When Conditional Residence Counts Toward U.S. Citizenship

How to factor your two years as a U.S. conditional resident into your quest for U.S. citizenship.

If you are a U.S. green card holder interested in applying for U.S. citizenship (naturalization), but your first two years of U.S. residence are or were “conditional” rather than “permanent,” how does that affect the waiting period before you apply to naturalize?

By way of background: In ordinary circumstances, most green card holders must wait five years before applying to naturalize. Exceptions do exist, however, such as for the spouses of U.S. citizens, who can apply after three years if they have been married and living together all that time. But given the long wait, it is in the interests of conditional residents to count as much time as possible toward their eventual naturalization.

As further background, it helps to understand is what conditional residence is. This status is much like permanent residence; in the short term, it comes with the same rights and responsibilities, such as the right to travel and to work in the United States without needing separate work authorization. However, it gives U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a chance to reevaluate the person’s case at the end of two years, when the conditional residence automatically expires. If the applicant fails to convert from conditional to permanent residence within the proper time period, they lose their status in the United States.

Immigrants who marry U.S. citizens must often go through two years of conditional residence before applying for permanent residence (if their marriage was less than two years old at the time of being approved for the green card). Similarly, immigrants who get their green cards as entrepreneurs (by investing at least $500,000 in a U.S. business) must spend two years as conditional residents before becoming permanent residents.

Fortunately, for people who have spent two years as a conditional resident, those two years count as permanent residence when it comes to applying for citizenship – on one condition. You must have successfully become a permanent resident at the end of them. (That means submitting an application to USCIS to remove the conditions on your residence – using Form I-751 for married couples and Form I-829 for entrepreneurs – demonstrating your continued eligibility for a U.S. green card, and ultimately receiving USCIS approval.)

The bottom line is that if you spent two years as a conditional resident, but became a permanent resident at the end of them, you can count your years of residence starting at the date you were approved for conditional residence toward the number of years you need as a lawful permanent resident before applying for naturalization. You will find that approval date on your green card.

For more information on applying to naturalize, see "How to Become a U.S. Citizen."

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