Immigration reform is coming.
And when it comes, new pathways toward U.S. citizenship
will be opened for the millions of foreign nationals already settled in
But even before any such changes are put into law,
we can guess what criteria
will be used to grant American citizenship.
Citizens of other countries who are now settled in
the USA without authorization
will be carefully evaluated to see if they will make good U.S.
And if they are already
better than most Americans,
why deny them citizenship?
Inevitably some foreign nationals settled in the USA
will be required to return to their homelands.
Falling below average
in the 14 criteria outlined below
will be important reasons for selecting some unauthorized foreigners
for repatriation to their
countries of citizenship.
A. LEARN ENGLISH.
B. EARN A COLLEGE DEGREE.
C. BE EMPLOYED IN A LEGITIMATE OCCUPATION.
D. PAY ALL TAXES.
E. REGISTER WITH THE SELECTIVE SERVICE.
F. SERVE IN THE U.S. MILITARY.
G. REGISTER WITH THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY.
H. LIST ALL RELATIVES WHO ARE U.S. CITIZENS.
I. DOCUMENT HOW LONG YOU HAVE LIVED IN THE USA.
J. APPLY FOR NATURALIZATION AS EARLY AS PERMITTED.
K. GET A DRIVER'S LICENSE.
L. FOLLOW ALL LAWS.
M. ASSIST LAW ENFORCEMENT.
N. SHOW HOW YOU ARE ABOVE AVERAGE.
Some of the foreign nationals now settled in the United States without
BE ABOVE AVERAGE
James Leonard Park
will ultimately be offered reasonable pathways by which to earn U.S.
Immigration reform will define exactly what requirements must be met.
But there is no need for citizens of other countries to wait for the
government to act.
What America will require for citizenship can easily be
A. LEARN ENGLISH.
If you do not already use the English language well,
then wherever you are in the process of seeking American citizenship,
learning to understand and use the English language
will always be a positive factor in favor of granting U.S.
Be prepared to show that you can use the English language.
How well do you understand written and spoken English?
Can you write and speak English so that others understand you?
Among all of the applicants for citizenship,
is your English
EARN A COLLEGE DEGREE.
You should seek the highest educational level
possible for you.
If you can earn a college degree,
this will be one of the most impressive factors
to offer in favor of being granted American citizenship.
Perhaps you had a visa to study in America.
Did you fulfill all of the expectations of that opportunity?
Have you made reasonable progress toward your educational goals?
Be sure to collect all your proofs of educational
attainment in one place,
so you can present these educational records when asked.
Of all the foreign nationals applying for U.S. citizenship,
can you show that your education is above average?
C. BE EMPLOYED IN A
If you are no longer engaged in education, perhaps
you are part of the work-force.
Or perhaps you have been working while attending school.
Create a list of all of the jobs you have held during your years in
Keep names and addresses of people
who can testify that you did indeed
hold these jobs.
Be prepared to show your employment records:
When did you start each job? When did it end?
Each employer should also have complete records of your work.
If you were ever part of the underground economy,
this will also help to fill out the complete picture of your life in
Especially if you have now left
a job that was not completely
you can argue that you were doing the best you could under the
of being a foreign national without permission
to live or work in the USA.
If you made part of your living in some criminal
you can show that you have been reformed
by giving useful information about that criminal enterprise,
so that others who are still engaged in drug-traffic, people-smuggling,
or false documents
can be taken into custody, tried, & if convicted,
The longer you have been employed in legitimate
the better your chances of being granted a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
PAY ALL TAXES.
You should keep complete records of all the
tax-returns you filed.
This will show that you were indeed present in the USA during the years
And it will further demonstrate that you were employed in some
Moreover, you paid all local, state, & federal taxes
that were due on your income for those years.
Here again, you will strengthen your case for being
if you can show that you are above
average in your tax-compliance.
About 10% of people who have income in the USA do not report it.
And if we include under-reported income, the percentage is probably
For example, it is well-known that people who
receive tip income
from being engaged in some sort of service occupation (eg wait-persons)
seldom report all of their income from cash tips.
But you can prove that you are better than these
by filing complete and correct tax-returns for all of the years you
have been living in the USA.
Even when you earned so little money that you might not have been
required to file,
you will give your case for citizenship a very big boost if you can
tax returns even for years when you owned no income tax.
Income taxes begin at about $10,000 per year for an individual.
Even if you owe no taxes, you should at least fill out your Form 1040
If you had a legitimate employer, some money was withheld to pay taxes.
And you will receive a refund if the amount withheld is more than you
Such tax-records will be impressive
proof that you are above average.
Social Security taxes (payroll taxes) begin at the
first dollar you earn.
If you had a legitimate job, your employer paid half of your Social
The other half was also withheld from your paychecks
and paid to the Social Security Administration on a regular basis.
Your Social Security taxes paid will also be a good record of your
presence in the USA.
If you had any income from self-employment,
that also should have been reported on your income-tax return.
And you might have been required to pay at least Social Security taxes
on that income.
If your income was above the minimums,
you also were paying income-taxes
to the federal government.
And you might also have been paying state income-taxes.
Be better than the worst Americans,
who do not report all of their income.
And keep good records of all taxes paid.
You might even create a summary of the taxes you paid for each year.
Such records will show that you are ready to become a good American.
The more complete your tax-records are,
the better your case for being granted U.S.
Did you report all rental income?
Did you report all gambling winnings?
Did you even report income from illegal activities such as providing
(These should be reported as some form of legal employment.)
Can you verify all of the tax-deductions you claimed?
Are you reporting an income that large enough to live on?
If not, be prepared to
explain how you supported yourself during those
Were you among those foreign nationals who did not
If so, the Internal Revenue Service has ways of calculating what you
Getting straight with the IRS will reach back for a certain number of
And you should make arrangements to pay your back taxes
in the same ways that you will now be paying your current taxes:
You will have your taxes withheld by your employer
and paid regularly to the IRS.
Each year you remain in the USA, you will pay both your current taxes
and a certain part of your past taxes due.
You will also have to pay a penalty for being late in paying your
Some advocates of immigration reform suggest
that foreign nationals present in the USA without permission
should be require to pay a penalty.
But if you do not have the cash to pay immediately,
you might have to borrow
money to pay the fine,
which might put you into debt with some kind of money-lender.
Probably paying current and past-due taxes as you continue to earn your
would be a more reasonable way to handle back taxes.
You can earn U.S. citizenship by paying all taxes
And if you owe taxes for prior years,
continuing to follow your arrangements to pay past-due taxes
will also improve your chances of being granted U.S. citizenship.
E. REGISTER WITH THE
If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25,
you are required to register for the draft,
even tho there has been no conscription since 1973.
This registration is required for all foreign nationals in the USA
as well as all citizens and other permanent residents.
Since most citizens of other countries present in
the USA without permission
do not want to be known by any government agency,
almost none of these
men are registered with the Selective Security
But if and when it becomes clear that registering for the draft
will not automatically trigger deportation proceedings,
then you as a citizen of another country
can use this registration as one additional proof
that you are above average
in complying with American
SERVE IN THE U.S. MILITARY.
One of the strongest factors favoring U.S.
will be the fact that you have served honorably
in some branch of the
U.S. armed forces.
The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard
will keep very good
of your years
And you can present this service-record whenever asked by
Some likely revisions of the U.S. laws of
might grant automatic
citizenship to any foreign national
who has served for a certain number of years in the U.S. armed forces.
But you should not wait for any such change in law.
You can begin your military service whenever you feel ready.
And later the fact of this service might be very important
in support of your case for becoming a U.S. citizen.
Common sense says that anyone who have served his or her country in the
has thereby proven himself or herself well beyond what most Americans
What better proof that you have earned your right to
become a U.S. citizen
could there be than that you served America in its armed
REGISTER WITH THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY.
If you were admitted into the USA on a visa of any
the U.S. government already has a record for you.
You might have over-stayed your visa.
And for that reason, you might have disappeared into the general
without telling the Department of Homeland Security where you are
But one likely step toward registering all foreign
would be a moratorium
on deportations for most citizens of other
when they voluntarily come forward to register themselves with the U.S.
As soon as it become possible for you to register
without risking being sent back to your country of citizenship,
then you will improve your case for citizenship
if you are one of the first
foreign nationals to register.
You will improve your case for becoming a U.S.
if you come out of the shadows as soon as it is safe.
On June 15, 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland
announced "deferred action" for all foreign nationals
who would qualify
for the DREAM act.
By administrative decision (in contrast to new legislation),
if you were a child (age 15 of younger) when you were brought into
you will no longer be subject to immediate deportation
if you were less than 31 years old on June 15, 2012.
You will not be prosecuted for the immigration violations of your
And, unless you have been convicted of serious crimes,
you will be given temporary authorization to work in the USA.
Such two-year authorizations might be renewed on a case-by-case basis.
This "deferred action" does not grant you amnesty.
And it will not automatically open a pathway to American citizenship.
Also, after you register with the U.S. government,
the months under this new
status will not count as months 'out of
All further questions of legal residence and possible citizenship
will have to be established by immigration reform at some later time.
Deciding not to prosecute DREAMers already settled
in the USA
will not encourage additional unauthorized immigration,
because "deferred action" requires at least 5 years
of continuous presence in the USA up to and including June 15, 2012.
About one million young, law-abiding foreign
who were brought into America by
their parents without
will probably register under this decision not to deport them.
Watch the Department
of Homeland Security website
for details about eligibility criteria and how to register.
This will be voluntary registration:
If you qualify for this "deferred action",
it is your choice to register yourself.
And this new database of foreign nationals, begun in
the year 2012,
might form the basis for the universal
registration of all foreign
now settled in the USA without permission.
LIST ALL RELATIVES WHO ARE U.S. CITIZENS.
When you are gathering supporting evidence for your
you should list the names and addresses of all family members
who are already U.S. citizens
or who are in some process
of applying for
Such family connections will figure strongly in granting U.S.
And the fact that you are willing to give the names
and addresses of relatives,
some of whom might also be settled in the United States without
will be further proof of
your loyalty to the USA.
You will probably have some discussions with family members before
And you might all decide to
register at the same time.
Coming out of the shadows will show that you will make better Americans
than those who wait until the very last moment before the registration
And the completeness of your list of relatives will also be dramatic
that you do want to have an
honest relationship with the U.S. government.
When you list all relatives, explain your exact
connections with each,
including when and how they obtained citizenship if they are U.S.
And if they are citizens of other countries, also give those facts.
The more completely your 'come clean'
the better will be your case for U.S. citizenship.
If it is later discovered that you have hidden (or not disclosed) some
then your case for American citizenship will be damaged.
Lying (even by omitting some relatives) will count against you.
This family discussion about just when and whom to
register with the U.S. government
might result in some family members returning to their countries of
If they know that they have little chance of becoming American
then it would be better for them to return to their homelands
and on their own schedules rather than waiting to be discovered and
When you explain your family structure,
these facts about some returning to their homelands should also be
Your completeness and honesty will weigh heavily in your favor.
I. DOCUMENT HOW LONG
HAVE LIVED IN THE USA.
If you have spent several years of your life living
in the United States,
this will also improve your case for citizenship.
You will be admitting to violating the immigration laws,
but part of the fault for this violation rests with the U.S. government,
which made is so easy
for your to enter without permission
and to live in the USA for so many years without being noticed.
List all of the places where you have lived since
you entered the United States.
If you have rental or ownership records,
these will be very useful evidence that you have been here a long time.
As noted above, you might also have employment
and tax records,
which will also show the years in which you resided in the USA.
All other community connections, such as church
will also strengthen your case that you should be allowed to become an
because you are already a meaningful member of the community where
If ever you had a visa to live in the USA,
keep very careful records of all the facts related to that permission.
Even if you were refused permission for a visa extension,
the fact that you were once under this supervision
will put you ahead of all applicants
who were never previously known to the U.S. government.
J. APPLY FOR NATURALIZATION
EARLY AS PERMITTED.
The date you officially apply to become a citizen of
the United States of America
will become a very important date in your application.
Obviously you will not apply until after you are
that you will not be automatically processed for repatriation.
But immigration reform will probably establish a
at least for those who have violated no other laws.
If and when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will permit you to
without sending you back to your country of citizenship,
you will be one of the first to come forward voluntarily
and become fully known to the U.S. government.
The United States government cannot guarantee you a
pathway to citizenship,
but if you are actually above average in all of the others factors,
you might feel confident enough to take the chance
that you will be able to prove that you will be an excellent citizen of
And the fact that you applied before millions of others
will give you an advantage over those who are reluctant to register.
K. GET A DRIVER'S LICENSE.
If you do not already have a license to drive a car,
begin the process of getting a permit to learn to drive,
undergo all necessary behind-the-wheel training,
pass your driver's test,
and receive your license to drive from the state where you live.
This will be one additional step out of the shadows.
And the identification included with your driver's license
will be added to all of the other facts that distinguish you from
However, buying a fake driver's license or using a false identity
will damage your case for U.S. citizenship.
L. FOLLOW ALL LAWS.
Whenever immigration reform is discussed,
there is universal agreement that foreign nationals who have violated
while they were in the USA (other than laws related to immigration)
will not become U.S. citizens.
There will probably never be any ways around this
Criminals need not apply.
But if you have been convicted of a crime and served your time in jail,
there might be some point in trying to make the case
that you are so reformed
that you will be a good U.S.
Just where the line will be drawn excluding
will have to be defined by the new laws when immigration reform is
And immigration judges will decide difficult cases.
But a good guess would be: felony.
If you have been convicted of a felony,
then citizenship in the United States of America will not be offered to
Another suggested criterion would be serving more than one year in
You do not need to wait for any such details in new
laws of immigration:
You can start cleaning up
your act immediately.
The more years since your last conviction
the better your case will be that you are so reformed
that you should be given a chance to prove yourself qualified to become
a U.S. citizen.
But some people know in advance that their crimes
were so terrible
that once law enforcement discovers where they are living,
they will be deported to their homeland,
perhaps after a term of imprisonment in the USA.
Foreign nationals who have been convicted of murder
have no chance of becoming citizens of the United States of America.
As unfair as this might seem,
it is the likely result of immigration reform.
People who are U.S. citizens will not be sent to other countries
when they violate U.S. laws.
(Rather, they will go to jail or prison.)
But foreign nationals will have no such right to remain in the USA
if they been found guilty of significant violations of law.
This brings us back to the sub-title of this essay:
You can become a U.S. citizen if you are above average.
And being convicted of a serious crime will not recommend you
to anyone who must decide about your suitability to become a new
Your criminal behavior has not earned you U.S.
But it has earned you a term in jail following by deportation to your
country of origin.
But even such a fate can be encouragement to all
If others follow all laws—even
better than the average American—
might find that being law-abiding people
has qualified them to become American citizens.
In short, foreign nationals who wish to become U.S.
will have to be even more
law-abiding than many Americans.
(Some advocates of immigration reform already claim
that foreign nationals living in the USA without permission
have a lower crime-rate than U.S. citizens.
Better record-keeping about citizens and non-citizens will clarify this
But every person who would like to become a U.S.
has the power to follow all of the laws that apply to everyone in the
Even violating trivial laws will be recorded and counted against you.
But if you have violated no laws (except for your immigration
having no criminal record will put you above other applicants.
And you might be offered a pathway toward earning American citizenship.
M. ASSIST LAW
following all local, state, & federal laws,
you will show that you are going to be a good U.S. citizen
if you actively assist
law-enforcement whenever reasonable.
1. REPORT UNDERGROUND BUSINESSES
From your years of living underground,
have considerable knowledge
about some parts of the underground economy.
Perhaps you even worked for some underground enterprise in the past.
Whenever you know about such unregistered
and untaxed enterprises,
you should report them to the most appropriate authorities.
And you can keep a record of such assistance you offered to
2. REPORT CRIME AS YOU KNOW ABOUT IT.
One advantage of being a registered foreign national
is that you no longer need
worry about contacting the police.
While you were still unregistered,
there was a serious danger that you yourself might be deported
just for reporting something to the police.
But if you are registered with a certificate of immunity from
then you will enhance your chances of becoming an American citizen
if you show your loyalty to your adopted country
by reporting any crimes that come to your attention.
It might even be that you were formerly engaged in
some of this criminal activity.
But you will demonstrate that you have selected law-and-order
above your former criminal comrades
if you assist law enforcement officials to locate and arrest people
who are still engaged in those criminal enterprises.
3. ENCOURAGE AND ASSIST OTHER FOREIGN NATIONALS TO COME OUT OF
One of the best ways for you to assist the U.S.
will be for you to help other foreign nationals to register themselves
with the Department of Homeland Security.
After it becomes clear that immunity from deportation really works,
you will be in a good position to encourage other family members and
to follow your lead and register themselves with the U.S.
Keep good records of this kind of cooperation as
Some other foreign nationals might appreciate you going with them
to the place where they will register themselves.
Because you have already been thru the process,
you will be able to explain each step of the procedure as it
The more other foreign nationals you have registered,
the better your own chances will be of earning American citizenship.
This cooperation in bringing
others out of the shadows
will be a definite positive factor in favor of your staying in the
On the other hand, if it later appears that you hid
other foreign nationals that you knew about,
this will count against
your own application for citizenship.
Keep good records of all times and places
where you cooperated
with any level of government in the USA.
N. SHOW HOW YOU ARE ABOVE
Your application to become a U.S. citizen will be
placed alongside 1,000 other applications.
After immigration reform becomes effective,
about 1 million people will become naturalized Americans each year.
But there are 1 billion
people in the world who would like to become U.S.
Even before any new laws are proposed, discussed, or
you can begin creating your file of facts that support your application
one of the lucky foreign nationals who will become an American.
Beyond fulfilling all of the minimum requirements
likely to be included in new immigration laws,
you can make your case for becoming a U.S. citizen
by showing that you have already accomplished many things worth noting:
Did you receive any academic awards during your years of schooling?
Were you recognized by any employer for superior work?
Have you written any published articles or books?
Do you have any other educational, social, or economic achievements
that will tend to show that you will be a good American?
In short, how are you already above average?
Even before any immigration reform is enacted,
you can improve your chances of being accepted as a U.S. citizen
by fulfilling as many of these 14 likely criteria as you can.
And as soon as proposals for earning American citizenship are discussed,
you can begin to collect the evidence that will be needed for your
to become a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.
James Park is no stranger to the processes of
He has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 1955.
But it took almost a year for USCIS to look up the papers
and issue a Certificate of Citizenship when he applied for Social
He has written several other on-line essays about
which are linked here in the order of their relevance to the essay
Selecting New Americans . D
New Criteria for Selecting New Americans . D
New Pathways to Citizenship . D
I am an
A Range of Options . D
Carrots and Sticks . D
Deportation of Persons Likely to Qualify for
a Pathway to Citizenship under Immigration Reform
Millions of Foreign Nationals out of the Shadows
. D N
Economic Activity into the Open . D N
Born in the USA:
The Easy Way to Become a U.S. Citizen
Foreign Nationals in the USA:
How Many Will Stay?
Repatriation of Citizens of other Countries and their Families
Identity File . D N
Read Wikipedia on "Citizenship
in the United States".
April 4, 2011; Revised 4-6-2011; 5-7-2011; 5-11-2011; 8-12-2011;
9-28-2011; 10-1-2011; 10-12-2011;
3-28-2012; 6-19-2012; 1-18-2013