I have a friend who works as an online marketing consultant. Lately, she has been learning how to become a US citizen. By speaking to her and helping her practice for her citizenship interview and classes, I have gained a whole new appreciation for citizenship. For example, when describing to my friend the benefits of becoming a citizen rather than just a resident, I realized that a citizen has the right to:
1) Vote in national, local, and state elections. To my friend, this is a big deal because growing up she could not take the right to vote for granted. Voting allows citizens to shape their future nation. It’s a right that many people in other countries have died for.
2) Travel on a US passport. This not only allows the US citizen to enter and leave the country relatively easily, but it ensures that any traveler who encounters problems overseas – whether those problems are caused by natural pr man-made disasters – can turn to US embassies and US consulates abroad. If there is a problem or a disaster while you are traveling and you have your US passport, the US government will do all it can to get you home or get you to safety as quickly as possible.
3) Sponsor relatives for permanent resident status. This can be a great comfort if a relative is in danger overseas or needs to escape a difficult situation at home.
In addition to gaining a new appreciation for the merits of citizenship, I have learned a great deal about the citizenship process. Applying for citizenship begins with an application provided by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. An applicant for citizenship must fill out a fingerprint chart, a biographic information sheet and an official application, all of which are free forms. These forms ask for some of the usual things you might expect — name, address, birth date. The fingerprint chart was a surprise to me, though.
The applicant needs to get their fingerprints taken at a local police station, sheriff’s office or INS office and must sign the chart while the person taking the fingerprints witnesses the signature. The person taking the fingerprints also signs the fingerprint chart. In addition to the application forms and fingerprint chart, an applicant needs three unsigned photographs of his or her face. There is a long list of requirements for these pictures, but most photographers who take passport photos are familiar with these rules and can take pictures that are correct for the citizenship application.
Once the application package is submitted, the applicant needs to wait until the Bureau of Citizen and Immigration Services can review the application. As I have learned from my friend, this can be a rather nerve-wracking time. Even though the application forms all include detailed instructions, it’s still hard for an applicant to be 100% sure that the application is acceptable. A small mistake can mean a delay or rejection, which is why most applicants fill out their applications very carefully and check and recheck the forms again.