The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) recently launched a new program called the Citizenship Public Education and Awareness Initiative that aims to raise awareness about the rights, responsibilities and importance of U.S. citizenship.

The most recent immigrant population report, for the year 2009, showed that there are an estimated 12.5 legal permanent residents (green card holders) residing in the U.S., and 7.9 million of them are now eligible to apply for naturalization.  The USCIS initiative is aimed at encouraging them to become Americans.

“Citizenship is the common thread that connects us all as Americans. This initiative emphasizes the importance of citizenship—not only to immigrants and their families but also to our nation as a whole,” said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. “This effort marks a new milestone in USCIS’s outreach to lawful permanent residents.”

How will the USCIS nudge them to convert from legal resident to citizen. Digital media will of course be used, as well as print and radio ads and video public service announcements. This first phase of the USCIS campaign will run until Labor Day.

The plan is to educate legal residents about the rights, responsibilities and importance of U.S. citizenship, and to encourage eligible permanent residents to consider the benefits of U.S. citizenship for themselves and their communities.

Making potential applications aware of how to apply for citizenship, and the resources available to them, is also central to the initiative.

For those hesitating or questioning why U.S. citizenship is so important, the website provides all sorts of answers.

Why make the leap to citizenship?  There are any number of reasons. Only citizens can vote or serve on juries.  Citizens can travel abroad on U.S. passports and receive assistance if necessary.  They can also sponsor close family members for legal residence.

Also, certain jobs with U.S. government agencies require employers to be citizens, and only citizens can run for federal office, such as House or Senate seat (but not president). This is also true for many political offices on a state or local level.

Citizens never have to worry about losing their right to residency in the U.S., and can remain out of the country for an indefinite amount of time, even for good, without losing citizenship.  This is not true in the case of green card holders, who must make the U.S. their primary base of residence.

The USCIS also points out that only citizens are eligible for federal grants and scholarships, and some government benefits are only available to U.S. citizens.

The website has plenty of information about obtaining U.S. citizenship, so those looking for advice would be advised to check it out.  The Irish immigration centers operating in New York and Boston are also excellent sources of information.

Again referencing the aforementioned immigrant population report for 2009, what country had the largest number of the 12,450,000 legal permanent residents recorded for the year? Mexico by far, with 3,280,000.
Trailing in second place was the Philippines with 550,000.

Not surprisingly Ireland didn’t register on the top 20 countries, but the United Kingdom did come in 10th with 290,000 legal residents.