New changes in immigration policy
By Yoon S. Park
Northwest Asian Weekly
After nearly three decades of living, working and going to school in this country, I finally took the oath of citizenship earlier this year. To my great astonishment, my parents were not far behind. What took us so long? Why had we waited until this past year to apply for citizenship?
For me the reason was simple. I had permanent resident status. With the exception of voting and serving on jury duty, I failed to see any immediate tangible benefits to obtaining citizenship.
In short, spending the time and money on becoming a naturalized citizen was simply not as high a priority as it probably should have been. Though I am a bit ashamed to admit it now, more immediate materialistic desires took precedence.
Mr. Shahzad Q. Qadri, an attorney who specializes in the area of immigration and naturalization at Adorno Yoss Caley Dehkhoda Qadri in Bellevue, Wash., acknowledges that “some clients wait only the minimum of five years before applying for naturalization, while others reside in this country for 20 to 25 years or more before applying.” The reasons for this range are as diverse as his clientele.
For many, applying for U.S. citizenship means relinquishing citizenship status from their country of origin. For instance, in the past, immigrants from India would lose their property rights in India if they chose to gain citizenship status in the U.S. Imagine gaining the right to vote, only to lose your land or house in your country of origin.
However, Qadri concedes that many are motivated by the recent changes in the U.S. immigration policy to get their applications in before the requirements become more stringent.
It is interesting to note that for many immigrants in this country, the cost of applying for citizenship is becoming increasingly out of reach. According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a nonprofit research group, in 2007, 34 percent of immigrants lacked heath insurance as compared to 13 percent native born citizens.
Furthermore, CIS’s analysis of the March 2007 U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) shows that 40.1 percent of immigrants live in or near poverty. Clearly, when faced with supporting a family or meeting day-to-day needs of food and shelter, the importance of citizenship falls by the wayside.
With the dramatic rise in application fees, from $330 to $675 (including fingerprinting) on July 30, 2007, many immigrants who would otherwise have been complacent with their legal status rushed to submit their application for citizenship before the fee increase.
According to Qadri, wait times for processing of citizenship applications currently average about nine to 12 months in Washington state. In the past, it had only taken about six months to process. He also notes that processing times on the East Coast may be longer due to different servicing centers.
So, for a husband and wife, the total application cost to apply for citizenship prior to July 30, 2007, would have been $660 ($330 doubled). However, presently it would cost that same couple $1,350 to apply for citizenship ($675 doubled).
Aside from the obvious right to vote that citizenship affords, Qadri believes that some of his clients ultimately apply for citizenship due to the perception of greater protections and “security” under the law that it affords.
As a permanent resident, it is possible to be deported by judicial order if one commits a “crime of moral turpitude” (such as murder, kidnapping or robbery) within five years of entry.
In addition to the new fees, all applicants who file their Application for Naturalization on or after Oct. 1, 2008, now have to contend with a newly redesigned naturalization test. Qadri voices his concern that for many non-English speaking immigrants, “While it may or may not be their intention, the new test could serve as an effective tool to deny citizenship.” However, as the changes have just taken place, it is too soon to tell what effect the new test will eventually have on the rates of citizenship in this country. ♦