will apply to the five-year requirement for naturalization. They would have to wait another four years after getting their green card to apply for citizenship.
The naturalization application process can take some time. To help speed up the process, you can submit your application for citizenship 90 days before you will meet the residency requirement. This grace period is meant to compensate for the fact that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may not consider your application right away.
If you need to apply for citizenship as a refugee or asylee, residency requirements are just one of many factors to be considered. Discussing your situation with a knowledgeable attorney before you apply can save you from making costly mistakes. Our Illinois immigration lawyers at Sverdloff Law Group can provide the sound legal advice you need. Call us now or contact us online to schedule a consultation and to learn more about how we can help you navigate the naturalization and citizenship process.