The lawful status of persons immigrating to the US varies according to the category through which they entered the US. You can use the non-immigrant visa if your stay in the US is temporary and you can come through an immigrant visa if your intention is for a permanent stay.
All immigrants have two options – become permanent residents (Green Card holders) or become citizens. Though both these statuses give you the right to live and work legally in the United States, certain advantages are conferred only to the US citizens. But if you want to apply for citizenship, you have to be a green card holder. In addition to this, there are other requirements you need to satisfy, should you want to apply for citizenship.
As far as green card is concerned, there are many ways to get one. One is through marriage. Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) has to be filed by a US citizen or US lawful permanent resident (LPR) to establish the relation to his/her relatives who want to come to the US. If you are a US citizen and your spouse is already in the US, your spouse can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status with the USCIS at the same time as you file the petition for Alien Relative.
Another way to get a green card is through the Diversity Visa lottery program that is conducted annually. You can also get one through employment. Immigrants under the Refugee or Asylee status can also apply for a green card.
If you become a US citizen, you have the right to hold federal jobs and the right to vote. You are free to travel wherever and for however long you want to. You will be protected even when you are traveling overseas. The State Department will make sure you travel home safely and will assist you through the US consulates abroad. Your spouse, children and other children you adopt can also become US citizens through your status. Though you will be required to file certain applications to document their status, the process will be less difficult.
The Citizenship Application Process:
Once you satisfy all the eligibility requirements that is needed to apply for citizenship, you can file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization with the USCIS. You will have to mail the completed US citizenship application along with your photographs, fees and supporting documents to the USCIS address mentioned in the instructions that come along with the citizenship form.
Once the USCIS receives your form, they will send you an appointment letter for fingerprinting. After your fingerprints are taken, you will have to wait for a letter of appointment from the USCIS for your interview. They will send a letter (Notice of Action) that will have the date, time and location of the interview.
Your knowledge of basic English Language and history of the US government (which is another requirement in the citizenship process) will be tested. If you prove your ability in the tests, you will be called to take the Oath and indeed, receive your Certificate of Naturalization. If you do not attend the Oath Ceremony, you should return the Form N-445, ‘Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony’ to the designated local Application Service Center (ASC). You should also attach a letter that would explain why you were not able to make it to the original ceremony. Then the USCIS will reschedule the date for your Oath Ceremony and will send new Form N-445 (Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony) that would have details of the ceremony.