I recently attended a local ‘Immigration Simulation’ event where everyone was given a ‘character’ with a back story as to why they are trying to get into America. They then had to live out the frustrations of the USA immigration process, and believe me it was just as frustrating as my experience. We were told that the process can take 16 YEARS to go through the whole process and become a citizen.
The quickest is 5 years, this is the track that I’m on (or 3 if you’ve been married to an American for 2 years…such as if you were living in another country together). So how comes I’m actually living in the USA if I haven’t finished the process? I’m only 2 years in and considered a Lawful Permanent Resident, but what does this mean? I’ll tell you.
It’s a strange situation being a Lawful Permanent Resident. It feels a little like being in a limbo land. The UK know I have left the country and live overseas, but the USA doesn’t fully accept me as a citizen and there are restrictions to me living here.
This makes things tricky. Because I’m in ‘Limbo’, when it comes to the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, I don’t want to say it. I don’t feel I HAVE to say it, the American government still view me as British and I hope those around me realise that. Just because I live here they may not know that there are conditions to my Permanent Residency.
I don’t necessarily ever have to go through citizenship and become a citizen, I could stay as a Permanent Resident forever but it does mean that I’ll have to keep on top of my paperwork and never let it expire. Next year, on my 2nd anniversary of entering the USA, I have to pay (a lot) to remove the conditions on my Green Card which then makes it valid for a further 8 years (10 years in total). I basically have to prove that I’m still married to and living with the person that applied for my CR1 Spousal Visa.
After that first removal and the 10th year, it essentially works the same as a passport. I have to pay (a lot) every 10 years to keep the card up to date. With citizenship, once you have it, there is no renewal fee but it does cost an awful lot to go through that process and it means revising for a test that apparently the majority of American born people would fail. Fun fun fun!
So what are the benefits of Citizenship compared to being a Permanent Resident.
Being able to leave (and come back)
Sounds ironic hey. Trying to become a Citizen, just to be able to leave? Land of the free. Not for me. As a Permanent Resident, if I am out of the country for more than 365 days in a row, they can take away my rights to live here. Once you are a Citizen you then have a right to live here that can’t be taken away.
It makes me sad knowing that if ever I wanted to take a gap year/sabbatical/career break and spend a year overseas, I can’t do it. Americans can, Brits living in the UK can, but a Brit living overseas? Nope. The traveller has travel restrictions and just knowing I’m trapped feels horrible.
In my eyes, I’m also thinking about the future, what if something happens and I want to go home for an extended amount of time? I want to stay British but I also want to be able to leave. As it stands at the moment, getting Citizenship would mean that I could have dual nationality. The USA would only see me as American but the UK would still let me have the right to hold my British passport. If I had to give up being British, I wouldn’t do it. Some countries DO make you give up your former passport and renounce all other citizenships.
I could vote
Again, I live here, potentially forever, yet as a Permanent Resident I have no say at all when it comes to choosing the people that have the power to affect my day to day life. Believe it or not, I can still vote in the UK and can do up to 15 years of living overseas.
I’d have more Rights
Americans stand fiercely by their ‘Rights’. As a Lawful Permanent Resident, I don’t have the same rights. The biggest one that could possibly affect me is that I can’t sponsor any of my family members to join me in the States. It’s often thought that if an immigrant comes to a country they’ll then bring over all their family members. Lets put this into perspective. I’m still in my 20’s. If I want to bring my Sister here, I’d be lucky if she got here before I reached my mid 40’s. I’d have to wait until I was able to complete citizenship and then the wait list for a Sibling visa is over 13 YEARS. Parents are faster but again you’d need to be a citizen to be able to start the process.
I can’t apply for Federal Government jobs as a Permanent Resident, for example jobs at the Department of Homeland Security. I also can’t be elected in Federal or State elections and not that I would want to be, but I would NEVER have the right to be President, even if I became a citizen.
Are you surprised by how tough and long the process is?