The process of becoming a United States citizen is more complicated than one might think and it’s not the same for everyone. Your experience can depend on your country of birth, education level, finances and more.
For most, the process begins with a visa. Once you obtain a visa, you can apply for your green card. This grants you permanent residency in the United States and is the step before applying for naturalization. However, for many, this is the longest and most difficult part of the citizenship process.
Once you have held your green card for five years, or three if you are married to a United States citizen, you are able to apply for naturalization. After sending in an application, the average wait is nine to 10 months before you are given an exam date. Those wanting to become naturalized citizens will sit for a naturalization exam that tests civics and English.
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If you pass the exam, you will be sworn in as a United States citizen at a naturalization ceremony.
This citizenship process can be long and it also isn’t free. It can cost thousands of dollars to become a citizen with government fees alone — and even more if people choose to pay for attorneys, preparation courses or other factors to help them through the process.
“Good Morning America” spoke with four women from four different countries who have become United States citizens or are still going through the process about their unique experiences. Here are their stories.
Pritika Sawant, 30, immigrated to the United States from Mumbai, India, in 2012 to attend Syracuse University for her master’s degree in information management.
Obtaining her student visa took months and cost several hundred dollars. Sawant said she was denied a student visa twice because the immigration officer suspected that she was lying about her relationship with her aunt — who was her U.S. sponsor — and had to fly to another Indian city, Chennai, in order to obtain one.
Sawant completed her master’s program and won a lottery with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain a H-1B visa, which she says selects 65,000 students per year and permits a foreign national to work in the United States for a temporary period. Her visa expired in 2019 but was renewed until 2021.
Sawant has applied for a green card, but because of the high emigration rate from India to the United States, she says the USCIS will likely have to clear a ten-year backlog before they can process her case. She will have to continue to renew her H-1B visa, which she can only do by flying home to India, until she is able to obtain permanent residency, meaning she will likely stay with her current employer who is sponsoring her on her path to citizenship.