To Be or Not to Be a U.S. Citizen - Considerations for Naturalization

William R. Hummel, Esq., Senior Associate Attorney
[email protected]

Every four years, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") experiences a significant increase in the number of lawful permanent residents applying to naturalize and become U.S. citizens in time to vote in the presidential election. While the right to vote in Federal elections is a key distinction and right provided only to U.S. citizens, there are numerous other rights and responsibilities that one should consider when making the decision on whether to pursue naturalization.

Requirements to Naturalize

Briefly, the eligibility requirements for naturalization applicants are:

- Lawful Permanent Resident Status for five (5) years (three (3) years if the applicant is married to a U.S. Citizen);
- Continuous residence in the United States for the last five (5) years and has not been absent from the US for lengthy periods of time;
- Maintains continuous residence in the United States from the date of filing to the date of adjudication;
- Physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the last five (5) years (30 months) (18 months if married to a U.S. Citizen and applying after 3 years);
- Good moral character;
- Reside in the USCIS district for at least three (3) months prior to filing the application; and
- Basic knowledge of English and U.S. Civics.

Upon approval of the application and taking the oath of allegiance, an individual becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen and under U.S. law, has the same rights and responsibilities as a natural born U.S. citizen.

Benefits and Obligations

Often immigration attorneys are asked whether naturalization makes sense for a particular individual and what benefits or responsibilities does becoming a U.S. citizen entail.

There are many benefits of U.S. citizenship, including:

* Right to vote in Federal Elections;
* Ability to petition for family members to immigrate to the United States;
* Ability to obtain and travel on a U.S. passport;
* Ability to seek the protection of the U.S. government abroad;
* Ability to apply for Federal jobs, as many positions with government agencies require U.S. citizenship;
* Ability to run for political office;
* Retention of retirement income paid into the U.S. social security system;
* Ability to live outside the U.S. for a definite period of time, with no concern related to losing immigration status; and
* Possibility of transmitting U.S. citizenship to children born outside of the U.S.

U.S. citizenship also has responsibilities and obligations that do not extend to lawful permanent residents such as:

* Obligation to serve on a U.S. jury when required
* Obligation to serve the U.S. in a military or non combative public service (if required); and
* Permanent tax obligations to the U.S. on global income, even while living abroad.

Dual Citizenship

As part of the naturalization process, an individual is required to swear allegiance first and foremost to the United States and to give up prior allegiance to any other nation. Nonetheless, the U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists. Dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and their other country of citizenship. Either country has the right to enforce its laws. U.S. law requires all citizens, including dual citizens, to use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States.

Some countries (such as China, Japan, and India) do not permit dual citizenship and view the act of naturalization as renunciation of home countries citizenship. Other countries (such as Canada, Mexico, or the United Kingdom) permit dual citizenship and generally do not see the U.S. naturalization process as sufficient to renounce any citizenship held. There is also a third category of countries (such as Germany, Spain, and Egypt) that may permit dual citizenship in limited circumstances but require an individual to take affirmative action to pursue dual citizenship.

The decision on whether to become a U.S. citizen is ultimately a very personal choice for each individual. It should involve careful consideration of the advantages and potential disadvantages. Lawful Permanent Residents who are contemplating U.S. citizenship should contact an attorney to discuss their individual circumstances and any concerns related to the naturalization process.

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