By Steve Trow
Attorney / Owner / Founder
Trow & Rahal, P.C.
Many people who come to the United States aspire to become U.S. citizens. The first step towards becoming a U.S. citizen is to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR), also known as a “green card” holder. That can be a long and frustrating process. Fortunately, the citizenship application process is usually faster and less complicated than the green card process.
An LPR becomes eligible for naturalization five years after becoming an LPR, or three years if married to and residing with a U.S. citizen spouse. A naturalization application can be filed 90 days before this requirement is met.
The top 10 reasons to become a U.S. citizen are:
1. You can vote and run for public office. As a U.S. citizen, you can help shape the national debate by voting in local, state, and federal elections. Naturalized U.S. citizens are eligible for most elected public offices, except for a few (e.g., the U.S. presidency) that are limited to native-born citizens.
2. Your LPR children under the age of 18 will automatically become U.S. citizens. LPR children under the age of 18 automatically become U.S. citizens when a parent naturalizes, so long as they are residing in the Untied States in the legal and physical custody of the naturalizing parent.
3. You have a wider range of job opportunities. U.S. citizenship is required for most jobs that require a security clearance, and for many local, state, and federal government jobs. A U.S. citizen can serve as an officer in the U.S. military, while a non-U.S. citizen cannot.
4. You can sponsor parents, siblings, and married children for LPR status. A U.S. citizen can sponsor a wider variety of family members for LPR status with shorter waiting periods. For example, an adult U.S. citizen (over age 21) can sponsor a parent, sibling, or married child, while an LPR cannot.
5. You can benefit financially. For example, U.S. citizens can usually get better interest rates on loans; have more scholarship and financial aid options for college; and have access to certain public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Estate taxes may be reduced – consult your tax advisor for details.
6. You can travel more easily. U.S. citizens can visit many foreign countries without a visa, and are usually asked fewer questions than LPRs when returning to the United States.
7. You can live outside the United States as long as you want without losing your U.S. status or paying an exit tax. An LPR who lives outside of the U.S. for six months or longer is at risk of losing LPR status through abandonment. Loss of LPR status can trigger an exit tax.
8. You can retire abroad with full Social Security benefits. U.S. citizens who retire abroad will receive all of their Social Security benefits. By contrast, an LPR who retires abroad gets about half of the benefits he or she has earned while working in the United States.
9. You and your children who gain U.S. citizenship with you cannot be deported for violating the law. Children sometimes make poor choices as they grow up. An LPR can be deported for committing a crime, even if it does not result in imprisonment. A U.S. citizen who commits a crime cannot be forced to leave the country.
10. You will no longer have to deal with the immigration service! You do not need to carry proof of legal status or report address changes to the immigration service. Unless you choose to sponsor a family member, you will never have to file another application with the immigration service.
In addition to these tangible benefits of citizenship, there is an inherent pride and greater sense of belonging to this country that you will gain by becoming a U.S. citizen.
More specific details regarding qualifications for U.S. citizenship are explained below.
Citizenship 101: How to Apply to Become a U.S. Citizen
Applying for U.S. citizenship requires completing an application (Form N-400) and meeting specific requirements. These requirements are summarized below.
To apply for U.S. citizenship, you must:
- be at least 18 years of age;
- be a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States;
- reside continuously in the United States as an LPR for at least five years, or three years if married to and living with an American citizen spouse – absence from the United States for more than six months can break the continuity of residence;
- be physically present in the United States for at least half of the days during the period of continuous residence;
- continue to reside in the United States until the citizenship application is approved;
- reside for at least three months in the state or immigration service district where your naturalization examination is conducted;
- demonstrate English literacy and pass a civics exam (there are some exceptions for older applicants); and
- have good moral character during the required period of continuous residence (no criminal convictions during this time).
What happens after filing the application?
Shortly after filing Form N-400 with appropriate supporting documents and filing fee, the applicant is scheduled for fingerprinting so that a criminal record check and background clearance can be conducted.
Several months after the fingerprinting appointment, the applicant is interviewed at the immigration service. If all goes well at the interview, the applicant is scheduled for a ceremony and sworn in with other new citizens in the presence of family and friends.
Do I lose my other citizenship?
Most (but not all) countries recognize dual nationality and will allow a person to remain a citizen of that country after becoming a U.S. citizen. Consult a consular office of your country of citizenship to be sure.
About Steve Trow
With more than 30 years of experience in U.S. immigration law, Steve Trow is the founder and shareholder at Trow & Rahal, P.C., which is based in Washington, DC. A frequent speaker on U.S. immigration and citizenship planning for high net-worth clients, Trow has done presentations at professional development seminars hosted by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and other organizations in New York, Washington, Miami, Toronto, Calgary, London, Zurich, Geneva, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands. Click here to view his informative article, The Accidental American Citizen. Contact Steve Trow directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.