U.S. Citizenship For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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The decision to become a U.S. citizen is one of the most important choices you can ever make. Before you can become a U.S. citizen, however, you first must be a lawful permanent resident of the United States. A lawful permanent resident is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege of permanently living and working in the United States.

Are you eligible to become a U.S. citizen?

To apply for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age at the time you file the application
  • Have been a lawful permanent resident for the past three (based on marriage to a U.S. citizen) or five (based on lawful permanent residence) years
  • Have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic English
  • Have good moral character
  • Have basic knowledge of U.S. history and civics
  • Follow the U.S. Constitution and laws
  • Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance

Using family connections as a path to U.S. immigration

In order to use family connections to immigrate to the United States, you must have a close relative already living here who is willing to sponsor you. So how close is close? If your relative is at least 21 years old and a U.S. citizen, born or naturalized, they may sponsor you if you are their

  • Husband or wife
  • Unmarried child under age 21
  • Unmarried son or daughter over age 21
  • Married son or daughter
  • Brother or sister
  • Parent

Citizens may not sponsor their grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, or anyone else.

Legal permanent residents, or green-card holders — those legally living and working in the United States who have not become naturalized citizens — may only sponsor their

  • Husband or wife
  • Unmarried children of any age

Legal permanent residents (green-card holders) may not sponsor brothers or sisters, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, or anyone other than their spouse and children.

Immigrating to the U.S. for full-time, permanent employment

If you want to immigrate to the United States based on the fact that you have a full-time, permanent employment opportunity waiting for you here, both you and your prospective employer must meet a list of specific qualifications. The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service grants permanent residence based on employment skills in one of the following categories.

Priority workers (category EB-1)

This refers to people with extraordinary ability in the arts, education, business, science, or athletics, or are considered to be outstanding professors or researchers. Notice the superlatives: extraordinary, outstanding. This category is one of the most difficult ones to qualify for unless you’re a Nobel Prize winner or hold other such prestigious and public accolades in your given field. You may qualify, however, by presenting extensive documentation proving your professional or academic achievements in one of the listed fields as well as evidence of your financial success in your field and your ability to substantially benefit the United States.

Another way to qualify for the priority workers category is if you happen to be a manager or executive of a company that has transferred you to one of its branches in the United States.

Professionals with advanced degrees or persons with exceptional ability (category EB-2)

These are members of their professions holding advanced degrees, or their U.S. equivalent, or people with exceptional ability in business, sciences, or the arts who will benefit the interests or welfare of the United States. In order to qualify for this category, be prepared to show how becoming a legal permanent resident will be good for the economy or culture of the United States, or how you can help meet the academic needs of the country.

You may also qualify for this category if you’re a qualified physician and you agree to practice medicine in an area of the United States that is medically underserved.

Skilled or professional workers or other workers (category EB-3)

There are less stringent qualification requirements for these people than those who qualify under the EB-1 and EB-2 classifications, but this category sometimes has a much longer backlog of people waiting for visas, especially in the other workers category. You can qualify for a classification EB-3 employment visa in three ways:

  • As a skilled worker: If you can fill an open position that requires at least two years of experience or training, you can qualify as a Skilled Worker. The Department of Labor determines which jobs are considered skilled, as opposed to unskilled, labor.
  • As a professional: Professionals must hold a U.S. baccalaureate degree or the foreign equivalent degree normally required for the profession. Education and experience may not be substituted for the actual degree.
  • As an other worker: Those who fall into the category of Other Workers have the skills to fill jobs that require less than two years of higher education, training, or experience. This category receives the most petitions, so if you fall in this group, you may have to wait many years before being granted a visa.

Special immigrants (or category EB-4)

People in this category are, primarily, members of religious denominations that have nonprofit religious organizations in the United States. You must be able to prove that you have been a member of this organization and have worked for the organization for at least two years before you applied for admission, and you must be coming to the United States to work as a minister or priest or other religious vocation that helps the organization.

You may also qualify if your work helps the organization in a more professional capacity; however, this means that a U.S. baccalaureate degree, or the foreign equivalent, is required to perform the job.

Immigrant investors (or category EB-5)

If you’re in this category, you must agree to make a “qualified investment” in a new commercial enterprise. All immigrant investors must demonstrate that their investment will benefit the United States economy, as well as create a specified number of full-time jobs for qualified U.S. citizens. This category is often known as the “million-dollar visa” because the minimum investment (which is subject to change) is, you guessed it, a million dollars. You can invest less and still qualify if you invest in a targeted employment area (a rural area or an area of high unemployment).

About This Article

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About the book author:

Jennifer Gagliardi has been teaching English as a second language and U.S. citizenship at Milpitas Adult School, in Milpitas, California, since 2002. In 2007, she launched U.S. Citizenship Podcast (uscitizenpod.com), which distributes citizenship resources and immigration news. She regularly presents workshops on the intersection between citizenship and technology at national, state, and regional adult education conferences. Gagliardi has worked on many citizenship projects, most notably coordinating the Santa Clara County Library District Citizenship outreach project, which partnered with local affiliates of the International Rescue Committee, and the Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network to help naturalize more than 200 new U.S. citizens, as well as register young immigrants for DACA.

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