Should I Become A U.S. Citizen? Green Card VS. US Citizenship

Naturalization Ceremony Grand Canyon 20100923mq_0514
Naturalization Ceremony Grand Canyon (Image source)

It took almost 5 years for me to get a US Permanent Green Card. After tons of paperwork, fees and patience, I was granted a conditional green card (good for 2 years) and then had to apply to remove those conditions, a process that took about a year and a half with the need of a lawyer. I got my green card through marriage to a U.S. Citizen.

Now, I qualify to apply for U.S. Citizenship. The question is, should I? Should I go through a painful process again?

Rights and Limitations of US Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card)

United States Alien Registration Receipt Card (1946) (Original Green Card.) Image source

A lawful permanent resident is someone who has been granted the right to live in the United States indefinitely. Permanent residents are given what’s known as a “green card,” which is a photo ID card that proves their status, but it is no longer green.

Limitations

1. They cannot vote in U.S. elections.

2. They cannot remain outside the U.S. for unlimited amounts of time or make their home elsewhere. Doing so will result in abandonment of their residency and refusal of their request to reenter the United States.

3. They are subject to the grounds of deportability. If you commit certain crimes or security violations, or even fail to advise USCIS of your changes of address, you can be placed in removal proceedings and deported from the United States.

Rights

Permanent residence includes the right to work in the US and to petition for close family members (spouse and unmarried children) to receive permanent residence. However, family members will be considered “preference relatives,” meaning that only a limited number of immigrant visas are available to people in this category per year, and so they are likely to spend five or more years on a waiting list before being allowed to enter or remain in the United States or get a green card.

Rights of US Citizenship 

Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class Elmer Rayos, right, receives his certificate of United States citizenship from the commanding officer of the USS George Washington. (Image source)

People can become U.S. citizens by birth in the United States, through U.S. citizen parents (depending on the laws in effect at the time of their birth), or through the process known as naturalization.

After 3 to 5 years, permanent residents can apply for U.S. citizenship to naturalize.

Rights

1. A U.S. citizen is eligible to receive a U.S. passport, which is issued by the U.S. State department. In general, holding a U.S. passport gives you quite good options for traveling; many countries allow visa-free travel for U.S. citizens and many others offers simple processes to get a visa.

2. As a citizen, you are no longer subject to the grounds of deportability that affect green card holders. The only way someone can take a former immigrant’s citizenship status away is if that person committed fraud in obtaining it in the first place.

3. There are no restrictions on the number of days you can remain outside the United States.

4. U.S. citizens can vote in U.S. federal and local elections, hold certain government jobs, and serve on juries. Also, many federal and state government grants, scholarships and benefits are available only to U.S. citizens.

5. They can petition for a longer list of foreign national family members to join them in the U.S. than permanent residents can – for example, unlike green card holders, they can petition for their parents (as immediate relatives), their married children, and their brothers and sisters (in the fourth preference category, a long wait).

Dual Citizenship

Albert Einstein receiving his certificate of American citizenship from Judge Phillip Forman in 1940. He also retained his Swiss citizenship. (Image source)

Nowhere does the law say that a person can be a dual citizen with the United States, but then, nowhere does it say that one can’t.

Historically, the U.S. government has used this vagueness as an opportunity to make people believe that choosing U.S. citizenship excludes all others. The oath that people take at their swearing-in ceremony would make anyone think that they were agreeing to give up all other citizenships right then and there. It says that the person will:

“absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which [you] have heretofore been a subject or citizen.”

However, truth is that the United States will not actually stop someone from keeping citizenship in another country after becoming a U.S. citizen. Nor will it cancel the U.S. citizenship of someone who becomes a citizen of another country. The key is whether the other country’s laws allow it.

That vagueness works because when I read that I needed to give up loyalty to my home country when naturalizing, I thought it meant I had to give up citizenship. And that was a almost a deal-breaker for me.

It might not be important, but I just do no consider myself an American, I just don’t identify as one, so getting US citizenship and giving up Mexican citizenship seemed like a hard thing to do. Now that I know I don’t have to give up my home country’s citizenship the decision is much easier (Mexico accepts dual citizenship).

I also really like the travel visa advantages and the fact that I can’t be deported and don’t have to worry about being outside of the country for any number of days. Plus I can apply to go on The Amazing Race!

The only thing holding me back now is just the naturalization process:

1. $680 filing fee

2.  A stupid amount of paperwork (worse if applying on the basis on marriage to a U.S. Citizen)

3. Appointment for getting fingerprinted.

4. Appointment for being interviewed and taking the English and Civics tests. The Civics (US government and history) test consists of  answering 6 out of 10 questions right out of 100 possible questions; it is oral and you have two chances to pass (not on the same day).

5. Taking the oath during a ceremony date.

Given my past history of USCIS processes, just thinking about applying stresses me out. I think I will though, next year, on 2015.

Unfortunately, I don’t think my naturalization ceremony will take place in the Grand Canyon nor Disney World.

Magic Kingdom – Walt Disney World image source
Have you ever been through the process of naturalization?

Sources:
Nolo – Difference Between U.S. Green Card and U.S. Citizenship
AllLaw – Permanent Resident vs. Citizen: What’s the Difference?Can You Get Dual Citizenship?
USCIS – A Guide to Naturalization
Immigration Direct – How To Sponsor Your Family Member For A US Green Card

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13 thoughts on “Should I Become A U.S. Citizen? Green Card VS. US Citizenship

  1. I’m Chinese and China doesn’t accept dual citizenship. So I’m stuck. I want to be an American lol I’m very interested, I want to get involve talking about politics with American classmates and feel proud about this country lol I’m serious but I can’t join the citizenship. If I did not live long enough in China maybe I will go straight for US citizenship, but that was 14.5 years of memories, 14.5 years of livelihood from birth and I can’t cut it off. There was a time I was in tears when I thought I firmly made my mind for naturalization in US, and then I saw all those Chinese characters from weibo, the joke that requires people to have a cultural background to understand, the things that I used to celebrate because I’m a Chinese. That moment just broke my heart and I felt like no way I can give up the identity given by my birthplace and my homeland, in order to receive another countrys’. So I’m stuck..I still consider I’m an American but I just consider, I still have to announce that I’m Chinese😂

  2. if you are going to be living abroad, US citizens complain most about the US Tax Laws, even when they have dual nationalities. You might want to read up on that.

    1. If I get the fiancee visa to marry my American partner, is it then absolutely obligatory for me to subsequently apply for a green card/permanent residency? I would rather not do that, as I have a lucrative tax-free job overseas (tho not in my home country), and do not want to risk becoming liable for US taxes — I have met many Americans, whilst working in China, India, Japan and the Middle East, who complain every year about having to file their US taxes — even though they do not live or work there or maintain a residence there any longer. So, my question is, does a permanent resident become liable for US taxes, even if they are not yet a citizen and live and work most of the year outside of the USA? Could you please advise?

      1. If you do NOT plan to live and work in the US, you can still get married in the US, but not apply for a green card. Just be careful when your partner files his taxes – you want to make sure that he maintains your status as a nonresident alien spouse. The IRS will want you to elect to file joint returns, etc… so that you end up as a resident alien spouse and have to file taxes even from abroad, so make sure he (and you) follow all the rules for nonresident alien spouse to avoid this hassle. If you do get a green card and live/work in the US (you will have to do so to keep your green card), you will have to file with the IRS. If you are outside the US most of the year, the smart thing to do is to NOT get a green card (just get a visitor’s visa) and maintain your status as a nonresident alien spouse – then there is no need to file for you.

  3. when i went through the process (i went through it twice, the first time i was denied because of a timing issue, i was 3-4 months shy of some stupid time frame) it cost me about $500… obviously, it’s increased and one can assume it will increase more. it’s like a band aid, just get it over with.

  4. Mani I don’t have any experience with this but I think having dual citizenship creates a lot of opportunities. One never knows how life plays out and if you have your citizenship in the US I would think it is a bit of a security blanket.

  5. I’d say go for dual citizenship! The freedom of travel with a US Visa is awesome. And, I know you don’t want to sit through a ceremony, but a naturalization ceremony may be one of the most beautiful events I’ve ever attended. The smiles on most of their faces is like none other.

  6. I would say go for it! I was in your shoes 5 years ago when I applied for citizenship. It was a relatively smooth and easy process compared to my Green Card. Unlike you, my Green Card was though employer sponsorship and that took about 5 years from start to finish. Compared to that, the Naturalization process was easy. Don’t worry about the test. It is basic civics and some American history that you can brush up with the study guide they provide you. The only way you could fail the test is if you were extremely nervous on that day.

    1. Thanks for your advice. I kind dread the fact the the test is oral, I just hate that hehe, I wish it was written it would make my life so much easier. It’s also nice to hear that the process is smoother than getting the green card. I still don’t see anywhere how long it’s supposed to take though.

      1. There was a mandatory waiting period of 5 years after getting the Green Card before I was eligible to apply for citizenship. It took about 8 or 9 months after applying to finally get Naturalized. The ceremony was held the same day after I passed the oral test. In my case the officer/adjudicator for the test was quite friendly and it felt more like a conversation than a test. I got all of the questions correct and she stopped asking me once I reached the magic number. I thought she would continue with all 10 and then reveal how many I got right.

        One thing I did not like – there were some guys wearing shorts and flip flops there. Not cool and quite disrespectful, if you ask me.

        There’s nothing better to have than an American passport when traveling outside the country – it is so easy getting visas and in many instances you don’t even need one just on account of having that passport. Except if you happen to find yourself in Iran or North Korea in which case you will find your Mexican passport quite handy 🙂 Dual citizenship rocks but unfortunately, in my case, that was not even a choice – my birth country is quite clear on that and citizenship revocation happens by default the moment one acquires another one.

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