Path to U.S. Citizenship Costly, Tedious

ByABC News
July 2, 2001, 5:05 PM

July 3 -- For many Americans the Fourth of July is a time to fire up the grill, catch up with family, and watch fireworks. But for thousands of newly naturalized Americans, the Fourth is a day to celebrate their independence from the frustrating, time-consuming process of becoming a citizen.

Its not the civics tests or pointed questions from federal officials that make the process so hard.

For most, the real stumbling block comes much sooner, when prospective citizens seek to live and work in the United States indefinitely by obtaining the infamous green card. And its the job-based green card, more so than the family-based one, that causes the most headaches.

Some 140,000 professionals, more than half working in the technology sector, are granted permanent residency out of the nearly 900,000 immigrants America welcomes each year. And it is this group that tends to go through an increasingly costly, risky and tedious process.

The Cost, Monetary and Personal

Fees run into the thousands. Most immigration lawyers charge between $5,000 to $7,500 to accompany a client through the green card process. Some cases can cost closer to $15,000 before adding on application fees and any potential family members.

But the real cost is harder to quantify. Applicants can spend years marked by a feeling of lost opportunity and helplessness as they wait for the process to conclude.

One 45-year-old British-born woman, who asked not to be identified, has been waiting four years for her green card, and still doesnt have it.

Her limited encounters with the immigration process have been disheartening. Its incredibly hard to get information. You have no idea where you are in the process, she laments. When she called one official in Massachusetts, where she works, she says he told her that it was his job to make sure I get sent home.

Canadian-born Mat Small has worked at a Northern California tech firm for the past three years and also finds his application efforts hard to deal with.