The process How long does it take to become a US Citizen varies considerably according to how long you’ve spent in the US and under what circumstances, your country of origin, and whether members of your family are citizens or you’ve married a citizen. Because of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
However, if you happen to be born to one or more parents who are US citizens, regardless of whether you’re abroad or not, your path will be decidedly easier than someone applying as an adult with absolutely no ties to the country.
Through Employment and Residency
One common route to becoming a citizen starts with seeking employment in the US. Applying for a work visa abroad is often a lottery system due to high demand, but once in the country that person becomes a lawful permanent resident and is issued permanent resident card, known as a “green card”.
The minimum time required as a lawful permanent resident is five years before applying for naturalization in the US. However, the application process can take months and possibly years once started. All those seeking citizenship should apply for naturalization using U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) Form N-400. As with any passport application or any paperwork from the US government, any mistake can mean significant delays.
Once this application is accepted, the applicant will be invited to take the US citizenship test and an interview, the results of which could be determined in days or months. After that, if everything is in order, he or she can take the Oath of Allegiance at a designated ceremony and officially become a US citizen.
Added together – applying for a work visa, being a lawful permanent resident for five years, and applying for naturalization – the path to becoming a US citizen could take several years.
Is there a way to shorten the process?
Absolutely. If, as your time as a lawful permanent resident, you marry a US citizen or work in a government job (e.g. with the military), the wait time to applying for naturalization could be reduced to three years. If you already have members of your family who are citizens, they may be listed in your application and contacted for references; this can significantly reduce the wait applying for naturalization.
Under less fortunate circumstances, residents of foreign countries requesting asylum in the US can become permanent residents in one year and apply for citizenship in four or five. However these statutes, even for stable permanent residents, are subject to the current political climate and may extend or reduce the wait time accordingly – the application process may not change, but scheduling interviews and conducting background checks could be pushed to the maximum allowable time or shortened significantly.
What are the differences between a US citizen and a lawful permanent resident?
Traveling outside the US as a lawful permanent resident is completely different than doing so as a citizen. While LPRs can legally leave and reenter the US multiple times, it’s generally a good idea to do so with a reentry permit so as to not risk losing their residency. LPRs pay taxes whether they’re in the US or abroad, but do not qualify to apply for a US passport. US citizens can vote in local, state, and federal elections, while LPRs cannot.
However, the most important difference lies in what will happen when things go wrong during your residency in the US. Have you committed a crime, failed to inform the government of any change in address or employment, or received anything on welfare? Any one of these could not only be used as cause for deportation, but can result in reentry being refused.
While becoming a US citizen is a long and convoluted process, the benefits are clearly worth it for any traveler interested in holding a powerful passport. The United States also has no laws in place to require a citizen of a foreign country to renounce theirs when taking the Oath of Allegiance for naturalization, meaning dual citizens are relatively common. Being a citizen of both Malaysia and the US is the most powerful combination the world has to offer