In my profession, I get asked this question a lot. SMA assists many people to get permanent residence in the U.S., either through company sponsorship, self-sponsorship (extraordinary ability) or through family petitions or asylum applications, and the last step is to apply to become U.S. citizens, but not all people take that step, which begs the question “Why not?”

In order to answer that we need to identify when people can become U.S. citizens and then we can tackle the question about the consequences for their pre-existing citizenship(s).

To transition from a green card to U.S. citizenship requires the foreign national to apply to be naturalized. Depending on where the person lives geographically, this process can take from several months to well over one year. If a spouse of a U.S. citizen has been a resident for three years and still resides with their spouse, they can qualify. Other direct relatives can qualify after five years of legal residence. Employment-sponsored and self-sponsored foreign nationals can qualify after five years as permanent residents. Asylees can apply to be naturalized after five years as permanent residents, a status they are awarded approximately one year after their asylum petitions are approved.

The world has changed immeasurably since immigrants poured into Ellis Island and other ports of entry back at the end of the 1800s and first decades of the 1900s. Back then, immigrants never looked back and becoming a U.S. citizen was the ultimate goal, without any concern for its effects on their other nationalities. Now, many people worry about tax implications, physical presence, and exit taxes or permanent taxability if they take on another citizenship. Many prefer to come, make money, work, study and then go home. U.S. immigration law does place any restrictions for citizenship based solely on the nationality of the applicant, but the foreign nations where the applicants were born or have dual passports from, may nullify their citizenship if they become U.S. citizens, and so for that reason people choose not to apply for US citizenship.

With regards to eligibility for U.S. citizenship, in the end, it seems that those who have don’t want and those who don’t have want. As a person who went through a nine-year legal process to become a U.S. citizen, I know that all the things I have achieved would not have been possible if I had not become a citizen. I cherish this opportunity to dream and strive every day to achieve those dreams. Those born in the U.S. may not ever be able to understand that perspective. You are born free and have only yourself to limit your opportunities or not chase after them. SMA’s clients appreciate the ethos of the American dream and we help a lot of them become U.S. citizens, guiding them on unique paths to get to their destination: American citizenship.

So back to the question: “Why become a U.S. citizen?” The answer differs for each person, and there is no hesitation in answering it when an immigrant still believes in the American dream. The good news is that for the many who ask that question with doubts, there are many more who have answers, and that is why this country continues to weave the immigrant’s American dream into its DNA.