U.S. Green Card holders (formally called Lawful Permanent Residents, or LPRs for short) who have been permanent residents for a certain amount of time (typically three or five years) – and meet other eligibility requirements – are able to apply for U.S. citizenship through a process called naturalization.
Obtaining U.S. citizenship can invoke a range of emotions for immigrants. Some may rediscover a sense of belonging they lost after fleeing a violent environment in their native country, while others struggle to let go of their allegiance to their native country, and most likely experience varying degrees of both of those feelings. Emotions aside, the logistics and complexities of the naturalization process itself can deter many LPRs from even beginning.
According to the Pew Research Center, Mexican lawful immigrants are among those least likely to become U.S. citizens. A 2015 survey conducted by Pew revealed the most frequent reasons Mexican green card holders list for not naturalizing are language barriers, a lack of time or desire and administrative barriers, like the cost of the application.
It’s true that the process of obtaining citizenship isn’t easy; in addition to pledging allegiance to the United States, those who wish to become citizens must be able to speak, read and write English, show good moral character and know the fundamentals of U.S. history and civics, among other requirements. In fact, U.S.-born-and-raised citizens often joke that even they would struggle to pass the naturalization test. (You can learn more about that test, and more about citizenship through naturalization on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website).
Becoming a naturalized citizen might not be an easy process – logistically or emotionally – but citizenship comes with many benefits for LPRs, including the following.
1. Citizens cannot be deported.
Even immigrants who have their green card, and are therefore able to live and work in the United States permanently, can be removed from the country if they commit certain crimes. Once a person is naturalized, however, the Immigration and Nationality Act – which outlines the grounds of deportability for non-citizens, including committing certain crimes – no longer applies so he/she can’t be removed from the country.
2. Citizenship makes it easier to bring family members to the United States.
U.S. citizens are usually given higher priority when petitioning to bring a family member to the U.S. Typically immediate family members, like spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21, are able to immigrate as soon as all of their paperwork and interviews go through. And other relatives, like siblings, can be put on a waitlist to immigrate.
3. Unlike green cards, citizenship doesn’t have to be renewed.
LPRs must renew their green card every 10 years, but citizens never have to renew their citizenship.
4. Citizens can travel abroad frequently and freely.
U.S. citizens have no restrictions on the number of days they can remain outside of the country and can even live abroad without risking their citizenship status. A U.S. passport also allows for hassle-free international travel as many countries don’t require visas from U.S. citizens.
5. Citizens can participate in elections and hold public office.
Naturalized citizens also have the right to vote, to hold public office (expect for the offices of President or Vice President) and can serve on juries. This allows immigrants to have a voice in the country in which they live and work.
If you’re a green card holder who is considering naturalization, call Robinson & Henry to learn more about how our immigration attorneys can help you with this process.