If you're a green card holder, is it better to stay a resident and hold on to your green card or to apply for U.S. citizenship? Most people think that becoming a U.S. citizen is the obvious choice, but there may actually be some downsides to applying for naturalization that most people won't even think about or won't even tell you. We're going to look at both options.
But first we're going to tell you why some green card holders may make the decision to not become a U.S. citizen.
Having a green card inside the United States allows you to live and work here permanently while still allowing you to retain the citizenship of your original country. It allows you to keep your passport of that country as well.
One of the reasons why an immigrant may decide to hold on to their nationality and not apply for U.S. citizenship is because their country may not allow what is called dual citizenship. Why?
If your country does not allow dual citizenship, then when you apply to be naturalized here in the U.S. you would then be forced to give up your other nationality in order to become a citizen of the United States. There are many reasons why a person may not want to lose that nationality.
For example, maybe the majority of your family lives back home and you want to be able to retain the right to visit them freely or to settle back inside your home country in the future. Or maybe your home country does not permit land ownership by foreigners, and you want to be able to retain or eventually buy property there.Or maybe you have a strong home passport that allows you to visit many countries without a visa such as Japan, Singapore or Canada. It's not uncommon for immigrants from that these countries to elect to forgo naturalizing here.
Another reason might be for tax purposes. U.S. citizens and green card holders have the same exact tax liability with the IRS, including being taxed on your worldwide income no matter where in the world it is earned. That means that if you work abroad, that any money you earn, even if you are not living inside the U.S., can be taxable by the IRS as long as you hold a green card. But later in life, if you don't actually want to live permanently inside the United States and you want to live and work abroad, the IRS would still require you to pay taxes on all of your earnings. Thus, sometimes it's actually cheaper for some people to give up their green cards rather than try to pursue U.S. citizenship. Also, if you're not planning on living inside the U.S. permanently and want to give up your green card before having it for eight years, you can avoid the expatriation tax that some U.S. citizens have to pay when they turn in their passport.
Another big reason why immigrants may decide to hold on to their green card and their residency instead of pursuing U.S. citizenship is because of criminal convictions in their past that they don't necessarily want to have dredged up again in front of USCIS. Sometimes the agency may overlook certain criminal convictions by accident, or you may incur new criminal convictions after being granted your residency. Once you do apply for residency these may be discovered at that time and can even call into question whether you're allowed to retain your green card. Not only can your citizenship application be denied, you might put your residency at risk and you may be placed into removal proceedings.
If you have a green card and a questionable criminal history, you may want to think twice before trying to become a citizen. Other reasons for holding onto your green card might also include the cost and the burden of applying. It costs currently $725 just to submit your application of the N-400, and the average processing time from start to finish can be more than one year and can take up to 15 months.
In addition you will also have to take an English and civics test, which requires you to study and have a certain level of mastery of the English language, both in the written form and the verbal form. For some, this is just too expensive, and for others it is just too impossible or too difficult to get up to speed on their English language skills and in studying. It might be difficult to justify becoming a U.S. citizen as a result.
Some persons would rather just pay $540 every ten years rather than go through all of this expense, hassle, and burden in filing the N-400. Believe it or not there are many immigrants out there who believe it is just fine to live their lives as a green card holder without ever trying to become a citizen.
Now that we know some of the reasons why some immigrants choose to hold on to their green card, what are the reasons that you might actually want to apply for U.S. citizenship? Let's start with the passport again. The U.S. passport is one of the most powerful passports in the world, allowing visa-free travel to approximately 187 countries. If the passport of your own country is relatively weak, having a U.S. passport would open up many more opportunities for travel to you and to your family.
Speaking of travel, a U.S. citizen also has the luxury of living abroad and traveling abroad and staying out of the U.S. for as long as they want. If you only have a green card, you are restricted to being inside the United States for at least 180 days per year, or else you may have a challenge to your residency for abandonment.
While it is true that you can apply for a reentry permit to allow you to be outside of the U.S. for up to two years at a time without reentering, doing this also breaks the continuity of your residency, which is necessary for applying for citizenship. Breaking the continuity of your residency will start the clock all over again when it comes to filing your N-400.
It's also comforting to be a U.S. citizen abroad rather than just a green card holder, because as a U.S. citizen, you will have access to the U.S. Embassy and additional services provided to citizens of the U.S. who are in that country at that time. The U.S. embassy and consulate may be at your disposal if you ever have an emergency while you're overseas. They will help you replace your passport, print out your passport and help you get travel documents if you ever become stuck abroad. And they may even help get out of jail if you ever get arrested overseas.
Green card holders, on the other hand, do not receive all of these benefits and they're not able to get their green card replaced by the embassy should they lose it while traveling abroad. Instead, green card holders have to go through additional steps and expenses to get things such as a transportation letters that they can return to the U.S..
While we are on the topic of travel, U.S. citizens also have a much easier time with reentry to the U.S. than green card holders. U.S. citizens can use automated passport kiosks, and face less intense inspection than a green card holder who is a mere resident of the United States without the same legal rights. Moreover, if you are only a green card holder who is traveling back to the U.S. after any trip abroad, please remember that Customs and Border Patrol agents can ask you many questions that may be used against you to challenge your residency.
For example, if you have been overseas for more than 180 days at a time, did you know that U.S. Border Patrol is actually allowed to reassess whether you are actually admissible to the United States? This is not something that you would ever have to face as a U.S. citizen.
Another reason why an immigrant would decide to become a citizen rather than stay a green card holder is to avoid the risk and the fear of deportation. Once your status is confirmed as a U.S. citizen, no one can take it away. In fact the U.S. government would have to actually go through a very intense process called “de-naturalization” in court in order to take away your citizenship from you.
If you get arrested, you might still have to pay a fine and go to jail, but you would not risk deportation as a result of any criminal activity as a U.S. citizen. However, if you're a green card holder, some crimes can actually put you at risk of losing your green card status and can cause you to be placed in deportation and removal proceedings. There's a saying that green card holders are “only one car crash away from getting deported”, because depending on the circumstance of the crash, including whether you were drinking and driving, it could result in you being thrown out of the country.
I made a video about some of the criminal offenses that could get a green card holder in trouble, and I'll include a link to that video here.
Next, another reason why an immigrant would decide to pursue citizenship when they're a green card holder is because becoming a citizen allows them to sponsor even more family members. As a U.S. citizen, not only can you petition for your spouse and for your parent, but you can also petition for your children under 21, over 21, and for your brothers and sisters. Your spouse and your parents and your child under 21 would be considered immediate relatives and would not have to wait for any visa numbers to become available.
However, your married children, children over 21 and your brothers and sisters would be considered a preference category relative and would face certain wait times. You would still have the ability to even petition for them, which you may not have as a green card holder.
Sometimes becoming a U.S. citizen can also help your children under the age of 18 automatically become a U.S. citizen themselves without them having to go through the process. However, if you're a green card holder, no matter how old your child is when you get a green card you would still have to make sure that they go through their own process in order to become a resident and also for them to secure their status as citizens.
Keep in mind, if you're a green card holder, if you have any children that are over the age of 21, then you couldn't just petition for them. They would be considered preference category relatives and they would have to wait for their category to become current before they could get their residency. And this could take years.
Coming up, I'm about to cover some of the most important benefits to becoming a U.S. citizen. But before we move on, I wanted to let you know that we are accepting new clients. My name is Moumita Rahman and I have been practicing immigration law for the past 13 years. If you would like my help on your case, call us at 212-248-7907 to schedule a case evaluation. I'm based in New York, but I work with clients all over the United States.
Okay, this is a big one. Studies have shown that U.S. citizens actually have many more economic opportunities than green card holders. Naturalized citizens not only tend to have higher employment rates, but on average earn 50 to 70% more than non-citizens do. You're also more likely to own a home if you're a U.S. citizen. Once you've made that money and invested in real estate, you can even leave it to your spouse tax free. Perhaps one of the most important and exciting benefits to becoming a U.S. citizen is that you'll be totally done with dealing with USCIS.
One you naturalize, you don't really have to worry about USCIS, DHS, ICE, CBP or any of these other acronyms that ten to strike fear into the heart of immigrants everywhere. It also means you can stop spending money every ten years to renew your green card and you no longer have to notify USCIS every time you have to move. You can do all the things that we typically think about when we think of citizenship including: voting, running for political office, serving on a jury, working for the U.S. government and getting access to other federal benefits, grants and scholarships that may not be available to you when you are a resident.
Despite all these benefits, many immigrants simply want to become a U.S. citizen because they consider America to be their home and they want to fully integrate into the American way of life. Naturalization is also a way to express identity and loyalty to the U.S. and to show pride and love for their chosen country. It's the final step at the end of a long journey that they've spent years dreaming about, giving them a sense of accomplishment and peace and belonging that being a simple green card holder may not.
What are your reasons for deciding to stay a green card holder or to apply for U.S. citizenship? Leave me a comment because I'd love to hear. Let me know what you think is the better choice.
Whichever option you decide, there are still 16 things that you must know as a green card holder. So watch this video next. As I explained, the top 16 things that every green card holder must know in order to protect themselves as a residents of the U.S., including knowing about the different crimes that may cause them to lose their green card. I've included a link to that video above. I'll see you there.