Poles, Others, Wait Longer for Citizenship

(Photo via Nowy Dziennik)

An estimated eight million immigrants, including Polish nationals, may be applying for U.S. citizenship now. Until recently the application process would take around half a year, but now, however, applicants are waiting up to a year, say immigration lawyers from the New York area (…).

The longer wait is, in part, an aftermath of last year’s election, and to be precise, a consequence of the various citizenship initiatives aimed at mobilizing green card holders to become citizens and be eligible to vote. “Presidential elections usually spur interest in obtaining U.S. citizenship. Then the administration usually exerts pressure on immigration workers to process the application in a shorter time. After the election the application review process slows down. As a result, after last year’s boom, there is a backlog, especially when it comes to applications from the New York area and the wait time has lengthened to one year,” says Jerzy Sokol, an immigration lawyer from New York.

The election last year, however, is only part of the story. According the Pew Research Center, spikes or declines in the number of citizenship applications are not always attributable to presidential elections. In fiscal year 2008 the number of applicants declined by 62 percent compared to 2007 because of the hikes in fees (those associated with form N-400 went up then from $330 to $595). Close to 1.5 million residents wanted to avoid paying more and filed their application in 2007.

In order to apply for citizenship, an immigrant has to be at least 18 years of age, have the green card for at least five years (or three, if it was obtained through marriage), and have remained throughout that time in the United States (…).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 915,000 immigrants in New York, including those from Poland, who are eligible to apply for citizenship. (…)

Polish-American lawyers are of the opinion that immigrants from Poland are more motivated to apply for citizenship by their family situation than presidential elections. The younger residents want to become citizens in order to sponsor their wives, husbands or parents. The older ones, in order to be able to retire in… Poland.

“Once they become U.S. citizens they can return to Poland and not worry about the loss of their permanent resident status. Some older people also wait until they are eligible to take the naturalization exam in Polish, as many find the English version too difficult,” explains Mirosława Skowrońska, an immigration advisor. This privilege applies to individuals who are 55 years of age and have had a green card for at least 15 years or are over 50 and have had the document for over 20 years. People who have turned 65 and have been legal residents of the U.S. for more than 20 years are also eligible to take the naturalization exam in their own language and there are fewer questions on the exam.

Polish citizens benefit from dual citizenship when they retire and plan to return to Poland. With a U.S. passport, the Social Security they collect in Poland is not subject to a 25.5 percent deduction, which happens in the case of non-U.S. residents.

Some analysts claim that the current increase in the number of applications is a result of the anti-immigration policy of Donald Trump. “The U.S. passport does protect against deportation, even if its owner has committed a serious crime,” says Jerzy Sokol. He adds that, practically, it is very difficult to deprive an individual of his or her citizenship, once it has been granted. “However, a naturalized immigrant can lose citizenship if he lied on the application or omitted information about prior convictions and committed a crime. Immigration officials will be able to get to the truth sooner or later. When it happens, the immigrant loses his status and faces deportation,” Sokol says.

When it comes to green card holders, two violations of the law (…) theoretically qualify an individual for the deportation process. “For example, theft and DUI. Now we can assume that the provision may be more carefully executed than during the Obama administration,” says the Polish-American lawyer.

The immigrant’s past often comes to light and plays a role when he or she is applying for citizenship. There are some violations and types of crime that – temporarily or permanently – close the door to citizenship. The list of such contains, among others, drug sale, theft and prostitution. In such cases, immigrants should seek the help of an experienced lawyer if they want to become citizens.

According to the Department of Homeland Security immigrants from Poland are in the top group of European immigrants getting citizenship through the naturalization process. Nationwide, however, the greatest numbers come from Asia and Latin America. Most naturalized immigrants from Poland retain their Polish citizenship.

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