Obtaining permanent residency and obtaining citizenship involve distinctly different
processes. As a permanent resident, a foreign national may reside permanently in
the United States and may work for any employer without obtaining permission from
USCIS. A primary distinction between a permanent resident and a citizen is that
the citizen is accorded the privilege of voting in elections. In addition to being
able to vote, naturalized citizens have other rights, including not being subject
to deportation and being able to obtain a U.S. passport.
It should be noted that if a permanent resident is absent from the United States
for an extended period of time (over six months), USCIS may challenge whether the
permanent resident has abandoned his or her intent to permanently reside in the
United States. Therefore, foreign nationals should seek counsel before leaving the
A person who has gained permanent residency through employment is eligible to apply
for citizenship five years after having been granted permanent residency. A person
who is married to a United States citizen is eligible for citizenship three years
after gaining permanent residency; provided, however, that during this three-year
period the permanent resident has been living with and married to the United States
citizen spouse and is still married to the United States citizen spouse at the time
Generally, obtaining naturalization takes about six months. It requires an interview
and also a swearing-in ceremony. The filing is made on a Form N-400 and is filed
with the USCIS office having jurisdiction over the place in which the permanent
resident resides. An applicant must be able to read, write and speak English and
must have a basic knowledge of American government and history.
Please note that it is sometimes possible to have dual citizenship. Dual citizenship,
however, depends upon the countries in issue.