by Dinh Tran, Partner, Queen City Immigration Law. 704-500-2075
One of the more frequently recurring questions and conversations about immigration revolves around the benefits of naturalization and becoming a United States citizen. After all, both citizens and LPRs are allowed to live permanently in the United States, can take up lawful employment with any employer, and can travel in and out of the country. Why then might a person who is a lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) want to go through the naturalization process to obtain American citizenship?
This topic has been even more intensively debated following the recent issuance of an Executive Order (“EO”) entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” by President Donald Trump on January 27. One of the provisions of the EO immediately established a temporary “travel ban” on people from seven Muslim countries including Syria, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen (“SISSILY”). Any person who was a citizen of one of the seven countries was prevented from coming to the United States. The issuance of the EO stirred up plenty of unrest and nervousness among immigrant communities nationwide. In the first 48 hours following the signing of the EO there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether LPRs who were nationals of the SISSILY countries, or even from other countries, were also affected. For example, what would happen to a person who has a green card and holds a Syrian passport returning to her home in the United States from a business conference in Switzerland? Would she be able to come back to her husband and children, and the place she has called her home for several years?
Eventually, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security clarified that the EO does not apply to LPRs. Any person who is a green card-holder, even from the SISSILY countries, would be allowed into the United States the same way he would have had before the “travel ban” was instituted. Despite this reassurance, there still remains a lot of anxiety that at any moment the President could change his policy towards LPRs and decide to ban them from entering.
The best way for an LPR to ensure that he or she continues to be able to travel in and out of the United States, regardless of what the President does, is to naturalize and become a United States citizen. An LPR who has held that status for five years, or three years if married to a U.S. citizen, may be eligible to apply for naturalization. Becoming an American citizen also carries other benefits, but also has some minor drawbacks.
The numerous benefits of U.S. citizenship over the LPR status include, among others, being eligible for employment in the Federal government, right to vote for the President and members of Congress, eligibility to hold elected office, easier access to certain public benefits, and ability to petition for a broader category of relatives with less wait time. For example, only U.S. citizens can petition for a green card on behalf of their parents or siblings. Additionally, a green card-holder may lose the LPR status and be removed from the United States. This can happen if he or she commits and is convicted of a serious crime. LPRs can also lose their green cards if they remain outside of the United States for too long. An absence from the United States of more than 180 days raises a presumption of abandonment of the LPR status. On the other hand, a U.S. citizen can move abroad for a decade or more and still be able to return to the United States at any time. Citizens also may not be removed to another country even if they get convicted of serious crimes.
However, becoming a U.S. citizen has some disadvantages as well. First, non-citizens are not allowed to sit on a jury, but U.S. citizens have a duty to perform jury duty if selected. Second, some countries do not permit their citizens to hold dual citizenship or swear allegiance to another country. For people from certain countries, becoming a U.S. citizen means losing their old citizenship or losing the right to own real property in their country of origin.
Despite the downsides, for many people who come to the United States, the ultimate goal is obtaining citizenship. The numerous positives more often than not outweigh the negatives. Recent developments have further tipped the scales of U.S. citizenship versus permanent resident status in favor of the former.
To learn more about naturalization, please visit our citizenship page or schedule a consultation with our experienced immigration attorneys to help you through this often challenging process, and to make your American dream become a reality.