You may become a US citizen in one of three ways.
· By Birth in the US
· By Naturalization
· Through Your Parents
What follows is a brief explanation of how one becomes a US citizen by each of the above methods:
By birth in the US
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution provides that anyone born in the US and "subject to US jurisdiction" is a citizen of the US. Therefore, children born in the US are citizens of the US whether their parents are US citizens, permanent residents, temporary visa holders or illegal aliens. The only children born in the US who are not "subject to US jurisdiction" are the children of foreign diplomats.
In general, you must satisfy the five following requirements in order to become a citizen through naturalization.
(1) Residency/Physical Presence
(3) Good Moral Character
(5) History and Government
Most persons must first attain permanent residence before applying for naturalization. The primary exception to this rule is persons who served in the US armed forces during a period of hostilities designated by the President.
You must be a permanent resident for five years before becoming naturalized although the law permits you to apply for naturalization 90 days prior to completing the residency period.
If you are married to a US citizen, you may be eligible for naturalization within three years if you meet each of the following conditions:
(1) You have been married to the citizen for three years;
(2) Your spouse has been a citizen for the entire three-year period;
(3) And you are living in "marital unity".
If you are a member of the US armed forces (even if you have not served during a designated period of hostilities), you may be eligible to naturalize without any specific period of residence if
(1) You are a permanent resident,
(2) You have active duty service for a period of three years or more, and
(3) You are serving honorably, or were given an honorable discharge. If you have been discharged, you must apply for naturalization within six months to take advantage of this rule.
Also, if you are the spouse of a US citizen who is assigned to work abroad by the US government or by certain designated companies or organizations, you may not have to reside in the US for any specified period of time.
A departure from the US for six months creates a rebuttable presumption that you have abandoned your residency. A departure for one year or more creates a conclusive presumption that you have abandoned your residency. Some people who obtain Re-Entry Permits in order to exit the US for more than one year may preserve their residency but may still break their residency for naturalization purposes unless they take further steps to preserve it.
You must demonstrate that you have been physically present in the US during at least half of the required period of residency. That is, you must actually reside in the US for two and one-half out of the five years immediately preceding your interview for naturalization, or one and one-half of the previous three years.
You must renounce your allegiance to your home country and pledge loyalty to the US when you take the oath of allegiance to the US at your naturalization ceremony. Despite this renunciation, some countries continue to consider you as a citizen of your former country of citizenship. It is wise to check with the embassy of your country of citizenship prior to becoming a naturalized US. citizen.
Good moral character:
you must submit a completed fingerprint chart to the government as part of your application for naturalization. The chart is forwarded to the FBI, which notifies INS whether you have a criminal record. Applicants with serious criminal records and those who obtained their green cards through fraud may not be able to establish good moral character. Some may even be susceptible to deportation.
You must be able to speak, read, write and understand simple words and phrases in the English language. Some elderly, longtime permanent residents and those with certain disabilities are exempt from the English requirement.
History and Government:
You are required to pass a short examination regarding the history and government of the US.
Here are a few of the history and government questions that you may be asked:
Can you name the 13 original states?
Who said, "Give me liberty or give me death"?
What is the Bill of Rights?
In what year was the Constitution written?
Who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner?
How many Supreme Court Justices are there? What are the three branches of the government?
Through your parents
You may become a US citizen "by acquisition" at birth if one or both of your parents were US citizens at the time of your birth. If only one of your parents was a citizen at the time of your birth, that parent (or grandparent in some cases) has to have lived a specified period of time in the US prior to your birth in order to transmit citizenship to you. You may also become a US citizen "by derivation" if
(1) You become a permanent resident and
(2) Your parent(s) naturalize while you are below a certain age.
To obtain proof of citizenship, you may apply for a US Passport or for a Certification of Citizenship or Naturalization at any time.
The law allocates 140,000 immigrant visas annually to employment- sponsored immigrants and their families. These visas are distributed as follows.
:: Priority workers
:: Professionals with advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability
:: Professionals, skilled and unskilled workers
:: Special Immigrants
:: Labor Certification
Priority workers - (28.6% of the worldwide level of visas, or approximately 40,000 visas PLUS unused special immigrant and investor visas, if any) Priority workers include.
(A) Persons of extraordinary ability,
(B) Outstanding professors and researchers, and certain executives and managers of multinational corporations.
A person's extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, business, education, or athletics must be demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim, at least three years of teaching or research in the academic area, and his achievements must have been recognized in his field through extensive documentation. He must be entering the US. to continue work in his area of extraordinary ability.
To qualify as an outstanding professor or researcher a person must :
1) Be recognized internationally as outstanding in a specific academic area.
(2) Have at least three years of teaching or research in the academic area and
(3) Seek to enter the US.
(a) A tenured or tenure-track position within a university or other institute of higher education to teach in the academic area.
(b) A comparable position with a university or other institute of higher education to conduct research in the area; or a comparable position to conduct research in an area with a department, division, or institute or a private employer, if the department, division, or institute employs at least three persons full-time in research activities and has achieved documented accomplishments in an academic field.
A multinational executive or manager must have been employed abroad as such during at least one of the three years preceding his application for priority worker classification and admission into the US. as a priority worker. He must be entering the US to be employed as an executive or manager for the same firm, corporation or legal entity (or to a subsidiary or affiliate thereof) that employed him abroad.
Professionals with advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability (28.6% of the worldwide level of visas, or approximately 40,000 visas PLUS unused visas from priority worker category, if any) These visas are reserved for qualified immigrants who are,
1) Members of the professions holding advanced degrees or their equivalent.
(2) Those who are of exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business. It is required that such immigrants will substantially benefit the national economy, cultural or educational interests of the US. and that their services are sought by an employer in the US.
In determining whether a person is of exceptional ability, the possession of a degree or license does not, by itself, constitute sufficient evidence of such ability.
Unlike a priority worker, a person may immigrate to the US under this category only after his employer has obtained a labor certification for his job. However, where it is deemed to be in the national interest, the Immigration Service may waive the requirements of a job offer and labor certification.
A person holding a bachelor's degree and five years of professional experience will be considered to possess the equivalent of an advanced degree for purposes of this section of law.
Professionals, skilled and unskilled workers.
(28.6% of the worldwide level of visas, or approximately 40,000 visas PLUS unused visas from the two preceding categories, if any)
A qualified skilled worker is a person capable of performing an occupation which requires at least two years of training or experience, not of a temporary or seasonal nature, for which qualified workers are not available in the US,
A qualified skilled worker is a person capable of performing an occupation which requires at least two years of training or experience, not of a temporary or seasonal nature, for which qualified workers are not available in the US
Other workers are those who are capable of performing unskilled labor, not of a temporary or seasonal nature, for which qualified workers are not available in the US
Skilled workers, professionals and other workers may immigrate to the US only after their employers obtain labor certifications for their jobs. Unskilled workers are limited to no more than 10,000 visas per year under this category. This limitation has resulted in dramatically increased waiting times for housekeepers and other unskilled workers.
Special Immigrants (7.1% of the worldwide level of visas, or approximately 10,000 visas)
A variety of immigrants in this category include religious ministers, long time employees of the US government employed abroad, certain investors and physicians who have resided in the US for a number of years and many other categories of persons.
The law imposes a ceiling of 10,000 visas annually for special immigrants. Two types of special immigrants (immigrants lawfully admitted for permanent residence who are returning from a temporary visit abroad, and immigrants who are former US citizens) are exempt from this limitation.
Religious workers for bona fide, tax-exempt, non-profit religious organizations in the US are considered special immigrants. No more than 5 ,000 of the 10, 000 annual numerical limitation for special immigrants may be allocated to religious workers. Investors (7.1% of the worldwide level of visas, or approximately 10,000 visas)
In order to qualify as an immigrant investor, a person must invest a minimum of $1 million in a new commercial enterprise which employs at least 10 US workers (exclusive of the immigrant, his spouse and his sons and daughters). However, if the investment is made in either a rural area or in an area experiencing high unemployment (at least 150% of the national average), the minimum amount required for the investment may be as little as $500,000. However, no more than 3,000 investor visas may be granted annually to persons investing in these "targeted employment areas".
Due to the small number of applications received from persons seeking green cards through investment, the INS has issued regulations making it substantially easier for investors to qualify for permanent residence that a literal reading of the law would suggest.
In order to deter fraud, all alien registration cards issued by INS to immigrant investors are conditional, with a two-year expiration date. The condition is removed if, at the end of the period, the investor remains in full compliance with the law. Unlike the temporary treaty investor visa ("E-2" visa), which is limited to individuals who are citizens of countries having investment treaties with the US investors and entrepreneurs from all countries may qualify as immigrant investors
The law requires that employers obtain alien labor certifications for persons who immigrate under the 2nd (professionals with advanced degrees and persons with exceptional ability) and 3rd (skilled workers, professionals and other workers) employment-based categories. An alien labor certification will be not be valid unless, at the time of filing the application, the employer provides notice of the filing.
(1) To the bargaining representative of the employees in the occupational classification and area for which aliens are sought.
(2) If there is no such bargaining representative, to employees employed at the facility through posting in conspicuous locations.
Any person is permitted to submit to the Department of Labor documentary evidence bearing on or challenging the statements made in an application for certification on file with the Secretary of Labor. This evidence may include such items as information on available workers, information on wages and working conditions, and information on the employer's failure to meet terms and conditions with respect to the employment of alien workers and co- workers.
Prior to the Immigration Act of 1990, approximately 440,000 individuals immigrated to the US. annually based upon petitions submitted on their behalf by close relatives who were US. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Of this total, 216,000 persons immigrated through four family preference categories (1st Preference - unmarried sons and daughters of US. citizens, 2nd Preference - spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents, 4th Preference - married sons and daughters of US. citizens, and 5th Preference - brothers and sisters of US. citizens). The rest immigrated as "immediate relatives" of US. citizens (parents, spouses, and children of US. citizens - children being unmarried and under 21 years of age, and, in the case of a parent of a US. citizen, the petitioning son or daughter being at least 21 years of age). The law placed no numerical restrictions on the immigration of immediate relatives.
The 1990 law retained and renumbered the four family preference categories. The number of visas allocated to family-sponsored immigrants, including immediate relatives, rose from 440,000 to 465,000 in fiscal year 1992, and increased to 480,000 on October 1, 1993. If there are any unused visas from the employment- based categories, they may be used in the family preference categories.
Immediate relatives remain exempt from numerical limitations, and have first claim on family preference visas. For the first time, however, the number of immediate relatives who obtain visas are subtracted from the total number of family-sponsored visas available.
The formula works as follows: Total number of family-sponsored visas less the number of immediate relatives who immigrated during the previous year equals the number of visas available to the four family preference categories. However, the law provides that no matter how many immediate relatives immigrate to the US. in a single year, a floor of at least 226, 000 visas will remain available to persons in the four family preference categories.
The definition of immediate relative has been expanded to include widows and widowers of US. citizens provided that the widow(er) was the spouse of the citizen for at least two years prior to the citizen's death and was not legally separated from the citizen at the time of his or her death. To remain eligible for immediate relative status, the immigrant spouse is required to file a petition for permanent residence within two years after the citizen's death and before remarriage.
Most of the increase in the number of family preference visas was allocated to individuals qualifying under the 2nd preference category. The number rose from 70,000 under prior law to at least 114,200 in fiscal year 1992. Of this number, 77% of the visas are specifically reserved for spouses and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents. Also, 75% of the visas granted to them are distributed without regard to individual country quotas. Prior to October 1991, such quotas resulted in a 10-year wait for 2nd preference visas for persons born in Mexico and seven years for those born in the Philippines. These backlogs have been alleviated while the worldwide backlog has increased dramatically.
Most family and employment-based immigration is numerically limited. Each country and category has its own quota. Because the demand for green cards exceeds the supply in many cases, the State Department publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin to allow you to determine how long it takes to achieve permanent residence according to your country of birth and visa category. It is important to track the movement in a particular category over time to determine how long the backlog is. Often, the waiting time is longer than it appears in the Visa Bulletin. See the latest Visa Bulletin.
The phrase "Green Card" indicates permanent residence or "immigrant" status. The identifying alien registration card has not been green in color since the 1950's, but as the card had virtually been in green color, the term commonly used 'GC' is still being used.
The Green Card accords have the right to live and work in the US for the rest of your life. The GC Holder must pay income taxes, contribute to social security, and register for the military draft if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 26. However, it does not accords you may not vote or hold public office, and certain jobs are not open to you. GC Holder are restricted in the amount of time that may spend outside of the US and are limited as to which relatives could sponsor for permanent residence. If the GC Holder are convicted of a serious crime, or otherwise violate the immigration laws, he/she may be subject to expulsion from the US.
You may become a permanent resident by any of the following methods:
:: Through Relatives
:: Through Employment
:: Through Investment
:: Through Persecution
:: Through the Visa Lottery
:: Through Cancellation of Removal
Through Relatives - Amnesty of the 800,000 (approximately) persons who become permanent residents each year are sponsored by close relatives who are US. citizens or permanent residents. US. citizens may file immigration petitions for their spouses, parents, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters (whether they are married or single, and whether they are minors or adults). Permanent residents may only file immigration petition for their spouses and their unmarried sons and daughters.
Through Employment - Up to 140,000 persons are permitted to immigrate annually based upon their employment. They include "priority workers".
(1) Persons of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics.
(2) Outstanding researchers and professors, and
(3) Certain executives and managers of multinational companies.
In addition, persons of exceptional ability and holders of advanced degrees may immigrate if they are able to demonstrate to the Labor Department that there are no US workers qualified and available to assume their jobs, or that their presence in the US is in the "national interest". Professionals with bachelors degrees, skilled workers and a limited number of unskilled workers may immigrate if their employers can demonstrate the unavailability of qualified US workers to the Labor Department. Finally, a small number of "special immigrants", primarily religious ministers and other religious workers, are permitted to immigrate through employment.
Through Investment - Up to 10,000 investors and their families may immigrate to the US annually. To qualify, you must invest a minimum of one million dollars ($500,000 if the investment is made in a rural or high- unemployment area) in a new commercial enterprise and employ a minimum of ten full-time US workers.
Through Persecution - The US accepts approximately 100,000 refugees and Asylums annually. Refugees apply abroad to immigrate to the US They must demonstrate that they have a "well-founded fear of persecution" in their home countries. Asylums are similar to refugees except that they are present in the US when they request Asylum.
Through the Visa Lottery - 55,000 people each year are chosen at random to immigrate from millions of applicants for the diversity visa lottery. Although the rules change from year to year, last year, nearly 45,000 of the winners were required to be born in either Europe or Africa. This is because most persons who immigrate to the US through relatives and employment are from Asia and Latin America. The aim of the visa lottery is to insure "diversity" in immigration. This year, subject to certain limited exceptions, persons born in the following "high-immigration" countries are ineligible to apply for the visa lottery: China (PRC and Taiwan), India, Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Poland, United Kingdom and dependent territories (except Hong Kong and Northern Ireland), Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, El Salvador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
Through Cancellation of Removal - Even someone who is not legally present in the US, may under certain circumstances, be eligible for permanent residence: An alien in removal proceedings may apply for a green card from an Immigration Judge if he (1) has been in the US for at least ten years before being placed under removal proceedings; (2) is a person of good moral character; and (3) can demonstrate that it would be an "extreme and exceptionally unusual hardship" to his US citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent/s, child/ren if he were forced to leave the US. The Immigration Judge may grant permanent residence to such a person his discretion and subject certain numerical restrictions.
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