As a legal permanent resident (green card holder), you are accorded various rights, including the ability to live permanently and work in the United States. You also have the right to be protected by all laws of the United States and your state of residence and local jurisdictions.
So why naturalize?
Here are some benefits of U.S. citizenship:
- Eligibility to vote in Federal and State elections.
- Ability to petition for family members to permanently immigrate to the country.
- Automatic citizenship for children born abroad.
- Travel with U.S. passport and assistance from U.S. government when overseas.
- Eligibility for Federal jobs.
- Ability to run for elected office.
- Protection from deportation/removal.
Ability to petition for family members to immigrate to the United States
U.S. citizens can petition for their immediate relatives to come and live in the United States. Immediate relatives are spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens. For these family members, visas are always available so an application can be filed at any time. For immediate relatives already in the United States, they can also apply to adjust status at the same time as the immigrant petition is filed. This is often referred to as concurrent filing and eases the wait time for U.S. citizens and their family members.
On the other hand, green card holders may only petition for their spouse and unmarried children. Green card holders are not able to petition for their parents to immigrate to the United States. In addition, applicants will have to wait until a visa becomes available in the preference category according to the priority date specified on the Visa Bulletin. In some cases, like the spouses and children of permanent residents from the Philippines, the wait is over 10 years, according to the November 2015 visa bulletin.
Travel with U.S. passport and assistance from U.S. government when overseas
U.S. citizens can travel visa-free to 172 countries. Conversely, green card holders carry a passport issued by their country of nationality, which may limit their ability to travel to certain countries.
In addition, in crisis situations overseas, the U.S. government provides information and assistance to U.S. citizens, depending on the nature of the crisis. The type of assistance provided ranges from provision of travel warnings about areas of unrest and useful advice, to provision of departure or transportation assistance in more serious situations. If you are a U.S. citizen in need of assistance, click here for a list of 911 emergency contact numbers abroad and to enroll your trip through the Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP).
Green card holders do not enjoy the same privileges. In fact, when returning to the United States after temporary travel abroad, they must present a valid, unexpired “green card” (Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card) and other identity documents. A Customs and Border Protection Officer will review these documents to determine if you can enter the United States.
Please be aware that if you are a green card holder with certain criminal convictions, upon reentry, you will be referred to an immigration judge who will make a determination whether you are removable from the United States. If you are found removable, then your legal permanent resident status is revoked and you will be deported.
Protection from Deportation or Removal
Most green card holders are unaware that they are not immune from deportation upon a criminal conviction. Below is a list of convictions that will revoke a green card holder’s permanent resident status and make a non-citizen removable from the United States:
- Controlled substance offenses
- Crimes involving moral turpitude: theft, forgery, sex offenses and other crimes where there is intent to defraud/steal or cause bodily harm;
- Firearm or destructive device offense;
- Crime of domestic violence, crimes against children, stalking or violating a civil or criminal order of protection;
- Aggravated felony: murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, drug trafficking (including sale or intent to sell, possession of flunitrazepam/roofies and multiple possession convictions), firearm trafficking, prostitution business offenses, various federal offenses (money laundering, alien smuggling, etc.), fraud or tax evasion with loss to victims over $10,000 and misdemeanor charges with a sentence of at least a year for crimes of violence, theft or burglary, commercial bribery/counterfeiting/forgery and obstruction of justice or perjury.
For a full list with corresponding consequences, please see Immigrant Defense Project’s Immigration Consequences of Crimes Summary Checklist.
In addition, certain non-criminal grounds will also make a green card holder deportable, such as:
- Termination of conditional permanent resident status
- Marriage fraud
- Drug abuse or addiction
- Failure to advise immigration authorities of a change of address within 10 days of such change
- Receipt of public assistance after becoming a public charge within 5 years of entry into the United States.
For a full list, please read Section IV of the Fundamentals of Immigration Law from the Department of Justice website.
If you are a green card holder who is planning to apply for citizenship, it is important that you speak with an immigration attorney who can answer your questions about your eligibility and requirements of naturalization.
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