There are many paths that lead to the path of United States citizenship. The immigration path to United States citizenship is optional. Under the current immigration laws, it is not mandatory that permanent residents become United States citizens but the benefits are much better. This article will outline the key steps that will put you on the path to becoming a United States citizen.
In order to become a United States Citizen you must first attain permanent residence status. A lawful permanent residence is a non-citizen who is authorized to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. Usually non-citizens acquire their permanent resident status through family members, their employers or other immigration petitions that provide permanent residence status. Once you have attained permanent resident status you would have completed the first step towards attaining United States citizenship.
The second step is to maintain your permanent residence to ensure that you do not lose your status. Most non-citizens, including my colleagues from Jamaica, are always surprised to learn that an immigrant can lose his or her permanent residence status. This notion may seem strange but it is true. A permanent resident is given the privilege to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. However, it is important to remember that a permanent resident must actually physically reside in the United States on a permanent basis to be allowed to live in the United States on a permanent basis. In other words, if an immigrant becomes a permanent resident and then returns and lives in his own country and does not reside in the Unites States, Immigration will assume that he/she has abandoned his or her permanent resident status. The permanent resident’s permanent home must be the United States and he/she must reside there. It is not sufficient for the permanent resident to live overseas and then visit the United States several times a year. This will not preserve his/her permanent residency. The permanent resident must have his/her home in the United States. In addition, if the permanent resident is employed in the United States, he/she must pay taxes. Permanent residents are permitted to travel overseas but each individual trip must be limited to less than 6 months to avoid legal complications. Finally, permanent residents are not really permanent residents because if a non-citizen acquires a criminal history he or she may become deportable. Again, most permanent residents are surprised to learn that the Immigration can deport permanent residents. So the key here is to maintain your permanent resident status. You can do this by not committing crimes, paying your taxes, living permanently in the United States and taking short visits overseas that are less than 6 months, not voting in any political elections and renewing your permanent resident card every 10 years.
The good news is that once you have acquired permanent resident status, you can acquire your U.S citizenship within 3 to 5 years. If you acquired your permanent residence through your spouse then you may apply for United States citizenship within 3 years of acquiring your permanent resident status provided that you are still married to your spouse. If you acquired your permanent resident through your spouse and you later get a divorce, you must then wait 5 years after acquiring your permanent resident status to apply for citizenship. If you gained your residency through your family member, other than your spouse, and/or any other immigration petition, then you must wait 5 years after acquiring your permanent residence to apply for citizenship.
Once you apply for citizenship, Immigration will review your file to ensure that you have no criminal history and that you have resided permanently in the United States and paid your taxes. Also, Immigration will check to ensure that you did not vote in any elections Furthermore, Immigration will check to ensure that you have not engaged in some other activity that would disqualify you from citizenship. The final step will involve the non-citizen taking and passing a U.S history test and the written English test. The entire citizenship exam will be conducted in English. Some non-citizens are able to waive the English requirement and/or history requirement based on their age and/or disability. However, young adults under 55 years old with no disabilities must take the exam in English. Once this final step is complete the non-citizen permanent resident will be sworn in as a United States citizen.
It is always important to remember the once you become a United States citizen Immigration cannot deport you unless there is evidence that you fraudulently acquired United States citizenship. As a United States citizen, your immigration petitions for your family members will be processed expeditiously. Also once you become a citizen you can vote in all elections and you could even move permanently to overseas and live there forever. You will always be a United States citizen and not even the U.S government can take that away from you.
Safiya Byars is a senior immigration attorney in Norcross, Georgia. She is a native of Jamaica and has personal experience with the difficulties of maneuvering the Immigration system. Safiya Byars has served as the senior immigration attorney with boutique immigration firms in both Alabama and Georgia. To discuss your case, please contact Attorney Byars at 404-992-6506 or via email.