She and I have sometimes discussed the possibility of her becoming an American citizen. The usual waiting period for green card holders (permanent residents) is five years, but as the spouse of an American her waiting time is only 3 years; i.e., once she has lived here as a permanent resident for 3 years, she is eligible to become an American citizen.
Well, this summer it will be three years since we arrived back in New York, so the conversation has started to take on new urgency. In the past, we’ve debated the pros and cons. She already has a lot of rights as a permanent resident: she can stay in this country forever, and come and go as she pleases – the only restriction being that she would have to do some explaining if she stayed outside of America for over a year. And even that would be cool if, say, she or I was working for an American firm overseas. She’s entitled to Social Security and Medicare and unemployment benefits and federal student loans, and she’s allowed to hold a job. The only thing she can’t do is vote (which is odd, considering she has to pay taxes).
Being only a permanent resident, and not a citizen, she is able to retain her Chinese passport, which allows her easy entry back home. I do not believe the Chinese allow dual citizenship, though the Americans do. So if she became an American citizen, I think she might have to give up her Chinese passport, and she would have the same issues that I do when I travel there – getting a visa and keeping it valid in order to stay in the country. But I need to look into this more. It’s unclear how the Chinese would find out that she became American. Perhaps she could just keep Chinese citizenship on the sly. Her family is there and we intend to live there again in the future, not just travel back once in a while, so this is a big concern.
So it has been up in the air, and the standard end to the conversation has been: we’ll decide when we have to. But then she came home last week and, out of nowhere, said with conviction, “I want to be an American.” This was pretty surprising, because she likes to talk smack about “Americans” in the sweeping generalizations that are familiar to expats the world over. Anything she dislikes about a person or a specific group of people becomes a cut against all Americans. It’s wrong, but we all do it. I did it in China. “Chinese spit everywhere and wear their pajamas on the street!” is akin to “Americans wear shorts and flip-flops even in winter and would rather complain about their professor’s teaching methods than study the material.” So I’m always jabbing her about her digs on my countrymen the way she did at mine when we lived over there. And when she said she wanted to become a citizen, it was too rich. Wait, now YOU want to be an AMERICAN??? Haha!
It may have been the French thing that settled it. These French bastards (see how easy it is?) gave us all sorts of trouble about our upcoming trip and it looked like we might not get a visa. A visa, that is, for her, because American citizens don’t need visas to go to France, but American permanent residents do. They want to see an itinerary, hotel reservations which must be faxed, not emailed, a certain, unspecified amount of cash in the bank, paystubs, letters of invitation, insurance, the whole nine. Meanwhile, any bum with an American passport can just show up, and is welcomed with open arms, no questions asked. This is one of the many freedoms we Americans enjoy. (She got the visa in the end).
Another thing may be work-related. She has considered recently the idea of working for the American government, perhaps as part of the SEC, to join the effort to rein in the trolls who wrecked the economy. When she said this I thought it was one of the noblest things I have heard. Of course, her classmates laughed out loud when she said it in Financial Accounting: they all want to work for Goldman Sachs (“typical Americans”). I did not know this, but only American citizens are eligible to work for the federal government. Can you imagine what those Red Chinese will think of one of their own daughters working for the Imperial Dogs of Washington? It is too rich to contemplate.