If you or a loved one wish to immigrate to the United States and become a citizen you’re not alone, and the first step is legal immigration and residency status. According to the U.S. State Department’s tally, there are approximately 4.55 million people waiting to legally enter the United States.1 That may seem like a daunting number, but just because there are 4.55 million people waiting doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get to the back of the line.
There are several legal immigration options that vary in degrees of speed and difficulty, some of which can lead to U.S. citizenship.
Immediate Family Member and Preferred Family Member Green Cards
When the State Department says immediate family they are referring to an existing U.S. citizen’s spouses and minor children who wish to immigrate to the country. These individuals are always given highest priority for immigration. Children under the age of 21 are considered immediate family for the purpose of immigration. There are several levels of preference after the first immediate family tier which includes married and unmarried children over 21 years of age, their children and the sponsoring citizen’s siblings.2
Please note that in order for an existing U.S. citizen to sponsor a relative for immigration they must be a minimum of 21 years of age and prove to the State Department that they have the means to support themselves and their family members once they arrive.
Employment Visas May Not Cut It
Generally an employment visa is temporary, although there are some circumstances where a person can obtain a permanent employment visa. Acquiring a permanent employment visa is not the same as obtaining U.S. citizenship, but it will allow you to remain in the United States indefinitely.
The U.S. Citizenship Application Process
There are several steps in the application process, many of which are bureaucratic and investigative in nature, but the process can’t begin until you’ve filled out an N-400 Application for Naturalization.3
Under most circumstances a person will only be allowed to move forward with the process as long as they’ve been a permanent legal resident living in the United States for at least five continuous years. It’s generally required for the person to have been physically in the U.S. for the two and a half years prior to their application filing.4
For example, if you lived in the U.S. from 2005 through 2011 but then went back to your home country for the next five years and returned in 2016, you would need to be present in the U.S. until at least 2018 before your application would be considered.
Rigorous background checks are also run by the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an arm of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Your history in the United States will also be scrutinized, and they will look for any legal infractions and seek out personal references in an attempt to determine your moral character.
After all that, those seeking U.S. citizenship must still pass an English language test – under most circumstances – as well as a test to determine their understanding of U.S. history and government.
Legal residents who are able to correctly file their N-400 form and pass these hurdles may then qualify for U.S. citizenship, after which there is a swearing in ceremony where the applicant is required to swear to their belief in the founding principles outlined in the U.S. Constitution and their loyalty to the country.
This Is an Understandably Daunting Process, But Help Is Available
Baird Law has helped many people obtain temporary visas, permanent green cards and has assisted long-term residents with their U.S. citizenship applications. If you or a loved one are interested in embarking down the road to U.S. citizenship, the immigration law professionals at Baird Law would be happy to discuss your immigration status or case during a free consultation.