The United States is the home to over 47 million immigrants from all over the world and has the largest immigrant population in the world. The US offers multicultural and diverse communities within 50 states (Alaska and Hawaii were the last states added in 1959) with plenty of educational, job, business and investment opportunities.
It’s one of only 3 dozen countries in the world where a child born in the US, is automatically granted citizenship by birth, unless the parent was a diplomat or other recognized government official from a foreign country. A US citizen is granted all the civic rights and freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution.
Obtaining a Green Card for permanent residence does not make you a US citizen. You will be required to meet certain requirements if you wish to transition to citizenship.
Becoming a US citizen is the last step of immigration for many foreign nationals. The main milestone to citizenship is first becoming a Green Card holder.
A Green Card is granted to lawful permanent residents of the United States. The Green Card provides many benefits like the right to live and work in the US, serving in the military, own a firearm and apply for citizenship.
However, a Green Card does not provide you all the rights and privileges of a US citizen. You can not vote in elections or access certain public benefits.
How Can You Obtain a Green Card in the United States?
Green Card applications generally favor skilled workers, international entrepreneurs and family sponsors of US citizens or permanent residents.
The most common ways to gain lawful permanent residence in the United States are:
Family Sponsorship: Your immediate family member who is a US citizen or permanent resident can sponsor your immigration to the United States. There are 2 broad categories of family sponsorship:
The IR visas are for close family members of US citizens and have 5 categories:
- IR-1: Spouse of a US citizen
- IR-2: Unmarried child under 21 years of age of a US citizen
- IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a US citizen
- IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the US by a US citizen
- IR-5: Parent of a US citizen who is at least 21 years old
The Family Preference visas are for distant family relatives of a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident. It has the following categories:
- Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens, and their minor children, if any
- Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of Lawful Permanent Residents
- Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of US citizens, and their spouses and minor children
- Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of US citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the US citizens are at least 21 years of age
EB-1 Visa: The EB-1 Visa is an employment-based work visa for foreign workers who are exceptionally talented professors or researchers, or are managers or executives of multinational companies.
If you are a recognized professional in your field with credibility, then you can work in the US.
As a professor or researcher, you must have at least 3 years of experience in the field you intend to work in the US. You must have an offer of employment from a university or higher education institution to qualify.
As a senior manager in a multinational, you must be currently employed with the same corporation that you would be transferring to in the United States.
EB-2 Visa: The EB-2 Visa is an employment-based immigrant visa for people in professions who hold an advanced degree or its equivalent. It is also for people who have an exceptional ability with an employment offer in the US. The EB-2 facilitates permanent residence/Green Card.
You must either have an advanced degree like a Master’s or PhD or exhibit substantial talent in your area of specialization.
EB-3 Visa: The EB-3 Visa category is for skilled workers, professionals, or other workers who wish to obtain a Green Card in the United States.
Skilled workers require at least 2 years of work experience in their occupation to qualify.
Professionals require a 4 year college degree (undergraduate bachelor’s degree) in the US or a foreign equivalent that is the normal requirement for entry into an occupation.
Unskilled workers require 2 years of work experience in their occupation and the work must be permanent and non-seasonal.
EB-5 Visa: The EB-5 Visa is for foreign entrepreneurs and investors who wish to immigrate to the United States. International entrepreneurs must invest in a qualifying business and commit to generating at least 10 jobs for US citizens and permanent residents.
A ‘targeted employment area’ refers to rural areas and regions with a high unemployment rate. If you are investing in a targeted employment area, then you must invest at least $900,000.
However, if you wish to invest anywhere in the US, then a minimum investment of $1.8 million is required.
Diversity Visa Lottery: The Diversity Visa Lottery randomly selects 50,000 foreign nationals from different countries for permanent residence in the United States.
You will be required to meet additional requirements to gain permanent residence.
It is not a very reliable way to gain permanent residence since the selection process is very random and you can face long waiting periods.
However, if you are unsure about your current pathway for residency, then you can add your name to the lottery.
How Can You Gain Citizenship in the United States?
Based on your circumstances, you can choose 2 pathways for citizenship:
Naturalization: It is the process to apply for citizenship if you are already a US Permanent Resident and have been for at least 5 years, or for at least 3 years if you’re the spouse of a US citizen.
Acquisition: It is the process of acquiring US citizenship through parents who are US citizens, either at birth or after birth, before the age of 18.
Most immigrants apply for US citizenship through the naturalization process.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will set up an interview date after your initial application is processed.
You will also need to provide your biometric information and attend another citizenship interview. You will also be required to take a language and Naturalization test.
If you are successful, then the USCIS will invite you to attend a naturalization ceremony where you will take the Oath of Allegiance and gain US citizenship.
You must meet the following general requirements to apply for US citizenship:
- Be of 18 years or older
- Have the authorization to live and work in the US in form of a Green Card
- Maintain continuous residence in the United States for 5 years or 3 years if you are a spouse to a US citizen
- Be physically present in the United States for 30 months or 18 months if you are a spouse to a US citizen
- Be fluent in reading, writing and speaking English
- Know fundamentals of US history and government
- Be a person of good moral standing
- Take an Oath of Allegiance during a citizenship ceremony
What are the Benefits of US Citizenship?
You will have 1 of the most powerful passports in the world. US passports are only granted to US citizens. Having a US passport means you can travel to 180 countries for short periods without having to apply for a visa.
A US citizenship will grant you access to various federal benefits such as college assistance, etc.
Your children born in the United States or abroad will automatically be granted US citizenship.
Working in the United States means a lot of hassle in the form of immigration paperwork. Gaining citizenship means that you don’t have to renew your Green Card or do any further immigration paperwork.
You can apply for jobs in the US government. Federal employees get more governmental benefits than private-sector employees.
A US citizenship will grant you the right to vote. You can vote in federal and local elections and influence the country’s leadership.
You can also run for political office as a US citizen.