As a Miami immigration lawyer, I have had the honor of helping many clients obtain U.S. citizenship. For many, the road to obtaining U.S. citizenship is a long and hard-fought battle. Each case is different, each individual is different – and it is this difference in cultures and ethnic groups that makes the melting pot of American special and unique. If you or a loved one are considering applying to become a U.S. citizen, here are some frequently asked questions that may help.
What are the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen?
First – the big ones: U.S. citizenship provides one with the right to vote, to petition for family members to immigrate, and to live abroad without losing the right to return. However, there are some other lesser-known benefits to becoming a United States citizen.
What other benefits are there to becoming a U.S. citizen?
Here are some lesser-known benefits to becoming a U.S. citizen:
- Access to public benefits – There are certain public benefits and programs which directly benefit, and are critically important for elderly and disabled people, which are often reserved for U.S. citizens only. If a U.S. Permanent Resident (i.e. “green card holder”) wants to participate in Medicare, for example, the law requires that the permanent resident pay an expensive premium, depending on their work history and length of residence. This may be cost prohibitive. There are also limits to how long LPR’s can stay on Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- Ability to travel and seek protection of the U.S. government abroad – There are limits to how long a green card holder can stay outside the United States. Should a U.S. citizen encounter a personal crisis or civic unrest abroad, a United States citizen could seek help and protection from the U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. This is especially important, since a smaller country may not have the strong diplomatic presence that the United States does abroad.
- Automatic citizenship for your Lawful Permanent Resident children under 18 – When you naturalize, your children under 18 who are Lawful Permanent Residents automatically become U.S. citizens, too.
- Protection from deportation for yourself and your children – Many Miami immigration lawyers encounter similar stories of green card holders who do not think that they can ever get deported. Did you know that almost any conviction related to the use of illegal drugs can result in deportation of a green card holder? The same applies to young adult green card holders who are convicted of sexual conduct with a minor. It is a heartbreaking reality that many Miami immigration lawyers have to address with their clients, many whom have lived in the U.S. since they were very young children, who do not even speak the language of their country of origin, and who now have to face crushing poverty and alienation after they have been deported to their country of origin.
- Retention of retirement income and ability to travel to the U.S. – If you retire abroad as a Lawful Permanent Resident, you might face several issues. Depending on the country that you relocate to, Lawful Permanent Residents who live abroad may not be able to collect their Social Security retirement payments. Relating to an earlier point made above, green card holders who actually reside outside the United States might be considered to have “abandoned” their residence – this means that they could lose their green card status. If you want to retire abroad but still be sure you can collect your retirement income, you may want to consider speaking with a Miami immigration lawyer to start the process of naturalization.
Am I eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship?
If you are interested in applying for U.S. citizenship, you may want to start by consulting with a Miami immigration attorney to discuss your options. Your Miami immigration lawyer will likely ascertain the following:
- Have you have lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years? (Exceptions apply);
- Have you have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the last five years?
- Have you lived in the state where you are filing your application for at least three months?
- Have you spent more than a year outside the United States?
- Have you made your primary home in another country?
- Are you at least 18 years old?
- Do you have good moral character (note – you should ask your Miami immigration lawyer what constitutes “good moral character,” as this is a standard that has been set forth by the immigration authorities)?
- Are you able to speak, read, and write in English?
- Are you able to pass a test covering U.S. history and government?
- Are you willing to swear that you believe in the principles of the U.S. Constitution, and that you will be loyal to the United States?
If you have any questions as to your eligibility, do not guess. Once you apply for U.S. citizenship, your entire history as an immigrant is up for detailed review. I would strongly suggest that you consult with a Miami immigration lawyer to ensure that you put your best foot forward.
If you would like more information on how to obtain U.S. citizenship, please contact Miami immigration lawyer Michael G. Murray, Esq. at (305) 895-2500 or visit our website at www.mmurraylaw.com .