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Why Become A Citizen?

by Gregory Siskind

Green card holders in this country receive most of the rights of US citizens and in the day-to-day life of permanent residents there are not too many differences than with their citizen counterparts. For example, green card holders can typically live in the US as long as they like and then can work for almost every kind of employer. So why bother with getting citizenship? Well, there are a number of good reasons to consider getting naturalized.

Here are ten reasons that stand out:

  1. Patriotism and Voting - If you are making American your permanent home and want to fully participate in the American democracy, becoming a citizen is vital. With rare exceptions, only citizens in this country can vote. And voting is the most basic way to effect change in the way the country is run.
  2. Retaining residency- The only way to guarantee you will forever have the right to remain in the US is to naturalize. Permanent residents are always at risk of losing their green cards if they spend long periods of time outside the US. Since 9/11, this has become a more serious problem and more and more people are losing their residency status because they are deemed by port of entry officers as having abandoned their permanent residency in the US.
  3. Deportation - If one is ever convicted of a crime - and not necessarily a very serious crime - there is a risk of being deported. Once you become a citizen, with rare exceptions, you retain your citizenship even if you run into criminal problems.
  4. Government benefits - Generally speaking, permanent residents have access to the same public benefits as citizens. However, in recent years, there has been more and more talk of making certain kinds of public benefits only available to citizens. The only way to ensure that this will not ever be a problem is to naturalize.
  5. Immigration for family members - US citizens receive priority treatment when it comes to bringing in family members. Citizens over 21 years of age can sponsor family members without waiting on a queue for a visa to become available. The same is true for spouses of US citizens and minor children of US citizens. US citizens can also sponsor adult children and siblings, though the waits in these categories can be a few to several years. Green card holders, on the other hand, cannot sponsor parents or siblings. And the wait to bring in children and spouses are much longer than for citizens.
  6. Federal jobs - Certain types of jobs with government agencies require US citizenship. This is particularly true for jobs in the energy and defense sectors.
  7. Running for office - Many types of elected positions in this country require the officeholder to be a US citizen.
  8. Tax consequences - US citizens and permanent residents are not always treated the same for tax purposes. This is particularly true for estate taxes.
  9. Federal grants- While many federal grants are available to permanent residents, more and more are only available to US citizen applicants.
  10. Political contributions - While green card holders can legally donate money to campaigns if they are residing in the US, it is not clear that green card holders residing abroad - even temporarily - can do so. This point was the subject of a political scandal involving donations by wealthy Indonesians to the Clinton presidential campaign.

If you are planning on becoming a citizen, you need to file a naturalization application with US Citizenship and Immigration Services. An excellent booklet outlining the naturalization process can be found at

About The Author

Gregory Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.