Naturalization for Immigrants Over 50 & 55 and those with Mental and Physical Disabilities

By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Lorena Larios Shah

Obtaining U.S. citizenship is the dream of many immigrants.  There are many benefits of U.S. citizenship which include, among others, voting in Federal and State elections, applying for certain Federal jobs, traveling with a U.S. passport, petitioning loved ones, and many more.  However, some immigrants, due to their age and inability to speak English, are discouraged from applying for Naturalization.  Other immigrants may feel discouraged due to a physical or mental impairment. But, Naturalization is a possibility for many of these individuals. 


Generally, an applicant for naturalization must meet the following requirements:

  • Must be a lawful permanent resident.
  • Must be 18 years or older. 
  • Must meet the continuous residence and physical presence requirements.  Generally, an applicant must be a continuous resident for five years subsequent to lawful permanent resident status.  However, if married to a U.S. citizen the residency requirement is three years, if certain conditions are met.  A battered spouse or child who obtained lawful permanent resident status as a result of the extreme cruelty or batter may also apply for citizenship within a three year period. 
  • Must have resided for at least three months in the State where the application is filed.
  • Must meet the physical presence requirements.
  • Must have good moral character.  Certain crimes and conduct may disqualify an applicant from Naturalization.
  •  Must demonstrate knowledge of the English language, U.S. History and Government.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides that the English requirement shall not apply to persons who are over 50 and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years in legal permanent resident Status; or, for persons who are over the age of 55 and have lived in the U.S. as legal permanent residents for 15 years.  This means that if an applicant meets the other requirements for Naturalization, the civics test can be taken in the person’s language.  The applicant must study 100 questions and during the examination the examiner will ask ten questions out of which the applicant must answer six correctly. 

The Attorney General can also give special consideration with regard to civics knowledge of the exam to persons who are over the age of 65 and have 20 years as legal permanent residents.  Individuals who qualify for this special consideration are given an easier test. These applicants must answer six questions correctly out of ten questions in their language and are only required to study 25 civic questions. 

Applicants who are physically or developmentally disabled or have a mental impairment are exempt from the English language and knowledge of U.S. history requirements.  This may apply to elderly applicants who suffer from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, senile dementia or a similarly related disease.  A medical doctor, osteopath, or a clinical psychologist who is knowledgeable in diagnosing these disabilities must complete the medical disability waiver.  The applicant must file the medical disability waiver with the Naturalization application.  The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that examiners make reasonable accommodations for people taking the examination who are physically or developmentally disabled or have a mental impairment.

In some cases, the Attorney General can waive the oath requirement if the applicant is not able to understand or communicate the meaning of the oath.   A licensed medical doctor or clinical psychologist must provide an evaluation attesting to the severity of the applicant’s impairment and how it impacts the applicant’s ability to take the oath.  If the oath requirement is waived, the examiner will allow designated representative of the person who is developmentally or physically disabled or is suffering from a mental impairment to complete the Naturalization examination, including the oath.  This representative can be a legal guardian or a court recognized surrogate or adult brother or sister.

U.S. citizenship can be obtained through Naturalization for the elderly and those with disabilities.  Applying for Naturalization can be a difficult process therefore, it is extremely important for applicants to consult with an immigration attorney to determine eligibility.