[independence day filter] so how do I become a citizen?
July 4, 2007 6:11 PM   Subscribe

[independence day filter] so how do I become a citizen?

I'm a german citizen who came to the U.S. in 2000 on an F-1 visa. upon graduation (2004, BFA) I did my OPT and got an O-1 visa (in 2005) and slowly what had been a stopover became a new home.

the O-1 is a great visa but it's still a visa and thus a hassle.
I can't do freelance work and every time I change employers we have to go through expensive visa attorneys and wait for the processing to be done. I still haven't been drawn in the greencard lottery, in which I have participated in for six years, and my automatic greencard is years away. that leaves citizenship as an option but I'm not interested in marriage or military service. so what's a man to do for mere equality? am I missing an option?
posted by krautland to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I believe that you will have to get the green card (become a "permanent resident") before you can apply to become a citizen. Visa holders are considered non-residents for immigration purposes. Check here for information on the naturalization process on the way to becoming a citizen, especially the Residency process.

I'm not sure what you mean about "automatic greencard" - have you started the green card process? It isn't conferred automatically.

IANAL, but have been through the visa-->green card process recently.
posted by marylynn at 6:27 PM on July 4, 2007

marylynn is right. The O-1 is a nonimmigrant visa. In order for you to become a citizen, you need to first get a green card, which means that you need a sponsor for permanent residency. This means either an employer (for an employment-based green card) or a spouse (for a family-based green card). There's nothing "automatic" about the green card process; someone has to start the process for you. Once you've been a permanent resident for 5 years, you can then apply for "naturalization," which is the process of becoming a *citizen*.
posted by snafu at 7:13 PM on July 4, 2007

really, you should go talk to an immigration lawyer. but if you don't want to spend the money, then you should read up on US immigration law as much as possible.

your situation is difficult, but there may be exemptions and special status issues that apply to you. for example, there is the exceptional alien exemption (or something like that). it makes certain allowances for people deemed to have highly valuable skills - in some cases, it can be simply a PhD, it can apply to things like exceptional skill in make-up design (i think there is a case about a hollywood make-up artist getting that exemption).

obviously, you need to research these things. my point is, mostly, there are several categories of exemptions and special status in US immigration law. you should check into all of them.
posted by Flood at 7:21 PM on July 4, 2007

As has already been said, there's no such thing as an "automatic" green card. Even if you marry a US national, which is often regarded as the easiest way to obtain permanent residency and subsequent citizenship, the process is very far from being automatic. An O-1 does not move you any closer to your goal of citizenship.

If you have an employer who is willing to petition for an O-1, with the attendant attorneys and general hassle, it's not that big of a step for said employer to petition for permanent residency on more or less the same grounds, i.e. person of exception ability in a particular field, although it does imply your employer making a much greater commitment in terms of the length of your employment.

There may be odds-increasing special cases depending on your particular field of expertise.

It seems like you're talking to lawyers on somewhat regular basis already, for your O-1 petitions. So talk to them, and your employer, a bit more.

(Oh, and you're about as likely to win the "green card lottery" as you are to win, well, any other lottery, i.e. not very likely at all. Not an option to rely upon.)
posted by buxtonbluecat at 7:43 PM on July 4, 2007

While the O-1 is a non-immigrant visa, the H1-B is an immigrant visa. You should see if your employer is willing to petition for an H1B. Once you get your H1-B approved, the process for citizenship is a little more straightforward.

Good luck there.
posted by Arthur Dent at 11:26 PM on July 4, 2007

The H1-B is also a nonimmigrant visa. It just so happens that many employers willing to sponsor an employee for the H1-B are also willing to sponsor the employee for the green card.

Given the nature of the O-1 visa, buxtonbluecat's suggestion of a green card based on exceptional ability in a particular field is worth pursuing. But definitely talk to an immigration lawyer.
posted by needled at 5:06 AM on July 5, 2007

H1-B is not an immigrant visa, it is an employment visa.

However, after the H1B has been renewed once - that is, about 6 years on H1B, since each is valid for 3 years and can only be renewed once, your employer can apply for permanent residence for you.

I don't know if the same can be done for O1 visas. In any case, once you find a job you like and get an H1B, if you stick around you are pretty much guaranteed to have an application for greencard put in for you within 6 years.

Now, as to how long it takes for that to be processed....that's another story and you can either be lucky or unlucky in that aspect.
posted by spacefire at 8:35 AM on July 5, 2007

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