One of the most important benefits available to foreign nationals who have been issued a United States Permanent Resident Visa (Green Card) is the option to apply for US citizenship (a process referred to as “naturalization”).
To apply for US citizenship, a Green Card holder must meet certain requirements, including:
- They must live in the USA as a permanent resident of the United States for a minimum of five years in “continuous residence” (i.e., “without leaving the United States for trips of 6 months or longer”) as specified by the US government regulations. There may be some exceptions to this rule, such as if a Green Card holder is married to a US citizen (in which case the length of time for “continuous residency” might be shorter).
- To apply for US citizenship by oneself, a Green Card holder must be at least 18-years-old. A Green Card holder who is over 18-years-old and has minor children (under 18 years of age) living as US permanent residents will apply for US citizenship on behalf of their minor children.
- The Green Card holder who applies for US citizenship must also have good moral character (as demonstrated by obeying federal, state and local laws, not getting into trouble, paying taxes, etc.).
- Immigrants who want to apply for US citizenship will need to pass a test to show satisfactory English language skills.
- They must also pass an exam to show adequate US civics knowledge (e.g., key facts about US history, political system, etc.).
- Another requirement to receive US citizenship is to be “willing to support and defend the United States and its Constitution” by swearing an Oath of Allegiance. If US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves a Green Card holder for US citizenship, the Oath of Allegiance will take place during a mandatory (and meaningful) ceremony at the end of the naturalization process.
- There are various forms (such as Form N-400 for adults and Form N-600 for children) and documents that the Green Card holder must present at different stages of the naturalization procedure.
- There is also a fee that must be paid.
As a “naturalized” American citizen, an immigrant can enjoy all of the benefits enjoyed by US citizens who were born in the United States (with some exceptions), including:
- Having the right to stay in the United States permanently;
- Being able to apply for a US passport, which allows an American citizen to travel to and from the USA whenever they want and for as long as they desire, as well as receive assistance overseas from the US government on certain matters if needed;
- Sponsoring eligible family members for US permanent residency (i.e., to be issued a Green Card);
- Receiving benefits that are only available to people with US citizenship;
- Having the right to vote in federal/national, state and local elections;
- Being able to run for national, state or local political office (with the exception of President of the United States, since the US Constitution declares that the President of the United States must be born as a US citizen);
- Automatic US citizenship (in most cases) for children born outside of the USA after one has become an American citizen;
- Being able to apply for federal jobs, scholarships and grants that are only available to people with US citizenship; and
- Enjoying the many freedoms and protections guaranteed by law to people with US citizenship!