Our Family’s Journey to American Citizenship (and Answers to the 9 Most Frequently Asked Questions)

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“I hear a bit of an accent…where are you from?” Good question!

My husband is a brand-new American citizen! I’m grateful we both understand this experience, because I was an immigrant in his country before he became a citizen in mine. 

I’d love to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the emotional side of this journey, and answer a few common questions we’ve gotten. (BTW, this article isn’t political) 

Why did he want to become a citizen?

He freaking loves this country! He chose the Statue of Liberty as one of his personal symbols. He wanted to come here, build a new life for his family, and now uses his career to serve his community. 

“What’s the big deal?” our son asked the night before the ceremony.

“America adopted Daddy,” I said. “And America didn’t have to.” Our children need to know about their privilege, the value of their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

Citizenship won’t change much about his daily life, though now he has the right to vote and run for office. However, the sense of belonging and security is truly life-changing for us.   

Since he was married to an American, did he have to apply and pay for citizenship?

Yes, though we had greater assurance that he’d be accepted because of our family situation. 

The permanent resident card (AKA the green card) required several thousand dollars. I was his sponsor, but since we were living in France and I didn’t have an income in the USA, we needed a financial sponsor (for 10 years!) or a large sum in a bank account to prove we wouldn’t be a burden on the American society. 

He could have just renewed his green card (it’s valid for 10 years). The process to be a citizen wasn’t automatic, and cost nearly another thousand dollars. 

We are incredibly grateful because we had the best and easiest of circumstances.

Did you use a lawyer?

No, since we had a fairly straight-forward situation (and I’m comfortable with the English language), I did all the paperwork myself, double-checking everything and praying hard. This saved us money and possibly gave me wrinkles.

How long did naturalization take?

Fifteen years ago, my husband visited Kansas on a brief internship and fell in love with this country but didn’t dream he’d live here. After we were married, we lived in France.

It was ALL his idea to start the green card paperwork to come to the USA. It took us about a year, and required a visit to Paris for a medical exam, vaccines and x-rays. 

We also had to do an interview at the American Embassy in Paris. It’s an intimidating place – you basically can’t take in anything but your passport. 

I was instructed to be silent as she questioned my husband, asking details about our relationship. Easily the scariest conversation ever. Once she approved him, and I resumed breathing, we had 6 months to enter the USA and finish the residence card process. 

We entered the USA with a preschooler, toddler, violin, cat and four suitcases. We had shipped ahead 35 apple boxes of our belongings, we had no jobs and we moved in with my parents. 

We’re really grateful for our American dream. 

After six years state-side, we started the application for naturalization, and it took five months to complete. We did the paperwork and paid the fees, he had biometrics taken, studied, and took a civics test, reading and writing test, and did an interview. Then we finally reached the naturalization and oath ceremony. 

Was the civics test difficult?

It is 100 questions, which you can read here. The applicant is asked 10 questions, and must get 6 of the correct to pass. My husband spent time studying and practicing, highlighting them and coming up with ways to remember current representatives’ names.

The written and spoken English tests were fairly simple.

What was the naturalization ceremony in Wichita like?

Awesome! There were 145 new citizens from 45 countries; I could feel how many stories they each held, from Iraq to Somalia to France. 

I loved that they called for each country alphabetically to stand and be recognized. The applicants raised their right hands and took their oath of loyalty together.

There were parts I expected, like singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. And there were surprising parts, like the judge and members of the court getting out guitars to play “Only in America.” It was fantastic.     

Then the judge made a receiving line so he could shake hands and get a picture with each of them. The whole ceremony was so warm and welcoming.

And then we took our kiddos to Chick-Fil-A. Like you do. 

Have you ever been separated or were you ever nervous about it?

We have had moments of separation at airports that left a bitter taste in my mouth. Honestly, I’ve been nervous since we got engaged 12 years ago. The relief of him being a citizen is still surreal.

Do your kids have dual citizenship?

Yes! We did a bunch of paperwork for them to have birth certificates from both countries. Paperwork is the story of our lives.

Your story moves me – but what could I do?

You can donate or volunteer with the International Rescue Committee. Not all immigrants in our own city have such smooth sailing, community or funds as we like we did.

You can become a more informed American. Test your knowledge with 100 questions that citizenship applicants have to study and learn. 

If you want to teach your kiddos more about the history of immigration in America, Scholastic has great resources about Ellis Island that you can dig into.

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