How long is the path to US citizenship? Immigration attorney says each case is different

Posted at 5:05 AM, Apr 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-19 09:00:58-04

The path to U.S. citizenship is a long and costly process for many immigrants.

Ruben Villezcas says it took him 20 years to get U.S. citizenship.

Villezcas’ family moved to Arizona from Mexico when he was just six months old.

“This is home for me,” said Villezcas. “This is where all my family is and we’ve been here for years.”

Villezcas was nine years old and had applied for his green card. However, he didn't get it until nearly 10 years later when he was graduating high school.

From there, Villezcas says it took 10 more years until he became a U.S. citizen. Despite the 20-year wait and the thousands of dollars he spent in lawyer fees, he is very proud to be a U.S. Citizen.

RELATED: Can you pass the US citizenship test? Try it here

“It's a privilege, honestly,” said Villezcas. "I have the privilege to do what everybody else can do now.”

Immigration Attorney Ruben Reyes says when it comes to the citizenship process, every case is different.

Reyes says for an immigrant who marries a U.S. citizen or for an immigrant who already has a green card, the process is quicker. However, for a person who is just starting the process and needs to get a visa, citizenship can take 14 to 15 years.

“A good example is somebody who is applying for a new visa, who has no status, would apply for the actual visa -- that takes about three years," said Reyes. "The wait for a visa is three more years. They would have to have that visa for a minimum of three more years before they're eligible for a legal permanent residency status. Then have the legal permanent residency status for 5 years before they're eligible to become a citizen.”

Reyes says if an immigrant already has legal permanent residency status, the process could just take a year.

"Immigration is complex,” said Reyes. “Even though you might think you have the same case as your neighbor, your brother, your sister, your cousin — it’s not. So your case is particular to you. Don’t trust your case with someone who is a notary. Notaries are not lawyers in the Untied States — they are not licensed to practice law. Don’t risk your future by saving pennies and throwing out the treasure. Having a consultation with an immigration attorney and somebody who exercises or practices immigration law in fundamentally important."