Regardless of whether or not you agree with the Trump administration’s stance on immigration, it is undeniable that actions taken and promises made to-date have created a great amount of concern and uncertainty for both undocumented immigrants and legal permanent residents. This concern was amplified by the fact that, in the wake of the President’s executive action restricting immigration and travel from seven Middle Eastern countries, U.S. legal permanent residents were denied entry into the United States solely based on their underlying nationality and country of origin.
Since the immigration executive order was announced, I have received numerous calls from legal permanent residents asking whether it was safe to leave the country, and if they would be allowed back in to the country if they did travel abroad. I have also spoken to many permanent residents who are fearful that they will be deported, even if they have done nothing wrong to make them deportable. As President Trump has promised a new executive order and policy changes regarding immigration in the near future, I have been reluctant to give reassuring answers.
Whether these fears are well-founded or not is yet to be seen, but many legal permanent residents can take an easy step to allay these fears: apply for naturalization. Obtaining U.S. citizenship confers much greater and more certain rights than those conferred by legal permanent resident status. U.S. citizens do not have to fear being allowed back into the country after departure, nor do they have to fear deportation for any reason. There is also no limitation for U.S. citizens for the time they are allowed to be outside of the country. Many permanent residents don’t even realize that they qualify for citizenship, or know how relatively easy citizenship is to obtain. To qualify for citizenship, you must only meet the following requirements:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Be a permanent resident for at least five (5) years, or only three (3) years if you obtained permanent residency through marriage to a U.S. citizen
- Show you have lived at least three (3) months in your current state
- Demonstrate continuous residence in the United States for the immediately preceding five (5) years
- Show that you have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the immediately preceding five (5) years
- Have good moral character
Applicants for naturalization will also have to pass a basic English test and a U.S. civics test at their naturalization interview. The process is also relatively quick, and the processing time for the application is currently around 5 to 6 months.
There are many reasons permanent residents delay or decide not to apply for naturalization. Some decide not to do so out of pride for their home country; others merely procrastinate or don’t see an immediate need to do so. However, there is perhaps no better time to apply for naturalization than right now in order to eliminate the fear and uncertainty caused by the new administration’s policies and positions regarding immigration.
For additional information regarding this or any related area of law, please call (812) 423-3183.