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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.Have you ever been through the process of naturalization?
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