Archives for June 2014

Naturalization & Citizenship: The “Next Step” after the Green Card

Many people think “getting a green card” and “becoming a citizen” are the same thing. Others use the terms “immigration” and “naturalization” interchangeably. But these words and phrases actually have very different meanings, and each legal status carries with it a different set of rights. Getting a Green Card is not the finish line—only U.S. Citizens can vote, run for public office, apply for federal government jobs, serve in a jury, or get a U.S. passport. Generally, if a person was born abroad and now legally lives in the United States, his/her legal status is probably one of the following:

  1. Non-immigrant.
    A non-immigrant alien is a non-U.S. citizen who comes to the U.S. temporarily for a specific purpose. Examples of non-immigrant visas include tourists, students (even those who spend many years in the U.S.), and temporary workers. Most non-immigrants are not eligible to work, though. This legal status does not, by itself, provide a path to U.S. citizenship or even a Green Card.
  2. Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).
    This is the “Green Card” status. As mentioned earlier in our blog, you can usually permanently immigrate only through family, employment, or the Diversity Visa lottery (there are other narrower categories). LPRs are eligible for a Social Security Number and allowed to work (and pay taxes!), but they are not U.S. citizens. That means they cannot vote, run for office, serve in a jury, or get a U.S. passport… yet.
  3. Naturalized Citizen.
    After a few years as an LPR immigrant (usually three to five), a person may apply to become a U.S. citizen through a process called Naturalization. Under certain narrow circumstances, a non-immigrant can jump straight into the Naturalization stage (e.g. if they served in the U.S. Armed Forces).

The Naturalization process includes a Civics test and an English proficiency test (which can sometimes be waived), as well as filling out a lengthy form full of questions ranging from confusing to just plain bizarre (e.g. “Have you ever been a habitual drunkard?”). Thus, while applying for Naturalization is arguably not as difficult as obtaining legal immigration status in the first place, seeking help from an attorney is highly recommended.

It is important to note that the categories listed above don’t include all persons born abroad currently living in the U.S., such as persons who entered the country illegally and are undocumented; those who came to the U.S. legally with a visa, but have since overstayed and are now here illegally; or people who entered the U.S. as undocumented minors and have since been granted deferred status. The list could go on; the permutations are many. The U.S. truly is a “melting pot”—not only of cultures and nationalities, but also of legal statuses.

Getting a Green Card: The Diversity Lottery!

As indicated in our previous blog posts, the ability to immigrate to the U.S. is often based on the proverbial “luck of the draw.” Immigration to the U.S. is easier when you have a familial relationship with a U.S. citizen, or happen to be a seven-foot-tall human being born to play in the NBA.

There is one path to a Green Card, however, that is based on a literal luck of the draw: the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. Every year, 55,000 diversity visas (DVs) are drawn from random selection among all entries, and given to applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. Some countries are ineligible altogether (e.g. Great Britain).

Eligible applicants from eligible countries must have either a high school education (or equivalent) or two years of work experience, within the past five years, in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience.

The odds of winning are difficult to calculate. In 2012, the DV visa lottery featured nearly 15,000,000 applicants (plus almost 5,000,000 spouses and children). But the DV visas are allocated on a country-by-country basis, meaning that the total number of visas available is different for natives of Country A versus Country B. Also, the total number of applicants varies wildly from country to country. As a result, an applicant from the island-nation of Tonga could have as much as a 15% chance of winning, whereas a native of Nigeria may have odds of less than 0.5%.

The application is FREE. Although applying for the visa lottery is relatively simple, the Department of State has issued an alert regarding scam websites and mailings. If you have questions about Diversity Visa Lottery Program, we at Rosi & Gardner would be happy to help you avoid these scams.

Once you are selected in the lottery, you must then file an application for permanent residence (Green Card). At that point, it is highly recommended you consult with an immigration attorney to prepare your application.