In general, a Green Card holder becomes eligible for naturalization once he/she, at least 18 years old, has lived in the U.S. for at least five years continuously as a permanent resident. You could learn more about the Naturalization eligibility requirements and process from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) here. This week, I want to share a couple of things you should consider when deciding whether to become a U.S. citizen or not.
First of all, in my opinion, changing nationality is a very serious decision. Here is the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America for those who want to become a U.S. citizen.
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."
If you are like myself who is not comfortable with taking this oath, becoming a U.S. citizen should not be an option for you period.
Secondly, U.S. allows dual citizenship. If your home country does not require you to relinquish your current nationality before or after getting a new one, it generally doesn't hurt to obtain U.S. citizenship due to the rights associated with it mentioned below. One issue with dual citizenships is the potential conflicts between your obligations to both countries. If your home country does not grant dual citizenship and you don't have a preference of which country you want to pledge your allegiance to, you have to consider which nationality is better for you based on your specific situation before you make your decision. Here below are some rights you can get as a U.S. citizen.
1. Right to vote in elections for public officials.
In most cases, only U.S. citizens have the right to vote and run for elected offices.
2. Right to have a U.S. passport
According to the Individual Passport Power Rank 2018 from Passport Index, U.S. passport ranked as the 10th powerful passport in the world based on individual country and visa characteristics. By having a U.S. passport, you can visit 116 countries without a visa and go to another 49 countries by getting a visa upon arrival. You can compare different passports here.
3. Right to apply for employment in certain government agencies
In general, you must be a U.S. citizen to work for the Federal Government. Certain agencies may hire non-citizens under limited circumstances. State rules can be different.
4. Right to sponsor family members to get Green Cards
Both Green Card holders and U.S. citizens can petition for certain family members to become lawful permanent residents. However, based on the "preference immigrant" categories from USCIS, U.S. citizens get some priorities over Green Card holders during the process.
5. Right to obtain certain government benefits
Only U.S. citizens are entitled to some state benefits and college scholarships. However, Green Card holders who meet the naturalization eligibility requirements are generally treated the same as U.S. citizens when applying for most benefits provided by the federal government. You could learn more about Social Security retirement benefits for Non-U.S. citizens from my previous blog post here and Medicare form Non-U.S. citizens here.
Last but not the least, rights always come with responsibilities. Besides things mentioned in the Oath of Allegiance, two specific responsibilities of a U.S. citizen are to serve on a jury when called upon and pay income and other taxes honestly and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities. For certain high-net-worth individuals, under very limited circumstances, becoming a U.S. citizen may have some financial impacts from gift and estate tax and/or even exit tax perspective which I covered in details from my previous blog posts here and here respectively.
In summary, changing nationality is an option based on your personal belief and preference. But you need to take it seriously before deciding because it may impact many aspects of your life. Especially, if dual citizenship is not an option for you, you have to compare the rights and responsibilities each nationality associated with and see which one is more suitable for you based on your specific situation.