U.S. Citizenship: Does it Even Matter?

As this current election cycle moves closer to primary season, immigration is increasingly the hot topic. Each immigrant to the U.S. had his or her own particular reasons for coming. Many come on temporary visas and, at the end of their stay, return to their home country. It is not axiomatic that every person who comes to the U.S. as an immigrant does so with the intention of staying for good. However there are clearly incentives to becoming a U.S. Citizen. In 2013, 777,416 of the immigrants living in the U.S. were naturalized U.S. citizens.

Some people acquire U.S. citizenship immediately at birth, for others, U.S. citizenship is conferred later in life. Regardless of how it is acquired, there are very fundamental reasons why a person would want to be recognized as a U.S. citizen.

Under United States law, any person born within the United States, or its territorial possessions, is automatically considered a U.S. citizen at birth. Moreover, most children born to American citizen(s) parents abroad are automatically granted U.S. citizenship as well.

For those not fortunate enough to be born in the U.S. or to have parents who are U.S. citizens, then citizenship can also be acquired after birth either by filing an N-400 naturalization application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). In addition to the application, naturalization applicants are subject to an in person interview at which time they may be required to show a command of the English language and to pass a U.S. history exam.

There are a number of reasons why people want to become U.S. citizens, rather than to simply renew their temporary visas in perpetuity (aside from the obvious fact that many visa categories have a limit to the number of years they can be renewed). U.S. Citizens have the right to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation. This is one of the main reasons a foreign national who enters the U.S. initially on a temporary visa may desire to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) and then apply for US citizenship.

Just because an individual has a U.S. citizen spouse or children, does not mean that he/she has an automatic right to remain in the United States, especially if that person has an issue with law enforcement. Any time a green card holder has a run-in with the police, even if the case is later dismissed, it is cause for concern as the person may be deported from the United States or become ineligible for US citizenship.

Our country has a legacy of welcoming immigrants from all over the world, many of whom have left incredible legacies behind. The United States has benefitted greatly from the contributions of many of yesterday's immigrants, who are today's citizens.

Whether acquired at birth or later in life, the rewards of being a U.S. citizen are similar in nature. Qualifying individuals must take an oath of allegiance that they will be faithful to and uphold the Constitution of the United States, America's supreme law, and agree to serve their new country, if needed. In exchange, new citizens are able to petition to sponsor and bring certain qualifying family members from overseas to join them in the United States, reuniting families.

One of the most fundamental rights granted by the U.S. constitution to U.S. citizens is the right to vote. Only U.S. citizens have the right to vote in federal elections and to be candidates in most local, state and federal elections. Participating in a federal jury is another important benefit that many U.S. citizens enjoy. Members of the jury help determine the innocence or guilt of the accused. Federal jurors are randomly selected from databases such as voting or driver's license lists. Finally, another important aspect of U.S. citizenship is that U.S. citizens benefit from international protection because the US protects its citizens abroad through its worldwide system of embassies and consulates abroad.

In the economic sphere, U.S. citizens also benefit from having access to more jobs in the country since the federal government is one of the largest employers in the world and offers many job opportunities in a wide range of industries. All available federal jobs are posted on the USAjobs.gov website and the majority of federal jobs require that applicants be U.S. citizens. For new U.S. citizens who are still in academia, more student aid is available to them because the federal government has different types of financial assistance for U.S. students, which including scholarships and grants only available to U.S. citizens.

There are clear benefits to becoming a U.S. citizen. Broadly speaking what citizenship confers is stability and security. For those who have already proved themselves to be positive members of society over the course of their temporary residency in the U.S. then citizenship is the smartest move for those seeking to settle here.