Every year, over three-quarters of a million people apply for U.S. citizenship and ultimately a U.S. passport. These applicants seek some of the major benefits that U.S. citizenship entails. They entail things like: the ability to broadly travel visa-free on a U.S. passport, the right to freely return to the U.S., the right to live, work and earn money in the United States, freedom from deportation or loss of status, the ability to sponsor family members to immigrate to the United States, the ability to freely live abroad without maintaining ties to the USA, the ability to apply for many federal jobs, federal grants, scholarships, and other government benefits, including jobs at federal agencies and benefit from federal college assistance available only to U.S. citizens, the ability to pass down your estate on death employing certain estate tax benefits, the freedom of not having to report to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) about changes of address, the ability to vote in federal elections and run for public office, and the ability to automatically pass down citizenship to your children. Clearly, there are a lot of benefits that come with citizenship.
To be eligible to apply for citizenship the applicant must be a permanent resident of the U.S. and have a green card issued by the government to signify this status. To apply for citizenship in most cases applicants must have had their green card for five years, but in the case of someone who was sponsored as a spouse of a U.S. citizen, the eligibility period is only three years. There are certain other key requirements for becoming a citizen in the process of naturalization, that is to say, in becoming a U.S. citizen.
Applicants must be 18 years old or older, have lived at least half of their time as green card holders in the U.S., and have also been physically present in the state from which they are applying for 90 days before applying, be of good moral character including not having a serious criminal record, be prepared to abide by the constitution of the USA, be willing to bear arms, perform noncombatant service or do work of national importance, pass a citizenship test, generally know English and take an oath of allegiance to the United States.
Processing Times Are Lengthy
At the moment, the U.S. naturalization process takes some time. The following is a rough outline of processing times:
- Step 1: Filing your an Application for Naturalization – processing time is about 14 months (average)
- Step 2: Attending your biometrics appointment: part of the above time
- Step 3: Scheduling your citizenship interview and exam: about 4 months additional (average)
- Step 4: Receiving a decision on your application: can take up to another 4 months additional
- Step 5: Attending your Oath of Allegiance ceremony to receive your Certificate of Naturalization: say about 2 months
Total time to naturalize: 18 to 24 months, although on occasion it can be quicker.
Impediments To Citizenship
Sometimes there is also a catch, such as in cases when the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has to check your immigration history. At the beginning of this year the Wall Street Journal published a story indicating, “More than 350,000 requests for immigration histories were pending with the National Archives and Records Administration as of this month.” Apparently there are about 80 million files stored in a miles-long network of man-made limestone caves beneath the Kansas City metro area in government storage facilities known as Federal Records Centers. Imagine what a bureaucratic nightmare it must be to search through those files to the find information requested by applicants. That takes time.
In addition, delays are also encountered due to the fact that applicants are not usually permitted to inquire about their cases with the citizenship agency until their cases have exceeded normal processing times, which in the Boston area, for example, can routinely reach 15 months, according to government data. Apart from such delays, however, the U.S. government is trying to clear the way for applicants to get their citizenship and passports sooner.
Not Everyone Wants Citizenship
That said, however, not everyone is rushing to get, nor to maintain, their U.S. citizenship. In fact, the number of Americans who renounced their citizenship in favor of a foreign country hit an all-time high in 2020 was 6,707, a 237% increase over 2019. That was the last year we have statistics for renunciation because Covid shut down the process at U.S. consulates until recently. Processing applications to renounce citizenship is a low priority for the U.S. government and thus there are delays.
Why Some Americans Are Renouncing Citizenship
Among the key reasons Americans are renouncing their citizenship are the following.
Once you renounce your US citizenship, you no longer have to pay US taxes. In that regard, however, it is important to have paid all your taxes up to the year in which you are renouncing as tax evasion is not a legitimate reason to renounce. Also, the U.S. government charges a fee of $2,350 to relinquish citizenship, and some applicants may also have to pay an exit tax if they qualify as a covered expatriate.
Unlike virtually all other countries in the world, the U.S. taxes based on citizenship regardless of residence. Once you have renounced, you are no longer subject to complex annual U.S. tax filings and are free from complex U.S. tax rules. Ridding yourself of U.S. citizenship can, in some instances also protect you from future legal changes.
Persons intending to renounce U.S. citizenship should be aware that, unless they already possess a foreign nationality, they may be rendered stateless and, thus, lack the protection of any government. They may also have difficulty travelling as they may not be entitled to a passport from any country. Usually, the U.S. government will not allow a renunciation to proceed if that is likely to be the consequence of approval.
Also, it is important to note that by renouncing, you lose benefits, such as the right to vote, consular protection, and most importantly for many people, the right for your children and grandchildren to live and work in the U.S. in the future.
Also, once you renounce, it’s done. Getting back your citizenship is irrevocable and irreversible. The only exception to getting back U.S. citizenship is if you renounced before age 18.
The process of renunciation must be voluntary and with the intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship. You have to appear in person before a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer, in a foreign country (normally at a U.S. embassy or consulate). You have to sign an oath of renunciation and pay the fee.
In conclusion, the decision as to whether you should apply for U.S. citizenship or renounce depends on your personal circumstances. Such a decision is an important one and merits consulting with a U.S. immigration attorney.