Naturalization and Citizenship
Deciding to become a U.S. citizen is one of the most important decisions an immigrant can make. Although Green card holders in this country receive most of the rights of U.S. citizens, there are some significant advantages of being a U.S. citizen, for the following reasons:
- Voting and Patriotism –With rare exceptions, only citizens in this country can vote, and voting is the most basic way to effect change in the way the country is run.
- Traveling with a U.S. passport – Many countries make visa-free travel options available to U.S. citizens that are not available to permanent residents.
- Retaining residency – The only way to guarantee one will forever have the right to remain in the United States is to naturalize. Permanent residents are always at risk of losing their green cards if they spend long periods of time outside the United States.
- Deportation – If one is ever convicted of a crime – and not necessarily a very serious crime – there is a risk of deportation. Once a person becomes a citizen, with rare exceptions, the person retains citizenship even if they run into criminal problems.
- Government benefits – Some permanent residents are restricted from access to the same public benefits as citizens.
- Immigration for family members – U.S. citizens receive priority treatment when it comes to bringing family members to the Unites States. Citizens who are over 21 can sponsor family members without waiting on a queue for a visa to become available. The same is true for spouses of U.S. citizens and minor children of U.S. citizens. Green card holders, on the other hand, cannot sponsor parents or siblings, and the wait to bring in children and spouses is much longer than it is for citizens.
- Federal jobs – Certain types of jobs with government agencies require U.S. citizenship.
- Jury service – While some people seek to avoid jury service, it is one of the most important hallmarks of a free society, and citizens are charged with that duty.
- Running for office – Many types of elected positions in this country require the officeholder to be a U.S. citizen.
- Tax consequences – U.S. citizens and permanent residents are not always treated equally for tax purposes. This is particularly true for estate taxes.
- Federal grants – While many federal grants are available to permanent residents, an increasing number are only available to U.S. citizens.
- Political contributions – While green card holders can legally donate money to campaigns if they are residing in the United States, it is not clear that green card holders residing abroad – even temporarily – can do so.
One can apply to become a U.S. citizen through Naturalization. Most applications for naturalization are filed by people in the following categories:
- INA §316—The applicant has been a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least five years;
- INA §319(a)—The applicant has been an LPR for at least three years and the applicant is married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years and the spouse has been a U.S. citizen for at least three years; and
- INA §319(b)—The applicant is an LPR and is the spouse of a U.S. citizen and their spouse is regularly engaged in certain employment abroad.
Additionally, there are some less common bases for naturalizing, such as being a member of the military in a time of hostilities or serving as a translator or health care professional in the U.S. Army via the MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest) program.
Another way to become U.S. citizen is through Acquisition which is obtained through U.S. citizenship parents either at birth or after birth, but before the age of 18.