US citizenship can be acquired by birth or by naturalization. This article, written by Michael Decker, one of the founding partners at Decker, Pex, Levi, will explore the differences between naturalization and acquisition of US citizenship, what are the benefits of naturalization for Green Card holders, the naturalization process and more.
What are the differences between naturalization and acquisition of citizenship?
- Naturalization is the process by which individuals who are not born as US citizens can acquire citizenship through an application process. In the US, the possibility to naturalize is generally open to individuals who are already permanent residents (Green Card holders). It is a voluntary process that requires filing an application, an interview, passing a citizenship test and more (see below). Once naturalized, individuals gain the same rights and responsibilities as those who were born citizens.
- Acquisition of citizenship on the other hand, refers to the automatic granting of US Citizenship to individuals based on specific circumstances: being born in the US or in a US territory or being born to parents who are US citizens.
Can my US citizenship be revoked?
While rare, naturalized US citizens can have their citizenship revoked under certain circumstances. This process, known as denaturalization, typically occurs in cases where fraud, misrepresentation, or other illegal activities are discovered during the naturalization process.
What are the benefits of obtaining US Citizenship if I already have a Green Card?
While both statuses offer certain rights and benefits, US citizenship provides additional privileges that are not available to Green Card holders. Here are some key differences:
- Protection from deportation – Green Card holders face the risk of deportation from the US if they commit certain serious crimes, use drugs or violate immigration laws. Naturalized US citizens, however, are generally protected from deportation and enjoy a greater sense of security and stability in their residency status. This protection may also help you in the competitive US job market, as employers often prefer employing US citizens due to the protection from deportation and their long term commitment to the country.
- The right to sponsor family members for immigration – sponsoring family members when immigrating to new country is a key component in the immigration process. While Green Card holders can file sponsorship petitions only for their spouses and their minor and unmarried children, as a naturalized citizen, you will be able to sponsor additional family members such as parents, siblings and adult children, whether married or not.
- US citizenship for your Children – according to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, children under the age of 18 who are lawful permanent residents and reside in a legal and physical custody of a US citizen parent, automatically become US citizens when their parent naturalize.
- Expanded economic prospects – naturalization opens doors to a wide range of economic opportunities. This is one of the most prominent features of the American Dream, as the citizenship eliminates the need for work visas or sponsorship, allowing individuals to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors, and contribute to a prosperous American economy. Studies have even shown that naturalized citizens tend to have higher incomes compared to permanent residents, enabling them to build wealth, invest, and provide for their families.
- Access to government jobs – the expanded economic opportunities for US citizens are not limited to the private market; while certain government jobs may be open to non-citizens, there are positions that specifically require US citizenship:
- Sensitive positions that demand security clearance – these include positions in the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, law enforcement and Homeland Security. US citizenship is often a prerequisite for obtaining these clearances, as it demonstrates loyalty, trustworthiness, and a commitment to the country’s interests.
- Other governmental jobs – some of these positions are specifically designated for US citizens by law. These positions may involve policy-making, regulatory enforcement or public administration roles that require a deep understanding of US laws, governance, and the legal system.
- Obtaining a US passport – a US passport is one of the most powerful travel documents in the world. It gives you visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to over 180 countries. This means that you can travel more easily and conveniently than ever before. Moreover, if you will ever need consular services or emergency assistance while abroad, you will be able to contact the nearest US embassy or consulate for help and support.
- Social benefits – while permanent residents may qualify for some Social Security benefits, certain programs may have restrictions or limited eligibility for non-citizens. Such benefits include social security, Medicare, Public Assistance Programs and Federal Financial Aid for Education.
- Improved social integration in the US – naturalization fosters a deeper sense of belonging and social integration between you and the American society. Among other things, naturalized citizens can vote in local and national elections, thereby having a say in the democratic process and the policies that affect their lives. Political participation not only benefits the individual citizen but also contributes to the overall strength of democracy. A diverse electorate ensures a more inclusive and representative government, reflecting the interests and concerns of a wide range of citizens. Naturalized citizens bring unique perspectives and experiences to the political arena, enriching public discourse and promoting multiculturalism.
Do I need to give up on my original citizenship if I naturalize in the US?
No, the United States allows dual citizenship, which means you can be a citizen of the US and another country simultaneously. However, it is important to note that some countries may have restrictions or limitations on dual citizenship, so it is advisable to check the laws of both countries involved (Israel allows dual citizenship as well).
Will I need to report my taxes even if I will not live permanently in the US?
Yes, the US has a system of taxation based on citizenship, which means you may have tax obligations even if you reside abroad. US citizens, regardless of where they live, are generally required to report their worldwide income and file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This includes reporting income earned outside the United States.
How do I start the naturalization process to obtain US Citizenship?
Below we will summarize the naturalization process briefly. If you are interested in naturalizing in the US, we recommend reading the following detailed articles we wrote about the topic: US Citizenship Requirements and Certificate of Naturalization.
To start the naturalization process and obtain US citizenship, you generally need to follow these steps:
- Determine eligibility: the basic requirements include being at least 18 years old, being a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) for a specific period of time (usually five years, but shorter periods may apply in certain cases), and residency and physical presence requirements.
- Complete Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization). This form is available on the official website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Follow the instructions carefully and provide accurate information.
- Gather required documents: collect the necessary documents to support your application, such as your Green Card, marriage certificate and other requested evidence.
- Submit the application: submit your completed Form N-400 along with the supporting documents to the USCIS. Pay the required filing fee of $640 (unless you qualify for a fee waiver).
- Biometrics appointment: at this appointment, you will have your fingerprints taken, along with your photograph and signature, for background checks. There is a fee of $85 for this appointment.
- Complete the interview: after the biometrics appointment you will be scheduled for an interview with a USCIS officer. During the interview, you will be asked questions about your application, background, and knowledge of US civics and English language skills. It is important to prepare for the interview by studying the naturalization test materials and reviewing your application.
- Receive a decision: if approved, you will be scheduled for the naturalization ceremony, where you will take the Oath of Allegiance to officially become a US citizen.
Is it necessary to consult with a lawyer in order to obtain US Citizenship?
Although you can understand a lot about the naturalization process by reading through the USCIS website, an experienced US immigration lawyer can provide additional guidance and legal expertise, especially if you have complex circumstances or concerns. A US immigration lawyer can assess your specific circumstances and help determine if you meet the eligibility requirements for naturalization. They can review any potential issues or challenges that may affect your application and provide guidance on how to address them, and even be present at your interview with the USCIS.
Our law firm, which has offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specializes in US immigration laws and has a dedicated immigration team to assist you with your application for naturalization in the United States. We will be happy to be at your service and assist you in everything related to the issue. You are more than welcome to contact us using the phone number or email address listed below.
The article was written in collaboration with attorney Adam Jonsson.