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 US does not prohibit individuals from being dual citizens of both the US 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 US citizen. In most cases, becoming a naturalized US 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 US, and take long trips outside of the US and return without needing to apply for a Re-entry Permit. Naturalized citizens also 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.
There are two ways to become eligible to naturalize, both of which require you to first become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the US. 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 US 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 extend trips indicative of abandoning your LPR status.
Let’s look at how this plays out in real life.
Joao is a citizen of Brazil. Joao and his current spouse, Hannah, met while Hannah was working on a year-long project with her internationally-focused company in Sao Paulo. The two decided to marry and return to live in the US to be closer to Hannah’s family and her company’s headquarters. In order to return to the US together, Hannah filed an immigrant visa petition for Joao, which enabled him to enter the US after receiving a visa from the US embassy in Brazil. Upon entry into the US, Joao was issued a 2-year conditional green card and immediately become a “conditional permanent resident” of the US, allowing him to work and travel.
One year and nine months later, Joao and Hannah filed to remove conditions on Joao’s green card (Form I-751), a mandatory process which currently takes approximately 18 months to complete and results in receiving a green card that is valid for 10 years. One year into the processing time of this application, Joao became eligible to naturalize, since he had been married to a US citizen and residing in the US for almost three years. At this point, he decided to file a naturalization application (N-400) while the removal of conditions application was pending.
Joao and Hannah decided that Joao should naturalize for a number of reasons. They were relieved to find that Brazil allows for dual citizenship, and so Joao could hold passports from both countries. Joao has also been wanting to visit his friends and family in Sao Paulo 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 US with his wife, Joao filed N-400 along with the required supporting evidence and total filing fees of $725 (pricing as of Feb. 2019). Joao’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 US and had not spent extended time outside of the US. He also included evidence of his genuine relationship with Hannah, since his eligibility to naturalize was based on three years of marriage to a US citizen. Joao 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, Joao’s two applications were processed concurrently and he was called in for a single interview to adjudicate both applications at the same time approximately nine months after filing (processing times vary by city/state). During his interview, he was asked about his relationship with Hannah, his life in the US, and a few trips he took outside of the US 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, Joao was issued a Naturalization Certificate, which serves as evidence of his US citizenship. This document can be used to apply for a US passport, apply for government jobs, and petition for other close family members abroad, among other things. Joao and Hannah decided to spend the summer in Brazil to celebrate before settling into their new lives in the US.
Five years later, Joao filed immigrant visa petitions for his mother and father so that they could retire in the US and be closer to their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.