An outdated version of the N-600, the N-400
Whitney High School

The truth behind the United States citizenship process

As I sat down with the next applicant in line, she appeared hopeful and somewhat cheerful in an otherwise bleak school gymnasium.

I immediately began to help her fill out the application for Certificate of Citizenship (N-600) with her basic information including her identification numbers, current residence and employer.

When we reached part 11: Information About Your Children, she told me that she had 11 children. I inwardly groaned in frustration since there was only room for four children and I would need to find the forms for additional records. While filling out this section, she explained to me that after moving to the United States over 25 years ago, she had not seen her children since and she frankly had no idea where they were at the moment, dead or alive. This, of course, was another dilemma since that information was required for the application, so instead, I wrote a note and moved on.  

As we were wrapping up the application, I began to explain to her, with my broken, high school level Spanish, the rest of the procedure and the fees required to file. Her eyes grew wide in disbelief when I told her the total filing fee amounted to $1,170. After reading to her the eligibilities for a fee waiver, it was evident that she had lost her original sense of hope and ambition.

As only a volunteer through a local politician, I was heartbroken when I heard her situation, knowing I could not do anything. And as the daughter of two migrants, I carefully reviewed the U.S. Citizenship Process and realized that it was terribly outdated and inefficient.

The process of becoming a U.S. Citizen, a certification that many of us take for granted, is an extremely long, painful and costly procedure.

First, to transition from a temporary resident to a permanent resident, known to many as the green card, costs about $985 to simply file. After obtaining the green card, you have to apply for citizenship, a $1,170 fee, attend an interview and take the citizenship test.

Of course, trying to fill these forms out yourself is overwhelming which is why many migrants hire immigration lawyers who can cost anywhere between $5000 to $7,500, and special cases may even cost $15,000.

As a recent migrant, with no citizenship status, it can be awfully difficult to find a well-paying job, and due to the mere cost of the U.S. Citizenship Process, “the American dream” can become unrealistic for many.  

Other than expenses, another problem presented is how tedious and time consuming this process can be. The application is not written for your everyday Joe and can be very misleading to the average person. After filling out the applications, both over fifteen pages, applicants must file their forms and wait for their appeal to be either granted or denied. This filing can take 6 months to over 3 years.

Many also argue that the Immigration Sector of the government is seen as one of the more insignificant areas, which is why the process can span over such an extensive period of time.

Canadian born Mat Small, a recent migrant, who has been working at a Northern Californian tech firm, shared his experiences with the process and told ABC News, “The process is so opaque, the Immigration and Naturalization Service can take over your life. You can’t change jobs, you can’t call and check up on where you are in the process. If this would occur in any other government agency, people would be up in arms”

To encourage positive immigration, which will ultimately be advantageous for America’s future, the citizenship service must be reformed into a more user-friendly, inexpensive and efficient process. America is the country of migrants, the entire country’s foundation is built on the basis of welcoming immigrants and refugees, which is what makes America so exceptional.

Immigrants bring a different type of work ethic and culture to the United States, which is the reason behind our very diverse society today and why America continues to excel in the modern world and the global economy. Which is why the U.S. citizenship process should be reformed in a way that is easily accessible and available to recent immigrants. 

In what ways do you think this process can be changed?