Levin Amendment to Correct “Catch-22” for “Aliens of Extraordinary Ability” Approved by Congress

Provision will enable ice dancer Tanith Belbin to gain U.S. citizenship in time for 2006 Olympics

Thursday, December 22, 2005

WASHINGTON – The Senate late yesterday passed an amendment authored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that will resolve an immigration “catch-22” for ice dancer Tanith Belbin and other people of “extraordinary ability” who will be representing the United States at an international event. The amendment, which would apply only to “aliens of extraordinary ability” who began their naturalization process prior to July 2002, would shorten the residency requirement from five to three years between the receipt of their green card and the date of their eligibility for naturalization. The amendment has now been approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and needs only to be signed by the President.

“This amendment corrects an anomaly in the law that unfairly disadvantaged some people who had begun their naturalization process before 2002,” said Levin. “Tanith Belbin began her naturalization process in 2000, but due to changes that were made to the law in 2002, the process has taken significantly longer than it would have if she had filed her paperwork two years later. I’m pleased that Congress approved this common-sense fix that will enable her to complete the citizenship process in time to represent the U.S. in the 2006 Olympics.”

Before July 2002, an “alien of extraordinary ability” needed to be approved for an immigrant worker visa before they could apply for their green card. Upon receipt of a green card, the immigrant faced a mandatory five-year residency period before he or she could apply for naturalization. In July 2002, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services changed the rules so that an individual can now file their immigrant worker application and green card application at the same time, significantly shortening the overall processing time. As a result, individuals who began the naturalization process after July 2002 could receive their citizenship in about five and a half years. However, individuals who started the process earlier have often had to wait up to eight years.

The amendment would benefit an Olympic-eligible ice dancer, Tanith Belbin, born in Canada and currently living in Michigan, who would not have U.S. citizenship in time for the 2006 Olympics without this amendment. Her immigrant worker visa was approved in 2000, but she did not receive her green card until July 2002. Had she received the benefit of the current processing provisions, she would be eligible to represent the U.S. in the 2006 Olympics.

The amendment is included in the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services (HHS).