Becoming an American Citizen

hi everyone,

I’m seriously considering this and I have some rough ideas as to what I need to do, but if anyone can help me with links to specific web-pages that deal with entry requirements, greencard/visas, rules and regulations regarding admittance or permanent citizenship, I’d be most grateful.

Since this forum moves pretty quickly, I would ask that you send any links to my e-mail address…

Thanks in advance.



Amazing how useful the Federal goverment can be.

nostromo, the INS Website is definately the place to start. Be forewarned that the INS is notoriously inept, and the process for becoming a citizen can be long and tedious. You may also want to go the the closes US embassy in Australia and ask them.

I started the green card process 4.5 years ago. By the INS’ own estimates, I have about one more year to go.

Don’t hold your breath.

Well, it’s hard to know what to tell you without knowing what your current situation is, immigration-wise. Are you a permanent resident and you’re thinking about applying for naturalization? DO you have any family ties to the U.S. at all? What’s your professional background? I can probably give you some advice, but from what little you’ve posted, I don’t know where to start.

Eva Luna, Immigration Paralegal

Hi Eva,

Permanent resident? *No, not yet *
Naturalisation? Not a problem. I’m originally from UK (Scotland) and became a naturalised Aussie in the late 70’s so becoming a naturalised American is not an issue for me
Family ties to US? No - would be bringing youngest son to spend 6 months of the year with me (my ex and I have a shared custody arrangement)
Professional background? Firefighter 0f 22+ years

Thanks again for responding


From what I can recall, people who can attain permanent citizenship fall into three general categories:

People who have family in the United States.

People who have job skills valuable to the U.S.

People who are refugees.

I think you can, obviously, rule out the last one (unless New Zealand is planning on an invasion). It’s for people displaced by wars and brutal governments. There is a kid in my class who’s Albanian, and I think he came over because of the conflict in the Balkans. Also, my best friends dad was a Cambodian general in the Vietnam war. He came to the U.S. for special training. While he was here, the U.S. withdrew, the communists won, and he couldn’t go back.

Unless you want to marry an American, you’ll have to get a job that the U.S. appreciates. Once you are in the country, you have to wait so many years (I think 5) before you can be naturalized. The whole process is a pain, because, as already mentioned, the INS (immigration and naturalization services) is inept and overburdened. You can expect to spend whole days waiting in the court house where the office is. Then you have to take a 40 question test that ask some about the founding fathers, the flag, the presidents… It might have changed, because I took the test 4 years ago. I failed it (I was in 7th grade though).

My mom has lived in this country for 30 years or so, and she hasn’t bothered to change her British citizenship.

What DemonSpawn said, in a nutshell. You have to be a permanent resident for 5 years before you can apply for citizenship (unless you’re married to a U.S. citizen, in which case it’s 3 years).

The extremely condensed verion (if you have more specific questions, I’ll try to answer them):

Most green cards are based on close family relationships to U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and have annual quotas; most of those categories are seriously backlogged, by several years or more. There are a few green cards for refugeees/asylees, which from your description sounds like a category that won’t apply to you.

Then there is the employment-based category. Most employment-based green cards are for people with university degrees or the equivalent, who are employed in what the U.S. considers to be shortage professions, i.e. there aren’t enough U.S. workers for the job. This area of law (which is what I do) is extremely complex, and changes all the time. It used to be, for instance, that anyone working in the IT field could pretty much find an employer that would sponsor him for a green card, and if you could just wade through the bureaucratic hassles, you’d get it in the end. Over the past year or two, though, that’s been getting more difficult, as there are more U.S. workers available due to the economic downturn. Consequently, employers are less willing to hire foreign workers and/or spend the cash for legal fees and required job advertising for a green card, and the government agencies involved (INS and various state labor departments) are less willing to believe that sponsoring companies are unable to find U.S. workers.

The categories for most non-professional workers (not to insult what you do, but if it doesn’t require a university degree or the equivalent, INS doesn’t usually consider it a professional position) are so backlogged that in practical terms, they’ve been unavailable for years. There are a few wacky categories where the usual proof of an available, otherwise unfillable job with a U.S. employer doesn’t apply, but they are generally for people who do things like win Nobel prizes or are at the very tip-top of their fields (arts, sciences, business, etc.) and have all kinds of nontraditional credentials or awards to prove it.

Sorry to rain on your parade, but it sounds like your best prosepct is either to fall in love with a nice American woman, or you can always try the INS lottery (called the Diversity Lottery; it grants about 50,000 green cards a year, and almost anyone can apply). The odds are long, but I personally know 3 people who have gotten green cards this way (one of whom is now an attorney with my office), so it’s not hopeless.

This is the route I’m taking. It took 3.5 years to get labor certification (IT field). I would also point out that when the employer advertises, they have to treat any applicants seriously. If an American with the same or better qualifications than you applies, your company is supposed to hire them. Of course, one of Eva’s tasks, I suspect, is to craft a job description that fits you and only you.

The entry date for the 2004 lottery has passed. The 2005 lottery will take applications starting some time ion October 2003, probably. At least Aussies can apply - UK citizens cannot.

In spite of what Eva Luna said, would it really be that hard for the OP to find work here as a firefighter? Seems to me there must be some cities or regions here where there is a shortage of labor in that field.

Of course, the OP would have to be willing to live where the work is.

I haven’t been to Australia yet, but it seems like such a cool place. Are you sure you want to leave?

Eligibility for the diversity visa is not based upon one’s citizenship but upon the country in which one was born. Nostromo’s naturalisation as an Aussie unfortunately would not qualify him for the visa - as far as the INS is concerned, he’s a Brit.

Best bet is an immigration lawyer. About $10,000 should cover this sort of thing. You’d have to check.

Hi Eva, I certainly hope you are still around. This board moves very fast. I took a look at this thread last night and it is already on page five. Wow.

I have a question on the subject of marriage. What if the Australian was wanting to marry the love of his life, an American Woman, but did not have citizenship? Would the marriage speed up the process of citizenship and if so, can you tell me how much? What if he did marry an American Woman; is the marriage going to be acknowledged? I suppose he would somehow have to prove his love for the American Woman but once the judge saw them looking into eachother’s eyes…

oops, sorry.

Anyway, can we look at this from the perspective of the American Woman who wants to marry the Australian Firefighter? Do you have any specifics you can give me? I would appreciate it so much.



and again for Eva,

just for the record, the Australian Firefighter would also appreciate it very much.

nostromo (looking into her eyes…)

Well, yeah, there are no annual quotas for green cards based on marriages to a U.S. citizen. In a nutshell, you have to pay some fees, file a whole bunch of paperwork, wait a few months, and cross your fingers in hopes that INS doesn’t lose any of it. And that’s just for the green card part of the process; as I mentioned before, there is a 3-year waiting period from the day the lucky foreigner gets his permanent residency before he’s eligible to naturalize based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. (Naturalization requires filing more paperwork, passing a civics test, an English test, and a criminal background check, and more waiting, among other things.)

The exact docs you need to file, and the processing times, depend on whether the lucky and loving couple is currently in the U.S., or whether they’re overseas, as well as how long they’ve been married, among other things. Post your specific scenario, and I’d be happy to take a crack at it.

Hiya, Eva, sorry for the wait in my reply but I am a very busy woman. I run a restaurant, take care of three kids and a dog and try to keep a twenty-room house. Whew.

I want to thank-you very kindly for helping to answer some questions on this subject. It is very frustrating being in love and not being able to touch each other, let alone not knowing when we can touch next.

The question that I personally want answered the most is this: If we were to get married, could he stay in the country or have to go back to Australia for an indefinite period of time? I would be able to function on a day-to-day basis so much easier if I only knew the answer to this question. I realize the news may not be good but the unknowing is even worse.

Scenario: We met and fell in love; he went home to Australia and I stayed in the US. We are not yet married and are living thousands of miles apart.

Could you please tell me how much longer I might expect to have to be away from him, even after we are married? Can he stay one I give him my hand?

Again, much appreciation,


Can I? Tell me that dreams can come true Eva…


Eva’s taking a break right now. American Woman, get yourself to a nice competent immigration lawyer. If you two are properly affianced, your sweetie can enter the US on a K (fiance) visa. You have to get married fairly soon thereafter–I think it’s 30 or 60 days, but don’t have my rulebook at home–and should also file for his green card PROMPTLY once you are married.

While he could enter the US on a tourist visa, marry you and apply for residency, it is unfortunately true that he could find himself in the limbo known as “out of status” (entered legally but visa has expired) since his tourist visa will VERY LIKELY expire before the INS gets back to you about his permanent residency…and woe betide you if he decides to go home to Australia during that time span. There was a rather notorious case a few years ago (made the front of the Wall Street Journal) about some poor Canadian dude who married his American sweetheart while here on a tourist visa. He and she regularly drove back and forth across the border in the Northwest, even after his visa expired, relying on having filed for his green card. But then, one fateful day, they decided to FLY home from Canada—encountered a real passport inspection—and he found himself “inspected,” “detained,” “repatriated,” and barred from re-entry for ten years.

By the way, this will NOT cost you $10,000. More like a couple of grand, especially if you competently round up and carefully xerox multiple copies of the paperwork the lawyer tells you to supply. Of course, getting his documents translated from Australian may run up the expense. (Just kidding…)

I’m back, had to take care of poor Gozu in the Pit, whose immigration issue is rather more time-sensitive than yours…sorry!

Anyway, basically, what AuntPam said, except that if he enters on a K visa, you have 90 days to get married and file for adjustment of status (aka green card) on his behalf. The catch(es): a) you have to have a K petition approved by INS first (I can look up the processing times, etc. when I’m back at work on Monday); b) he will have to jump through some bureaucratic hoops in Australia to get the K visa once the petition is approved, including, IIRC, a medical exam; and c) although he can file for an Employment Authorization Document once you are married and submit the green card application, it may take 3 months or so to be approved, so there will be a stretch where he won’t be able to work legally. The green card application itself may take 2 years or even more to be approved, depending on your jurisdiction. Also, if one is filing for a green card based on a marriage to a U.S. citizen that is less than 2 years old at the time of filing - the marriage, not the U.S. citizen, obviously - the initial green card is only good for 2 years, and then you have to re-file amore paperwork when those 2 years are about to run out, to show that you’re still married and that the marriage is legit and not for the purpose of evading the immigration laws.

The above assumes you intend to get married in the U.S.; if you want to get married in Australia, the process is somewhat different. Let me know if that’s the case, and I’ll post an alternate scenario.

I really don’t recommend the tourist visa/marriage/green card route; if INS gets the idea in its head that you two had intended to get married all along, they may decide that you two committed fraud, deny the application, and in the worst case, kick him out and not let him back in for a long, long time, if ever.

Caveat: IANAL, I’m just a paralegal. Also, I do primarily employment-based immigration, not family-based, so your scenario is not my typical one.

Good luck! Ain’t long-distance romance grand? (Been there, done that, so I know how much it can suck. Ya think Australia is fun? Try dating a Soviet living in a dorm with no telephone in 1990! I certainly hope yours turns out better than mine did.)

Thank you Pam and Eva,

that’s a little more optimistic than we had both originally thought, I think.

That would be great too Eva. I have much to look at from my end of the world too, so either I (or ‘she who makes my days’) will most likely be back with more questions as we go (if that’s alright?)