The presidential election mania is hard to ignore. With the heightened excitement in every state holding caucuses and primaries, some of us — who have been lawful permanent residents (also known as green card holders) for many years now and are certainly qualified to become U.S. citizens — ask ourselves whether it is time to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
After all, voting for the President of the United States is one of the only two rights reserved solely for U.S. citizens (the other is to run for public office). The right to vote is also one of the only two responsibilities of U.S. citizens (the other is jury duty).
Applying for and being granted U.S. citizenship is the pinnacle of an immigrant’s journey towards achieving full recognition as a documented alien.
Is this a test for your patriotism? This issue has always remained even-toned among immigrants. After all, love of the country you departed will always invoke mixed emotions. Years spent in another country can turn such love and loyalty in favor of the country of settlement. But this does not appear to be the main driving force in deciding whether or not one should become U.S. citizen.
Other more practical considerations are: (a) the ease of travel to other countries with a “blue passport”; (b) the liberty to stay as long as possible outside of the U.S. without the penalty of being turned away at the port of entry when coming back; (c) the ability to apply for more substantial public benefits and better college grants and loan subsidies; (d) absence of visa waiting period and, therefore, faster visa availability for immediate relatives ( i.e., minor children [below 21], parents and spouses); (e) the exclusive privilege given only to U.S. citizen-children to petition their parents; (f) the exclusive capability of U.S. citizen parents to petition their married children; (g) the unique ability granted only to U.S. citizen to petition their siblings; and (h) the joy and pride to be a citizen of the most powerful country in the world.
Most significantly, when an immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, the threat of being deported for criminal and fraudulent acts, among others, is eliminated.
The amendments of 1986 to the INA (Immigration and Nationality Act) has made it stricter to preserve one’s green card status when certain crimes, such as drug offenses and domestic violence, are committed.
But why do some green card holders choose to retain their status despite the advantages of being naturalized?
A U.S. lawful permanent resident (LPR) has privileges that only he can avail of under immigration rules.
To illustrate: (Case 1) At present, it takes approximately seven years for the visa to be available if an LPR petitions a child (over 21 and unmarried), as opposed to a U.S. citizen petitioning the same beneficiary which will approximately take 13 years for the visa to become available. Keep in mind however, that this does not mean that the U.S. LPR is ‘locked in’ and obliged to remain in such status until the visa becomes available. They can actually apply to become a U.S. citizen, and right after the oath-taking ceremony, they can file to “opt-out” of being classified as a U.S. citizen-petitioner and to maintain the petition as a LPR. Having “opted out”, the ‘wait’ will stand at seven years (estimate).
(Case 2) In petitioning a spouse and his or her minor children, a U.S. citizen should file separate petitions for the spouse and each of the children even if the petitions are filed simultaneously. On the other hand, an LPR only needs to file a single petition for the spouse and the minor children who will be considered ‘derivatives’ to the main beneficiary (their parent). This could easily translate to lesser filing and legal fees.
Again, this should not prevent the U.S LPR to later apply for citizenship and request for an upgrade of the visa originally filed. Such an upgrade will effectively expedite the processing of the visas once the petitioner becomes a U.S. citizen.