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From Your Green Card Application to Naturalization: The Path from Green Card to Citizenship

impact of government shut-down on immigration

From wanting to be with family members to escaping violent conflict, there are any number of reasons why someone would seek permanent immigration to the United States. However, green card requirements are strict—before submitting your green card application, make sure you fall into one of the following categories:

1. Your immediate family members are U.S. citizens. “Immediately family members” include: spouses; children, parents, adopted children, and widows or widowers (provided the deceased had filed a petition prior to his or her death). There are an unlimited number of green cards for immigrants whose immediately family members are U.S. citizens.

2. Non-immediate family members. There are 480,000 green cards available to those immigrants who meet the following green card requirements: adults aged 21+ with a parent who is a U.S. citizen; the spouses or unmarried children of non-citizen green card holders; a sibling who is a U.S. citizen. Those these green cards are issued on a first-come-first-served basis, the wait times can be quite long.

3. Preferred employees or workers. For those immigrants who possess a special set of skills that are valuable to the U.S. job market, 140,000 green cards are available. The immigrant’s employer must sponsor them, and must be able to prove that they have not found a U.S. citizen capable of performing the same job.

4. The green card lottery. If you’re coming from one of the countries that has sent the fewest amount of immigrants to America, you could be issued one of 50,000 green cards reserved to promote ethnic diversity in the country.

5. Special situations. These green cards are rarely issued, but it is not impossible to qualify for a green card under special circumstances. Some examples are children who are in the case of a juvenile court system, international broadcasters, or employees of the U.S. government who retired abroad. An immigration attorney can help you determine whether you meet green card requirements for these or any other special situations.

If you were one of the lucky immigrants granted a green card, congratulations—you’ve started down the path towards naturalization. Once you are granted citizenship, you’ll earn the right to vote or run for public office, become eligible for federal employment and benefits, eliminate the threat of deportation, and be able to sponsor your family members for their own green cards.

While residing in America as a green card holder, make sure to file state and federal taxes every year, and alert the Department of Homeland Security if your address changes. Be careful to follow immigration laws carefully, and register with Selective Service. It goes without saying that, especially if you plan to become a U.S. citizen in the future, you should be on your best behavior: don’t harass family members, engage in criminal activities or cavort with criminals, or otherwise act immorally. Your character will be considered when applying for naturalization.

Think you’re ready to make the switch from green card to citizenship? Here is a checklist to determine whether you are eligible for U.S. citizenship:

  • You are 18 or older

  • You have been a green card holder and resided in the U.S. for at least 3-5 years

  • You have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months of the 5 years preceding the filing of your naturalization application

  • Over the past 5 years, you have not traveled outside of the United States for more than one year

  • You have lived in your current district or state for at least 3 months

  • Be able to read, write and speak English (though there are some exceptions to this), and possess a strong knowledge of American history and civics

  • Be a person of good moral character

  • Be either female, a male who is registered with Selective Service, a male who did not enter the U.S. under any status after his 26th birthday, a male who entered the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 26 but who did not register with Selective Service (must provide a Status Information Letter from Selective Service in this case), or a male who entered the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 26 as a lawful nonimmigrant

  • You have never deserted the U.S Armed Forces, nor were you discharged from the Armed Forces because you are an alien

  • Be willing to perform military or civilian service for the United States if required

After you meet the above eligibility requirements, becoming a U.S. citizen is a relatively easy process. An immigration attorney can help you file your naturalization application, though the application process is straightforward enough that you may be comfortable doing it on your own. Once you file your application for naturalization, you must reside in the United States until you are granted or denied citizenship.

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