When to File

"I HAVE been married for 10 years to an American citizen. I have had a green card for almost six years. Our marriage is going through a rough patch that will surely end in divorce. However, I would like to become a U.S. citizen, but I am of the opinion that we will have to remain married in order for me to do so. What do you recommend?"

YOU are immediately eligible to file the paperwork for U.S. citizenship, and your prospects of success will not in any way hinge on whether you remain married.

Those who wed U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for naturalization three years after acquiring permanent residence. Most other green card holders are required to wait five years before starting the process.

As you've been a permanent resident for nearly six years, you qualify for the right to apply for citizenship immediately. Log on to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) website at www.uscis.gov to get started.

Make it a point of doing it immediately, if you want to save some money. As of July 30, the filing fee will increase from $330 to $675.

Tax Returns

"MY husband and I are green card holders. We've had Morrison visas since 1993. Now we would like to apply for citizenship. However, our record of paying taxes has been spotty. I do not work, and my husband worked off the books for years before finally starting to pay minimal taxes three years ago. How will this affect our citizenship? Should we even bother?"

FILING annual tax returns is a requirement that all permanent residents must meet. Those who wish to become U.S. citizens must show that they've complied with tax law for the five year period prior to filing for naturalization (or three years, if naturalization is based on marriage to a U.S. citizen.)

Clearly, you're going to have to sort out your tax particulars before beginning the naturalization process. The best thing to do would be to speak with a tax expert who could help you get on the right track which will ultimately be to your benefit. If you're not paying taxes - painful as they can sometimes be for all of us - you can never hope to get anything out of the system, such as future Social Security benefits.

Visa Waiver Limit

"IS there a limit on the number of times a person can enter the U.S. in accordance with the visa waiver program? I have been to New York and Los Angeles five times in the past year, and I've never overstayed, but the last two times I traveled I was questioned in detail by an immigration officer in Shannon Airport. Am I close to meeting a limit?"

FIVE trips to New York and LA in the past year? Lucky you!

There is no "limit" on visa waiver entries. However, frequent trips to the U.S. could arouse suspicion on the part of an inspecting officer who might wonder why such back and forth travel is necessary, and whether it amounts to the establishment of U.S. residence, which of course is not allowed under the visa waiver rules.

As long as you can keep proving that your primary residence is Ireland - or anywhere other than the U.S. - you should be okay, but be prepared for more questions if your trips increase in frequency.

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