Becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States can feel like a big step. While some green card holders are eager to get to this stage, others can find it daunting and worry that it will strip them of rights or abilities they have as citizens of their home country.
The good news is that the U.S. does not prohibit individuals from being dual citizens of both the U.S. and their home country. Many other countries recognize dual citizenship as well and will not revoke any rights or abilities after you have been sworn in as a U.S. citizen. You can read more about dual citizenship here.
In most cases, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen opens the door to countless opportunities and enables individuals and couples to live and travel more freely. Naturalized citizens enjoy a wide range of benefits, including the ability to vote, petition for other family members to gain immigrant status in the U.S., and have full access to federal public benefits such as Medicare and federal financial aid for school.
Naturalized citizens do not have any travel restrictions for time spent outside of the U.S. – for example, it’d be no problem if you wanted to move to your home country for 5 years then move back to the U.S. In contrast, green card holders have to apply for a re-entry permit to spend more than 1 year at a time outside of the U.S., if they plan to return to the U.S. eventually.
Finally, Naturalized citizens do not have to deal with the hassle of renewing their green card every 10 years, which of course involves additional government fees and lots of paperwork. As a citizen, you’d simply never have to worry about your U.S. immigration status ever again.
There are two ways to become eligible to naturalize, both of which require you to first become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the U.S. The standard rule is that you must be an LPR in good moral standing for five years before you are eligible to naturalize. A common exception to this rule is if you are a permanent resident who is also married to a U.S. citizen. In this case, you can naturalize after three years (instead of five), assuming you remain married and have exhibited good moral character. It is also important that you have not spent too much time outside of the US since you became a permanent resident. In some cases, USCIS considers frequent or extended trips indicative of abandoning your LPR status.
Let’s look at how this plays out in real life.
Justin is a citizen of Canada. Justin and his current spouse, Hannah, met while Hannah was working on a year-long project with her internationally-focused company in Toronto. The two decided to marry and return to live in the U.S. to be closer to Hannah’s family and her company’s headquarters. In order to return to the U.S. together, Hannah filed an immigrant visa petition for Justin, which enabled him to enter the U.S. after receiving a visa from the US embassy in Canada. Upon entry into the U.S., Justin was issued a 2-year conditional green card and immediately became a “conditional permanent resident” of the U.S., allowing him to work and travel.
One year and nine months later, Justin and Hannah filed to remove conditions on Justin’s green card (Form I-751), a mandatory process which results in receiving a green card that is valid for 10 years. One year into the processing time of this application, Justin became eligible to naturalize, since he had been married to a U.S. citizen and residing in the U.S. for almost three years. At this point, he decided to file a naturalization application (N-400) while the removal of conditions application was pending.
Justin and Hannah decided that Justin should naturalize for a number of reasons. They were relieved to find that Canada allows for dual citizenship, and so Justin could hold passports from both countries. Justin has also been wanting to visit his friends and family in Toronto more often and felt limited by the travel restrictions of being a permanent resident. He wanted to be able to maintain ties to both countries without dealing with long waits at the airport and potential issues with USCIS delays and policy changes.
Thus, after two years and nine months of residing in the U.S. with his wife, Justin filed N-400 along with the required supporting evidence and filing fees. Justin’s application included a photocopy of his current permanent resident card and copies of his last three years of tax returns, which proved that he had been living and working in the U.S. and had not spent extended time outside of the U.S. He also included evidence of his genuine relationship with Hannah, since his eligibility to naturalize was based on three years of marriage to a U.S. citizen. Justin and Hannah collected documents such as their shared lease agreement, statements from their joint bank accounts, photos from a recent trip they took together, and signed letters from family members and friends that know them well.
Because he filed his naturalization application while his I-751 (Removal of Conditions on Green Card) was pending, Justin’s two applications were processed concurrently and he was called in for a single interview to adjudicate both applications at the same time. During his interview, he was asked about his relationship with Hannah, his life in the U.S., and a few trips he took outside of the U.S. that he listed on his application. The USCIS officer approved his case and he was scheduled for his Oath Ceremony later that same day.
Immediately following his Oath Ceremony, Justin was issued a Naturalization Certificate, which serves as evidence of his U.S. citizenship. This document can be used to apply for a U.S. passport, apply for government jobs, and petition for other close family members abroad, among other things. Justin and Hannah decided to spend the summer in Canada to celebrate before settling into their new lives in the U.S.
Five years later, Justin filed immigrant visa petitions for his mother and father so that they could retire in the U.S. and be closer to their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.
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