The Benefits and Requirements of Becoming a United States Citizen
If you are a permanent resident, I’m sure you are already experiencing the many privileges owning a green card offers such as having an easier time leaving the country and not worrying about renewal for ten years. While having a green card has advantages over residing in the U.S. undocumented, going through the process of naturalization, or becoming a citizen carries the most benefits. Below are a few of the benefits of becoming a United State citizen:
- Bring family members to the United States. Citizens can apply to bring other family members to the U.S. A U.S citizen can bring over more types of citizens than an individual with a green card. You can petition for your parents and spouses to immigrate.
- Citizenship for children. Unmarried children under eighteen (18) may become citizens if their parents are citizens under certain circumstances. This is separate from the naturalization process.
- No deportation. U.S. citizens cannot be deported. U.S. citizens may travel abroad without worrying about reentry permits or without losing legal status. However, if a green card holder has been convicted of certain crimes and then leaves the country for any reason such as taking a vacation, he or she may be placed in removal proceedings when he or she tries to reenter the country. Additionally, U.S. citizens can obtain a passport granting with it all the travel rights afforded to U.S. citizens. There are also no limits to how long you can remain outside of the U.S.
- Less paperwork. While a green card holder does not need to renew his or her card for ten years, a United States citizen never has to renew citizenship.
- Freedom to move without informing the government. Green card holders must inform USCIS when their address changes. This is not true for US citizens. U.S. citizens can move as they please.
- Eligibility for government jobs. Many federal government jobs require you be a U.S citizen.
- Receive full social security benefits: Social security offers unemployment and retirement benefits to U.S. citizens, while those benefits may be restricted for noncitizens.
- More opportunities to financial aid for higher education: Citizens have more access to funding for college or graduate school such as government financial aid and scholarships.
- Own a gun. The Constitution of the United States allows individuals to own guns. However, many laws require an individual be a U.S. citizen in order to own a gun.
- Vote. Citizens may vote in local and national elections. Additionally, U.S. citizens may run and be elected to public office.
The naturalization process has basic requirements. In order to become a United States citizen, an individual must
- Be at least eighteen (18) years old
- Have been a permanent resident (hold a green card) for at least five years, or three years if married to a US citizen.
- Are able to demonstrate you have been continuously living in the United States at least half of the requisite time period for citizenship (3 or 5 years).
- Able to Speak, read and write basic English
- Able to pass an exam on history and government
- Be a person of good moral character
- Be willing to take an oath of loyalty to the United States
While some of these requirements seem easy to establish, other requirements can be more difficult. For example, an applicant must prove he or she has good moral character. There is not a clear definition of the word. Basically it means a person is generally, a law-abiding citizen. But even an average law abiding citizen can make mistakes. Good moral character is decided by an officer of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or an immigration court judge. The officer or judge may have discretion to determine whether or not an applicant is a person of good moral character.
Most criminal issues involve moral character with respect to a naturalization application, therefore a person applying for naturalization should always contact an experienced immigration attorney before filing any application with USCIS. Some crimes will not only cause a denial, but can cause a person to be placed into removal/deportation proceedings.
Besides criminal issues, there are other pitfalls in applying for naturalization which are common such as spending too much time out of the United States, IRS tax delinquencies, child support issues, Selective service requirements. Therefore, it is important to be sure to review the application carefully and seek legal advice prior to submitting these applications.
Becoming a citizen of the United States makes the greatest statement of patriotism and awards an individual with all the rights possible. It eliminates the limitations a green card may impose. However, there are requirements to becoming a United States Citizen and a criminal background may pose the largest obstacle. Even if you were convicted of a crime that does not automatically ban you from obtaining citizenship, finding a person to be of good moral character is an act of discretion. Therefore, if you have any criminal background it is best to speak to an experienced immigration attorney. He or she can help you obtain all the documents you will need to prove good moral character. Additionally, an immigration attorney will argue on your behalf as to why you are an individual of good moral character.
If you are thinking of becoming a United States citizen, call us today in either our Clearwater or Tampa Offices.