Say I wanted to become a US citizen, how does it work? (Personal anecdotes encouraged too)

This may turn out to be more of an MPIMS thread, and I welcome any personal anecdotes in any case.

First off, I’ve never been in the United States of America, but the more I think about it, the more I like the ideas that seem to be “universal” in the states. Especially the 1st amendment seems like a great right that is hard to come by anywhere else even in fairly liberal countries such as the Netherlands - where I’m living right now. (I’m in two minds about the 2nd amendment - I used to think it was just a stupid idea, but I like that at least there is a debate about it and states can decide for themselves what the details are, more or less).

Anyway, how does one become a US citizen? And if you personally moved to the US and became a citizen, how did you experience the “transition” - I get the feeling it’s something that’s generally applauded or to be proud of. Is that how you feel about it?


Craig Ferguson, a late night TV host, became an American citizen and came out on stage one night saying, “well, there’s one more American in the world today”. Got thunderous applause, so, yeah.

Basically, you have to live legally in the US for five years. After that time, if you have no criminal convictions, you can take a citizenship and a literacy test. If you pass both, you can be sworn in as a citizen.

The procedures and timelines vary widely based on your country of current citizenship and sometimes country of origin. What country are you a citizen of? Where were you born?

It also varies widely based on your ability to be a positive contributor to the United States. What work do you do? What work do you intend on doing in the United States?

It also depends on your family or personal relationships with United States citizens. Do you have immediate family in the US? Is your significant other a US citizen whom you intend to marry?

Based on these answers, you can get a more realistic path and timeline for your specific case.

This is general advice, not legal advice. Please hire an immigration lawyer for answers specific to your exact situation.

I’m a native born citizen of the Netherlands, I’m a freelance programmer/IT wizard with no US-living family that I know of. I intend to marry (ETA: or just live forever together with) someone I love, but I’m not planning to do that with anyone specific at the moment :slight_smile:

Sure. I’m just trying to get a general overview of the matter.

I’m in a position where I could apply for US citizenship, and I would almost certainly be granted it. I’m from Australia. About 11 years ago, I applied for a job in the US – one where I knew all the people involved because of previous professional association – and got the job. My employer sponsored me for a temporary employment visa, which took about 8 months to come through. After I moved to the US, I entered the Diversity Lottery (aka the Green Card Lottery) and my name came up. So, about 8 years ago I got permanent residence (the Green Card). Since I’ve resided in the US for more than 5 years, I can apply for US citizenship.

That’s one route – probably unique in all its details – involving professional employment and the Green Card Lottery.

I understand the literacy test, but what does the citizenship test entail?

This. :smiley:

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Catch 22? :smiley:

It’s an incredibly simple quiz about US civics (what are the three branches of gov’t?) and there’s a free study booklet the USCIS provides.

Your problem is that an immigrant visa will be very hard for you to come by in the first place. Your 2 major categories of immigrant visas to the U.S. are based on family ties, or your work (not all work visas are immigrant visas, so be careful) plus things like political asylum. If you don;t have American family, a job willing to sponsor you, or a well-founded fear of persecution in your home country, you’re basically down to the Diversity Lottery, which grants 50,000 immigrant visas yearly, and, as the name suggests, awards visas on a lottery basis. Last year close to 100,000 people entered the lottery; not terrible odds really, but you could come up “tails” for years.

All about immigration and naturalization:

Step 1: Get permanent residence
Step 2: Live in this country as a permanent resident for 5 years (3 if by marriage)
Step 3: Apply for Naturalization
Step 4: Attend a naturalization interview, pass the civics test, take oath.

Step 1 is by far the hardest. In fact, excepting cases where you are statutorially prevented from naturalizing (because of criminal acts, etc.) Naturalization is effectively a pro forma action - there’s little discretion (contrast to Giles’ statements which make it seem that there is some degree of discretion here; unless you’ve pissed off a Senator recently, this is unlikely)

Permanent Residency:

Effectively 3 routes (assylum and refugee is a 4th but that’s not applicable here)

Family-Based: you have no US relatives, so no go

Employment-Based: There is no self-sponsorship in the US as there is in Canada, Australia, NZ, etc. Which means you need to have a job offer from a US company. And the US company has to be willing to play ball with you - you have to be a valuable enough employee that they would care to go through the expense and effort.

The gist of this is that they either get you into the country on an H1-B (professionals with technical skills), visa or an L-1 visa (int’l executives and managers of multinational companies), and then transfer you over, or they petition for your green card from the get-go.

Basically, this is a 3-step process that the employer does

  1. certify to the department of labor that there are no US citizens who are able to perform the work (this is very fudge-able, so it’s not as grave as it sounds)

  2. petition for an immigrant visa for you. this is broken down into 5 groups of priority, based on how “important” you are - famous scientists and CEOs at the top, peons with bachelor’s degrees at the bottom.

these immigrant visas are limited in number per year. if there are too many petitions for the given class, they form a backlog. currently, the backlog for “EB3 Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers” (which is the bachelor’s degree guy) is 7-8 years. also, depending on which country you’re coming from, there are specific country quotas which may lengthen this lineup.

  1. either apply for adjustment of status (if your employer brought you here on a nonimmigrant visa (H1-B, L-1) or go to the consulate in your country and get your immigrant visa when your visa petition has been approved.

Lottery-Based: every year you can apply for a lottery based on your nationality (this is different from your current citizenship). if your country doesn’t send too many immigrants to the US each year (Holland does not) you can apply for the lottery. You submit a form or something similar (not sure on the specific details), a picture, no fee (unless that changed recently) and cross your fingers. If you are selected, you can immigrate to the US as a permanent resident.

it’s actually closer to 14 million. (2008)

the diversity lottery is apportioned by region, and for the European region it was 1.2 million and they picked 26,000 from that region.

It’s not so simple.
My folks volunteer helping non-english speakers pass their immigration test. Although all the questions are straightforward, I’d bet real money that most US citizens would flunk the test if they didn’t study for it. I know I probably would.

Seems you’re contradicting yourself WRT step 1. Is it a pro forma action or not?

So could I practically set up a company in the US and move there as a significant employee?

Becoming a permanent resident is the hard part. Becoming a citizen after you’re a permanent resident (naturalization) is much easier.


I have also prepared people to naturalize. If you read English and prepare with the dumb little booklet, it is extremely basic stuff. They throw the odd, slightly esoteric curveball (How many voting members are there in the House of Representatives?) but you only have to get 60% and most of the questions are EASY for someone with even a pop culture knowledge of US civic life. Not only that, but they provide, free of charge, the fact booklet, a study tape on MP3, and printable flash cards.

The exact questions they ask on the test and their exactly worded answers are provided for every question they ask, here. You really think a college educated Doper can’t manage that in an afternoon? C’mon son.

Test yourself here:

read again. the act of naturalizing is pro forma. becoming an immigrant is not.

Yes. I omitted from my precis EB-5 (employment based visa category 5). If you invest 1 million and create at least 10 jobs (this is reduced if you’re investing in a blighted area) that will qualify you for the employment-based visa.

edit: but no, you can’t fill out an application for a Delaware corporation and then attempt to immigrate yourself into the country to oversee your shell corporation.

You know I swear I got that from an official USCIS webpage, but now I can’t find it, and even as I wrote it I knew it must be wrong, so I shouldn’t have written it.

So roughly, if I wanted to go to the states on my own, I’d have to show an investment of about a million dollars?

not an investment like in a e*trade account

you have to have an investment in a commerical enterprise, and it has to meet other requirements for the level of activity you have in the enterprise and whether it’s going to be employing the appropriate number of citizen-employees

here’s the requirement:

established a new commercial enterprise
in which you will engage in a managerial or policy making capacity
in which you have invested the relevant amount of money
which will benefit the US economy
and which will create full-time employment in the US for at least 10 citizens/permanent residents/etc.