If there is one action that you should take as a foreign national in the United States, it is to become a U.S. citizen when eligible. The upcoming midterm elections in November are a keen reminder of the privileges held only be U.S. citizens.
All naturalization applicants must generally meet the following requirement to become a U.S. citizen: (1) Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing; (2) Continuously and physically live in the United States as a green card holder for at least five years, or three years while married to a U.S. citizen; (3) Establish residency in the state or USCIS district where applicant intends to apply; (4) Show “good moral character”; (5) Have knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. history and government; (6) Be able to read, write, and speak basic English; and (7) Take a loyalty oath to the United States and support the U.S. Constitution. Certain applicants qualify for an exemption to the categories above or may apply based on their U.S. military service.
Applying for citizenship when eligible is highly encouraged because the application process is simple (there is only one form to complete – Form N-400) and the benefits are significant. First, gaining U.S. citizenship allows the foreign national to petition for green cards for their parents, siblings, and married children. In cases where both U.S. citizens and green card holders can complete a petition (i.e., for spouses), the processing times for U.S. citizens tends to be significantly shorter. Second, minor children (i.e., under 18 years old) of U.S. citizens who are lawful permanent residents (LPRs) and reside in the United States can automatically acquire citizenship through their parents. A lesser-known benefit of U.S. citizenship is that U.S. citizens may be subject to fewer restrictions on estate taxes and may be able to obtain more tax exemptions than green card holders. Furthermore, U.S. citizens can participate in the democratic process of the United States by voting in state and federal elections and running for public office.
Furthermore, U.S. citizens are protected from deportation, whereas LPRs can be detained and removed for certain immigration violations. Lastly, U.S. citizens will have a U.S. passport, which can significantly facilitate travel in and out of the United States, and they are not required to maintain residence in the United States. LPRs risk the abandonment of their status if they spend significant time outside of the United States.
Clearly, the benefits of gaining U.S. citizenship are enormous. In some ways U.S. citizenship status can act as both a shield and a sword for foreign nationals – it can protect individuals from becoming subject to unfavorable immigration decisions and it can provide more opportunities for individuals to take full and complete advantage of the U.S. system and way of life.