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Becoming a United States Citizen


Why Do It? What To Expect?

For many people, becoming a United States citizen is a desirable and valuable goal. It signifies the full integration of an individual into the social, political and economic life of the United States. Generation after generation, immigrants have become US citizens, creating the national identity known as "American."

Why Should I Become a United States Citizen?

The process through which a legal permanent resident becomes a United States citizen is called "naturalization." There are excellent, practical reasons for you to naturalize.

Make yourself heard

US citizens can vote. Your naturalization as a United States citizen gives you the right to vote for your government representatives and on issues of concern to your community. Does your neighborhood need street repairs? Do you want more funding for public schools in your state? Is there a policy on health care you'd like to see implemented by the federal government? The right to vote is the power to voice your opinions and affect the government at all levels. Moreover, citizens can serve on juries and help make decisions in important court cases. US citizenship will allow you to participate more fully in the political processes that shape our country.

Secondly, as a US citizen you can hold certain government jobs that you are not allowed to hold as a legal permanent resident. As a naturalized US citizen, you can run as a candidate in local, state and federal elections and hold a position in the government. You cannot become a police officer or be elected President or Vice President. However, you can become a US Senator or Congressman, a state representative, or a local official and promote public policy that serves the needs of your community.

Gain more rights

As a US citizen you will carry a United States passport. A US passport makes travel to most places in the world easier, and US citizens are often not required to get visas to visit foreign countries. A legal permanent resident who travels must have a valid passport from his or her country and must apply for required visas. When abroad, a US citizen receives the protection of US Embassies and Consulates if and when emergencies occur.

As a legal permanent resident, if you stay abroad for a long time, the INS may decide that you have abandoned your US permanent residency, and you will lose the privilege to live and work legally in the United States. If you become a US citizen, you will have the right to leave the United States for extended periods of time, and you can live abroad for as long as you want and still keep your citizenship. Moreover, if your children are born abroad, they too will be US citizens.

US citizens cannot be removed or deported from the United States. But the 1996 immigration laws greatly and harshly expanded the grounds of removal and deportation for legal and undocumented immigrants. Now immigrants can be removed from the country for convictions on any number of minor crimes. US citizens, when convicted of certain crimes, must serve only the punishment imposed by the criminal court. A legal permanent resident convicted of the same crime must serve the punishment imposed by the criminal court and may be placed into deportation proceedings, detained by the INS, and deported.

Several laws in the United States treat legal permanent residents differently from US citizens. Legal permanent residents are offered fewer rights under tax and inheritance laws. They are also eligible for fewer public benefits. For example, the 1996 welfare reform took food stamp and medical benefits away from legal permanent residents. Currently, legal immigrants must wait for five years before they can apply for benefits under Medicaid or the State Child Health Insurance Program. If you become a US citizen, you are immediately eligible to apply for these benefits.

Sponsor family more easily

Finally, if you have family members who are interested in immigrating to the United States, you will be able to sponsor them much more easily if you are a US citizen. Legal permanent residents can only petition for their spouses or unmarried children. Currently, family members of legal permanent residents must wait more than four years for a visa. If you become a US citizen, however, your spouse, parents and children will be considered "immediate relatives." Immediate relatives can apply for an immigrant visa without delay. Additionally, as a US citizen, you can sponsor family members that legal permanent residents cannot sponsor. You will be eligible to petition for your parents and your brothers and sisters.

Are There Disadvantages to US Citizenship?

Many people believe that if they do not become a US citizen, they might be able to avoid the military draft. This assumption is not correct. Any male residing in the US must register for the draft, even if he is residing in the country without any legal status. If there is a military emergency, the law may seek to draft citizen and non-citizen alike. Therefore, avoiding the draft is not reason to stop from naturalizing. In fact, if you are required to fight for US, you might as well have all the advantages of being a citizen of this country.

However, when you become a naturalized US citizen, you are required to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States. Some countries see this as renouncing citizenship of your former country. In these cases, you should be aware that becoming a US citizen could cause you to lose your previous citizenship.

Some countries do allow dual citizenship. You should know the law of your former country at the time of taking the oath. It is also possible, that your former country could change the law regarding dual citizenship at a later time. The US Supreme Court has upheld the right to dual citizenship several times. Generally, you may hold dual citizenship if you do not serve in the other country's military, vote in the other country, take an oath of allegiance to the other country or denounce the US after you are naturalized as a US citizen.

The following countries typically recognize dual citizenship: Albania, Antigua, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Macao, Maldives, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nevis, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, St. Christopher, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Syria, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvala and the United Kingdom.

About The Author

INSGreencard was founded by William Carroll and Ben Ferro. Messrs. Carroll and Ferro have over 61 years collective experience as senior officers in the US and abroad for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. Mr. Carroll’s responsibilities included supervision as a Director of the Los Angeles, California and Washington, DC INS District Offices and Mr. Ferro was INS Director for all of Europe (including the former Soviet Union) and the Director of the INS Amnesty Program. They each retired from the INS as Directors in 1998 to join private industry and possess unique and valuable knowledge and credibility in the field of immigration. is an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand immigration website brought to you by two former directors of the INS. Visit INSGreencard for expert assistance, helpful explanations, quick answers, up-to-date news, INS info and forms, comprehensive glossary, useful links, and best of all, INSWizard. INSWizard, your online immigration solution, guides you step-by-step through INS applications and petitions. In minutes, you get:

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INSWizard is a fast, easy and low-cost solution for your immigration needs. Use INSWizard today, only at, your Path to America

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