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News | July 5, 2016

Becoming an American Citizen in the Asia Pacific Area of Responsibility

By Lt. Allen Tolleth, Region Legal Service Office Japan

Numerous applicants across the Asia Pacific Area of Responsibility turn their dream of becoming a U.S. citizen into a reality with the help of Region Legal Services Office (RLSO) Japan and Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY). The decision to become a U.S. citizen is not taken lightly. Applicants swear an oath in which they denounce their allegiance and fidelity to the country of their birth, swear allegiance to the United States, and agree to perform a number of tasks, such as defending the Constitution and bearing arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law. Even before applicants get the opportunity to pledge themselves in a way that fundamentally alters the course of their future, they must first go through a rigorous administrative process.

The road to becoming a citizen is a complicated and time intensive process. Several U.S. Government agencies scattered across a number of countries own different pieces of the process. Timing and the order in which documents are completed also play a huge role. Simply reading the various flowcharts, checklists, and other visual guides to explain the process can overwhelm applicants. Members of RLSO Japan Legal Assistance Department are dedicated to supporting individuals seeking naturalization by simplifying the process and collaborating with the agencies involved. These collaborative efforts by RLSO Japan, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Embassy have not only made a direct and measurable impact on the number of individuals naturalized, but have also improved the quality of life applicants experience in pursuit of becoming an American citizen.

For the applicants, the simplified process has given them an opportunity to focus on the positive impacts of citizenship rather than the detailed logistics. This mindfulness or perspective towards the future has been readily apparent at the past two naturalization ceremonies onboard Fleet Activities Yokosuka, when applicants shared their individual stories and motivations with the keynote speakers. For the September 2015 ceremony, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy shared the applicant's stories. For the recent May 2016 ceremony, Capt. Steve "Horse" Weiman, Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, shared the applicant's stories and explained the effect their motivations had on him as an American and Naval officer. The pervasive themes expressed were gratitude, pride, commitment to service, and an eagerness to seize the opportunities for a brighter future. Members of RLSO Japan are honored to have supported these men and women in their journeys to becoming United States citizens. We look forward to continuing our efforts in helping the future generation of Americans achieve their dreams.
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