Did You Know?
• In 2016, Washington was the eighth-ranked state for residents who became naturalized citizens.
• The Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro area had 5,486 newly naturalized citizens in 2015. (There were 3,969 in 2014 and 5,282 in 2013.)
STEPS TO CITIZENSHIP
To be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must:
• Be at least 18 years of age.
• Be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder).
• Have resided in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years.
• Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months.
• Be a person of good moral character.
• Be able to speak, read, write and understand the English language.
• Have knowledge of U.S. government and history.
• Be willing and able to take the oath of allegiance.
(Spouses of U.S. citizens, military members and some children are exempt from some general requirements.)
SOURCE: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Alem Gebrehiwot won a lottery in 2011. But on Friday, his wife was ahead of him in claiming the unique prize: American citizenship.
The Ethiopian-born couple were part of the crowd when 26 immigrants took the oath of allegiance Friday morning at the Vancouver Community Library. Fiyori Hagos became a naturalized citizen as Gebrehiwot and their 4-year-old son applauded.
Gebrehiwot had been planning to join his wife in reciting the oath, but paperwork put him off schedule. He is in the process of legally changing his last name, which is complicating the naturalization process, the Portland resident said.
For Fiyori, the citizenship transition capped a process that her husband started 20 years ago. In 1997, Gebrehiwot first entered his name in a special visa program popularly known as the green-card lottery.
Officially called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, it’s a way to attract people from nations that don’t send a lot of immigrants our way, said Sharon Rummery, spokeswoman with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (Residents of the top countries of origin — including Mexico, India, Philippines and China — aren’t eligible for the diversity visa program.)
“The State Department pulls out 50,000 names every year and they can get a green card” for permanent residency, Rummery said. “Five years later, they are eligible to apply for citizenship.”
People who don’t get chosen can reapply every year. Gebrehiwot kept applying until he was chosen in 2011.
“It was really exciting,” Gebrehiwot said.
His wife actually was a factor in that application. The deadline was closing in and he still hadn’t filed the application, Gebrehiwot recalled: “She said, ‘Why don’t you apply?’ ”
His 15th application turned out to be a winner.
The newly sworn citizens came from 13 countries, but that wasn’t the only way their paths to America differed. Some arrive as refugees, and some are granted asylum. But most people come here through family or workplace sponsorships, said Rummery.
A job link was what brought new citizen Enrique Carbajal and his wife, Eloisa Romero, to Vancouver some 16 years ago. An electrical engineer, Carbajal came here from Mexico to do quality-control work for Bechtel, the largest construction and civil engineering company in the U.S.
Eloisa was sworn in as an American citizen last year. The couple went through the application process together, and they don’t know why she was able to take the oath a year ahead of him.
There was one notable advantage to her 2016 swearing-in, said Romero, who was wearing a heart-shaped pin that sparkled in red, white and blue.
“I voted and he didn’t.”