Immigrants from around the world come to the United States with visions of the American Dream. Those that stay and become citizens have an important role in building our nation’s economy.
Protecting them through legalization and a path to citizenship is not only the right thing to do, but also makes good economic sense. Learn about the four ways you can become a U.S citizen:
Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card)
Becoming a legal permanent resident (LPR) is one of the most important steps on your path to citizenship. You obtain this status by filing various forms and taking an oath of allegiance to the United States with USCIS.
A green card allows you to live and work permanently in the United States, assuming you do not commit crimes that could make you removable from the country under immigration laws. It also gives you the right to petition for family members to receive their own green cards.
However, it is a lengthy process. For example, the Green Card Lottery draws 55,000 applicants each year, and even the smallest error in an application can result in disqualification. Some categories, such as preference relatives and employment-based immigrant visas, have quotas that can cause wait times of several years or more. These quotas are determined by immigration law, and are based on countries of origin, age and other factors.
In the United States, you’re considered an undocumented immigrant if you entered the country illegally. This can happen if you overstayed a visa, did not enter legally using proper documentation, or snuck past border security.
Some immigrants with no status can obtain legal status by marrying a U.S. citizen or becoming a permanent resident based on their immediate family relationship to one who is a citizen. Citizenship through naturalization can also be possible for people without status if they are victims of crimes who help law enforcement.
But the steps for those who are considered “illegal” are often difficult and cumbersome. For example, the bipartisan framework that was recently released by congressional leaders suggests that a path to citizenship is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether or not those who have lived here for years have left when required. This approach is counterproductive, as it reinforces the ambivalence many undocumented people already feel about remaining in this country and may discourage some from pursuing citizenship.
Requirements for Naturalization
Naturalization is the process by which individuals acquire United States citizenship, through a set of requirements established by Congress. Those seeking naturalization must meet several requirements, including showing good moral character, and being able to read, write and speak English. They must also understand basic US history and civics, and pass a naturalization test. Some applicants are exempt from the English and civics test because of age or a physical or mental disability.
During the naturalization process, you must relinquish any other citizenship you hold. Some countries (Australia, Canada, the UK) do not require you to do this, while others (India, Japan) may not allow you to retain dual citizenship.
As a citizen, you will have full access to federal programs like Social Security and Medicare. You will also be able to work for the government without the restrictions that apply to green card holders. You will also be able to vote in elections and take the Oath of Allegiance at your naturalization ceremony.
The process of naturalization is lengthy. Individuals must pass a naturalization test and interview, and take an oath of allegiance to the United States.
If an individual has a medical condition that prevents them from passing the English and civics tests, they may seek an exemption from those exams by filing Form N-648 with USCIS. The individual must submit a certified medical doctor or clinical psychologist report to explain their condition and the impact it has on their ability to pass the tests.
Certain individuals, including those who have served honorably in the military and those who are over 65 years old at the time of their naturalization interview, are also exempt from the English test and may take the civics exam in their native language. Those individuals should still prepare for the test so they can fully understand the questions during their interview and successfully take the oath of allegiance.