The naturalization process is far from easy.
The time, paperwork, fees, and general requirements may seem intimidating to some, leaving many wondering whether it is even worth it to naturalize.
After all, once you have your green card you can stay in the United States and work. Life doesn’t seem so bad, so why bother?
This article will compare the benefits of being a legal permanent resident (i.e. a green card holder) versus becoming a U.S. citizen.
Specifically, we’ll talk about the 7 rights that change when you become a citizen.
Right to Stay in the United States
As a permanent resident, you have a right to stay in the United States indefinitely, provided that you do not engage in any actions which directly lead to deportation.
There are many grounds of deportability for permanent residents. Among the most common are:
- Conviction of certain crimes;
- Committing fraud; and
- Failing to report a change of address
While the risk is quite low, the government can still deport you if you meet any of these requirements.
As a citizen, you have an unqualified right to stay in the United States and you will no longer have to notify USCIS every time you move.
Once you are naturalized as a citizen, you will no longer be subject to the grounds of deportability that you were as a permanent resident.
However, there are still a few extremely limited situations where you can lose your citizenship through denaturalization.
Right to Work in the United States
Permanent residents are authorized to work in the United States. As a green card holder, you can hold almost any job you please.
However, there are many government jobs you will not be eligible for and you would not be able to hold public office in most cases.
Citizens of the United States can have any job they are qualified for.
Citizens, unlike permanent residents, can run for public office and can apply for all sorts of government jobs.
Moral of the story: If you want an unfettered right to employment, then you should consider naturalization.
Right to Travel Abroad
As a permanent resident, you may travel abroad, but you must take care to maintain you residency status.
If your trips are brief, then you should be okay.
However, longer trips, especially those that are upward of a year, may raise questions.
For example, if you stay abroad for too long USCIS may consider your resident status abandoned, and you may lose your green card.
At a bare minimum, you need to maintain your address here in the U.S. and file any and all relevant taxes.
If you plan on a long trip abroad, you should also consider applying for a reentry permit before leaving.
In the event that USCIS considers your residency abandoned, you may have to go through the entire green card process again.
As a U.S. citizen, you are eligible for a U.S. passport and are free to travel abroad as often and for as long as you would like.
You will also generally have no problem reentering the United States upon your return to the country.
Right to Live Abroad
If you are a permanent resident, then you must not live abroad. You must maintain your home in the United States.
If you move abroad, then you risk your residency being considered abandoned.
Further, as we discussed above, this can cause problems with your immigration status.
If you are a citizen of the United States, then you are free to move to another country for as long as you’d like without losing any rights here in the United States.
Right to Obtain Public Assistance and Benefits
As a permanent resident, you will have rights to certain forms of public assistance. However, your eligibility is also greatly limited.
For instance, you will immediately be eligible for emergency Medicaid.
However, you are ineligible for virtually all other Federal aids until you have been a permanent resident for five years.
Your eligibility for public benefits from your state will also vary considerably from state to state.
Unlike permanent residents, U.S. citizens are immediately eligible for all forms of aid on both the federal and state levels, so long as they meet the other requirements.
Right to Petition for Relatives to Enter the United States
As a permanent resident, you may petition for certain relatives to come to the United States. These relatives include your spouse and your unmarried children.
U.S. citizens can petition for even more relatives than a permanent resident can. A U.S. citizen can petition for his or her spouse, children, parents, and siblings.
For more information about family-based green cards, check out our post: Who can apply for a green card?
Additionally, certain family members of U.S. citizens, such as your spouse, children, and parents, are considered “immediate relatives” under immigration law.
This means they do not have to wait for a visa since an unlimited number of visas may be issued to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
Right to Vote
Permanent residents cannot vote in federal elections nor in any state or local elections.
Voting is a cornerstone of American democracy. It is how the people are heard. It is how we govern this nation.
If you want to have your interests represented and the interests of others like you represented, then it is paramount that you are engaged in our government. And there is no stronger way than through the ballot.
As you can probably guess, once you are a naturalized citizen, you can vote in all elections.
Let your voice be heard. Protect your interests and even protect the interests of those who do not have a voice—those immigrants who have not yet reached the point you have, those still waiting in line for their chance at citizenship.
All in all, there are not many differences between the rights of permanent residents and U.S. citizens.
However, even the smallest difference can have a large impact on your quality of life.
The freedom and the power that come with citizenship is easily worth the work it takes to naturalize.
If you want to know more about the benefits and disadvantages of permanent residency and citizenship, consider scheduling a consultation with an experienced immigration attorney.