The Business of Citizenship

Becoming a legal U.S. citizen is not an easy process, nor should it be. You are, after all, declaring your desire to become a citizen of a country where anything is possible, the fulfillment of dreams is only limited by your imagination and willingness to work, and the land of the free, home of the brave has long welcomed immigrants who arrive on our shores with the intention of improving their life, the lives of their family as well as becoming productive members of our society.

But what's interesting is that immigration, and all the arduous steps in achieving citizenship also happens to be big business for the various agencies involved before, during and after your become a citizen. Some are government run, some private, but all are tasked with helping you complete the process of becoming a U.S. citizen and acclimating to life in the United States, while they turn a hefty profit at the same time. It's called capitalism and is part of what makes this country great. However, not all capitalists are created equal. Let's examine the business of citizenship.

Obtain a Green Card

First, you'll need to obtain a green card, which means that you're intention is to become a permanent resident. The two main ways to get a green card are through an immediate family member who is a US citizen or green card holder. The second is through a job that's offering permanent employment within the United States. According to ABCNEWS.com, "Some 140,000 professionals, more than half working in the technology sector, are granted permanent residency out of the nearly 900,000 immigrants America welcomes each year. And it is this group that tends to go through an increasingly costly, risky and tedious process."

In order to obtain a green card, you must work in the United States for five years prior to applying for citizenship. Most immigration lawyers charge anywhere between $5,000 to over $15,000 to assist with the process. With that in mind, trying to quantify the emotional cost of obtaining citizenship through the legal pathway is impossible. Considering the actual fees to apply for and file documentation for a green card is less than $1,000, immigration lawyers are certainly optimizing the opportunity to profit from the process.

Apply for Naturalization

Once you've been a green card holder for at least five years, you’ll need to meet the following requirements in order to apply for naturalization:

  • You must be 18 years or older at the time of filing.
  • You must have had a green card for at least five years immediately preceding the date of filing your application.
  • You must have lived in the same place for at least three months prior to filing your application. According to USAToday.com,"Rent for green card holders as opposed to U.S. citizens is as much as 48% higher in some cities." You must be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years immediately preceding the date of filing your application.
  • You must continue to reside within the United States from the date of application, up until the time of naturalization.
  • You must be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge of the US government and history.
  • You must be a person of good moral character, as depicted under the principles of the Constitution of the United States.

Take An Oath

After you do receive your naturalization papers and have taken the oath of citizenship, your financial burdens are far from subsiding. In fact, you now will face the ever-present problem that all Americans face: building and maintaining a high FICO score. Because you will likely have little to no credit history, your FICO score will be dismally low. Bad news for you, EXCELLENT news for banks and other agencies who use your credit rating to justify charging higher rates should you choose to buy a car, a home, apply for a credit card (even a secured credit card is based on your credit history) obtaining student loans and even applying for some jobs. The dreaded credit check, that little number that pops up, will determine your interest rate and monthly payments. Living in the land of the free doesn't mean that it's free to live here! In fact, depending on the state you decide to reside in, the cost of living, taxes, utility bills, gas and food prices, all radically differ. As an American, you are free to choose where you want to settle down, secure employment, and find housing that fits within your budget.

Bottom Line: The process of assisting immigrants in becoming legal citizens of the United States of America is big business, but when you weigh the cost versus the value of living in the U.S., becoming a citizen is priceless.