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Settlement, Residence and Citizenship for Expats in the United States Of America

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2013

Permanent settlement in the US, like entering the country, is greatly oversubscribed and therefore tightly controlled. During your first year of living in the US on an immigrant visa, you can apply for a permanent resident card, more widely known as a green card. The green card application process can take a long time. You may be stopped by the police and asked for your green card; if you do not have it, you may be fined or imprisoned for a short while. Once you have a green card, you should therefore keep it with you at all times.

There are four main routes to gaining a green card. First, you may qualify for permanent residence if you have a relative who is a citizen or permanent resident in the USA. Second, you may also qualify if you are an asylum seeker or other special kind of immigrant. Candidates who do not fall into either of these categories are subject to a quota of around 25,000 people per country.

A way of beating the quota and gaining permanent residence in the USA is through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, popularly known as the green card lottery. To be eligible to apply, you must be from a country that has a low number of immigrants to the US. All African and Oceanian countries are eligible for the lottery, as is all of Europe except Great Britain. The green card lottery randomly awards green cards to 50,000 applicants. Application is free, and in 2012, there were nearly 15 million applicants; this gives you roughly a 1 in 300 chance of hitting the jackpot.

Since almost all Americans were immigrants at one time, people are generally relaxed about meeting people from other cultures. Ethnic tensions do exist, but you should not have any major problems in settling into life in the USA. In the larger cities, there are likely to be people from your own country. If you are experiencing culture shock, you may find it easy to find reminders of home.

Healthcare is expensive in the US, because you need to take out fully comprehensive medical insurance to be able to get it. This difficulty has recently been ameliorated by the Affordable Care Act (2010) which gives some help to those not able to afford healthcare. It has special provisions that make life easier for long-term foreign residents, who have previously had a hard time finding health insurance.

If you have not lived in the US very long, you may find that it is difficult to open a bank account in the US due to your lack of credit history in the country. If it is possible, it is a good idea to open a bank account with your home country’s bank, if it has a presence in the USA.

Though permanent residents have considerable rights, some privileges are them. For example, as a permanent resident, you are not able to vote in federal elections. Therefore, once you have become a permanent resident in the USA, you may want to apply for citizenship. Before you apply, you must have lived in the country for three years if you have been living with your US citizen spouse, or 5 years otherwise. Usually, you must also be aged 18 or over, be of good moral character, and have some knowledge of the US government and the English language. To apply for naturalisation, you need to submit an N-400 ‘Application for Naturalization’, which can be downloaded here.

Becoming a US citizen is open to everyone, no matter what their beliefs, ethnic background or other factors. This also applies to career opportunities; anyone can rise to a top job. However, this has only recently become true for the top job in the country. Until 2008 all the US presidents had northern European backgrounds. This was changed by the election of Barack Obama.

 

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