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How Long Does It Take to Immigrate to the US in Real Life?

Becoming a citizen of the United States is truly a dream to live for. Throughout the centuries, millions of people have come to the U.S. in search of a better life, yet, not everybody got to become an American citizen. That is so mainly due to the volume of people going to the States every year to stay there. 

With over 1 million people willing to live in the country taking their first steps towards this path, the waiting lines become longer and longer. That’s because only up to about 500,000 are allowed to immigrate to the U.S. every year, according to the American legislation. So, how long does it take to become a U.S. citizen? Well, that largely depends on a number of factors, such as relatives living in the United States, your reason to immigrate, and even your country of origin. Let’s take a look at all of them and approximate how long it might take to become a citizen of the U.S.

The System as It Stands

With a vast number of people willing to immigrate to the United States, the system is currently based on wait lines, which depend on various factors, thus, defining such lines and their lengths. This in turn defines the waiting time for the immigrants. While there are about 350,000 to 480,000 relatives and about 140,000 workers are allowed to become citizens in the United States every year, the number of applicants is often many times higher, reaching over 1 million people per year.

So, how long does it take to become a legal immigrant? That mostly depends on what is implied by immigration, what country are you from, and why you want to immigrate. In case if by immigrating, you mean getting the employment visa and getting the job in the U.S., then such a process with largely depend on your job and housing search time. The document itself takes about 3 to 5 weeks to issue.

Yet, if you’re talking about the permanent residence, that’s a totally different case. In order to get the U.S. Green Card, which is the permanent residence document, it might take up to 10 years, depending on the circumstance and your country of origin. The Green Card can be gotten on the basis of the family relations, marriage, employment, and the Diversity Lottery. The latter is a lottery, in which the applicants have a chance to in a U.S. Green Card. The applications for Diversity Lottery are processed within 7 months. Yet, on average the process takes between 7 months and 3 years.

How Long Does it Take to Legally Immigrate to the U.S.?

Now, how long does it take to legally immigrate to the U.S. and become the citizen? In order to respond to this question, you do not have to go far and only apply simple mathematics. With the Green Card being issued up to 10 years, becoming a citizen certainly includes this time. In addition, in order to become a citizen of the U.S., you have to live in the country for quite some time, be employed and self-sufficient financially, have a good moral character, speak English well, and be familiar with American history at least a little bit.

While all of this doesn’t seem like long, it, in fact, takes some time and a lot of effort to achieve all the required qualities. But most importantly, how long do you have to live in the U.S. to be a citizen? The answer would not really depend on anything as the term of continuous residency (that is, not leaving U.S. territory for longer than 6 months) is standardized. You have to live for at least 5 years in the U.S. to be able to apply for citizenship.

So, in total, you might have to wait between 6 to 15 years at least to become the United States citizen. However, in some cases, this wait might be much longer. As such, some Filipino and Mexican applicants wait for their applications to be reviewed since 1994. What else does affect the waiting time?

Factors Affecting Immigration

As we mentioned before, such factors as immediate relatives residing or being the citizens of the U.S., other family preferences, employment preferences, and the origin country all affect your potential waiting time. Each of the factors’ influence is manifested in the caps set by the United States government, which might vary from year to year. Overall, immigration to the U.S.A. is affected by the aforementioned factors in the following way: 

Immediate relatives

This is the biggest priority group and includes spouses of U.S. citizens, children of U.S. citizens under 21 years of age, and the parents of U.S. citizens. These categories have no yearly caps and an unlimited number of immediate relatives can become the United States citizens per year. The waiting time for them ends just as all the paperwork gets done.

Family preferences

There are five such preferences, which include unmarried children of the U.S. citizens (1st preference), spouses and unmarried children of U.S. Green Card holders (2nd preference), married children of the U.S. citizens (3rd preference), and the siblings of the adult U.S. citizens (4th preference). The 5th preference includes all other relatives. Each of the preferences has its own caps, which range between 23,400 and 114,000 people per annum.

Employment preferences

Just as with the family preferences, immigration rules of the U.S.A divide workers into 5 categories. Those include:

  • The priority workers with special abilities in certain sciences (1st preference).
  • Workers holding advanced degrees (2nd preference).
  • Skilled workers, professionals, and other employees (3rd preference).
  • Certain special immigrants, such as religious workers, armed forces members, and certain physicians (4th preference).
  • Employment creation workers whose employment was sponsored to resolved unemployment issues worldwide (5th preference).

Country of origin

Finally, the country of origin also largely affects the waiting time. As such, some of the countries have a very low priority when it comes to processing the applications as a huge number of citizens of those countries have applied. Those countries are Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines. The waiting time for the citizens of these can be at least twice as long.

Depending on the factors described above, the waiting time might, thus, stretch up to 25 years of simply waiting for your application to get the next in line to be reviewed. The main idea here is to be patient make sure that all your documents are neatly prepared in order to avoid any unnecessary additional delays. Note that in case if there are any issues with the documents, the USCIS, the agency responsible for immigration in the U.S., will send them back and you’ll have to resubmit them, which takes additional time. Yet, all the trouble mentioned above is often worth it as when you become a U.S. citizen, your life largely changes for the better in most cases.

Benefits of Being a U.S. Citizen

U.S.A. and immigration are often such a delicate matter specifically because of the rights and freedoms that the American state provides to its citizens. Being a U.S. citizen grants one quite a lot of opportunities to take, some of which are extremely beneficial. Here are only a few of them:

  • The right to vote. You can influence the political life of the U.S. and might even change the history of the country someday by choosing the President of the U.S. you see fit for this role.
  • Travel overseas for over six months. You cannot leave the U.S. for long periods of time when you are not a citizen. Otherwise, you have to renew your visa every time, which might be a lengthy process and will also delay your waiting time when it comes to becoming a citizen. 
  • Lower taxes. When you do not have a permanent residency or U.S. citizenship, you have to pay the additional immigrant taxes, which might be as high as 30% of your annual income. By becoming a citizen, you eliminate this tax and make your life much easier.
  • You cannot be deported. While being an immigrant, you might live in constant fear of being deported either because there might be some minor issues with your documents or because the political landscape of the United States might change not in the immigrants’ favor. Yet, when you are a citizen, you cannot be deported without a very serious reason.
  • Sponsoring other family members in becoming citizens. After you become a U.S. citizen, you can bring your immediate relatives, like parents to the U.S. almost immediately. While other, more distant relatives might need to wait, their chances are still higher than of those people who are not sponsored by other U.S. citizens.
  • Getting a U.S. Passport. While this doesn’t sound like much, in fact, the American passport gives a lot of mobility. Essentially, you can travel to most countries of the world without having to apply for a visa or otherwise entry documents. Your American citizen passport will be more than enough.
  • Ability to run for the public office. Yes, every citizen of the U.S. may become a politician and even run for President at a certain point in their career.

So, apparently, the benefit of becoming a U.S. citizen are numerous and are worth all the wait and effort. Yet, while we talked a lot about the wait, we haven’t mentioned the effort yet. So, what are the steps of applying for U.S. citizenship and how are they made?

Steps of Becoming the U.S. Citizen

After you have come to the U.S., became employed, and lived there for some time, you are eligible to get your Green Card. After you have done that, you can apply for the United States citizenship status. Essentially, there are only 4 basic stages to go through to become American.

  1. You must first fill in and submit the application for citizenship. For that, you must be at least 18 years of age, hold a Green Card for at least 5 years, speak English on at least basic level, know the American history at least a little bit, and demonstrate your willingness to take the Oath of Allegiance and become a citizen.
  2. After that, you have to submit to the biometric services. In case, if your application is approved, you must then submit your fingerprints. Unless USCIS specifies otherwise, you don’t need to submit anything else on this stage. All the background checks will be done by the department of immigration of the U.S.A.
  3. Go through the interview process and two exams. In case if everything is okay with your background, you will be able to move onto the next stage. The third step of becoming a U.S. citizen involves the interview and two tests, in English and U.S. history. Nothing special about any of these processes, yet, you have to be strictly on time scheduled for you in your interview notice. During the interview, it would be best to provide simple and honest answers to the questions. The tests only check your basic knowledge of English and the history of the United States.
  4. The oath-taking ceremony. Finally, if you have come through all the stages, you will be invited to take the Oath of Allegiance and finalize your process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Don’t forget to be on time, dress formally, and take your Green Card with you in order to register and return it. After that, you will receive your Naturalization Certificate confirming your status as the citizen.

Pursuit That’s Worth It

While immigrating to the U.S. and becoming a citizen doesn’t seem like an easy fit at all, it is totally worth it. With all the freedoms and rights you get, becoming a U.S. citizen is something worth pursuing indeed. With that being said, there is a number of opportunities for that in the modern world. You can even try your luck and apply for the immigration lottery and become an eligible permanent resident within up to a year. This will totally change your life. Yet, don’t forget that you might still need the immigration translation services in order to make sure that all your documents are in proper condition and order.