For many immigrants, the final step in the quest for the American Dream is to become an American citizen.
Benefits of Being a United States Citizen
Citizens have the right to vote, thus help to strengthen our democracy and lobby for their interests. Citizens can obtain a United States Passport, making travel much easier as many countries do not require visas for United States citizens. Citizens can never be deported nor have any need to deal with the bureaucracy of the USCIS. Citizens can sponsor their foreign spouses, children and parents for lawful permanent residency without having to wait for a visa to become available.
United States Citizens Have Responsibilities
United States citizens must swear allegiance to the United States and may be required to serve in the armed forces. United States citizens must obey United States laws both in and out of the United States.
Becoming a United States Citizen
Individuals born in the United States and certain individuals born to or adopted by U.S. citizens outside of the United States become American citizens automatically. Immigrants to the U.S. have the opportunity to apply for citizenship through a process called Naturalization (USCIS Form N-400). United States citizenship does not prohibit dual citizenship. One can be both a citizen of Canada and a citizen of the United States. Only under very extreme circumstances can an individual be stripped of his or her citizenship.
Who Can Naturalize?
Occasionally, I get calls from individuals who ask about applying for citizenship before they are even eligible. Generally, only individuals who have been a lawful permanent resident for 5 years can apply to naturalize. However, if you received your lawful permanent residence because you are married to a U.S. citizen, then you will be eligible to apply to naturalize after only 3 years. You must also have been physically present in the United States for those years, have good moral character and know basic English and U.S. Civics ( there are some exceptions to the English language and civics knowledge requirement for the elderly and disabled).
While physical presence and good moral character sound like simple requirements, they often become problematic. Frequent or long trips abroad may affect your eligibility. Petty crimes or certain character traits may also affect your eligibility. Even if you meet these requirements, however, you may still not be eligible to naturalize if you have ever committed a crime, even if you weren’t convicted. It is important to consult with a licensed immigration attorney to find out whether or not you are eligible to naturalize as the simple act of applying for citizenship when one is not eligible may lead to deportation proceedings if it is found that conditions of your permanent resident status has been violated.