The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is long, complex, and potentially costly, even if you have been a legal permanent resident in good standing for several years. You might wonder whether it is worth becoming a citizen, but citizenship does confer several important types of benefits.
Perhaps the most important advantage of becoming a citizen is protection from changes in immigration laws. Immigration is a highly politicized area, and changes in presidential administrations can affect the status and benefits of legal permanent residents, among other foreign nationals in the U.S. Also, you cannot be placed in removal proceedings if you become a citizen, since the grounds for removal no longer will apply to you. (You may lose your citizenship if USCIS determines that you obtained it fraudulently, but this is rare.)
Right to Government Participation
Another important benefit of citizenship is voting in local, state, and national elections. This may be a meaningful way to participate in government. You also will be able to apply for jobs in the federal government, which can be attractive because of their stability. Even if you do not live in the region around Washington, D.C., you may find that several federal government agencies have offices in your area that may offer jobs. You can even run for most elected offices (other than President or Vice President of the U.S.) if you are interested in a political career.
Right to Travel
A green card holder must pay attention to how often and for how long they leave the U.S. to avoid losing their status, but a citizen need not.
You will not need to worry about losing your status if you take a long trip outside the U.S. A green card holder may be considered to have abandoned their status in the U.S. if they spend more than six months outside the country at a time, but there is no limit to a citizen’s absence. You can even move to a foreign country without losing your citizenship. This can help you visit family members in other countries or pursue other forms of travel.
Having a U.S. passport can help you gain legal status in certain other countries more easily, especially developed nations. If you are a victim of a crime or an accident while you are abroad, the U.S. State Department will provide robust assistance. They also can help you find an attorney and protect your right to fair treatment if you are charged with a crime in a foreign country. The State Department may not help you escape punishment for a crime that you committed, though.
When you return to the U.S. after a trip, you will be able to enter the country more efficiently. Inspections by Customs and Border Patrol officers will be shorter. You will not need to worry about being barred from entry because you are inadmissible, since the grounds of inadmissibility will not apply.
Right to Public Benefits
A greater range of public benefits becomes available if you obtain citizenship. For example, you can get Supplemental Security Income if you meet the program criteria, as well as food stamps, general assistance, and benefits at the state level. Legal permanent residents may have some limited access to these benefits, depending on their state, but citizens gain access to many more. While you may think that you will never need government benefits, you may not be able to predict whether an emergency will arise.
Bringing Family Members to the U.S.
Any children who are born after you become a citizen, as well as most children whom you adopt, will become U.S. citizens automatically. Any children who currently have green cards also will become citizens automatically in most cases. As a citizen, you can apply for green cards for other members of your family, such as a parent, spouse, or sibling. These family members might not be able to come to the U.S. otherwise, or they might need to wait for a very long time. They may still face a waiting period for a green card, and they will not become a citizen until they have spent several years in the U.S., as you did.