The adventures of the Els family, who immigrated from South Africa to the USA. Els family in Texas.

Our Naturalization As US Citizens

We Waited 6 Years

The waiting period for Green Card holders to become US citizens is 5 years. Our 5 years were up on September 5, 2001. We could now start the naturalization process that usually takes about 9 months to complete.

Dual Citizenship

When we started talking about naturalization, one of the issues that came up was, "what about our South African citizenship?" The natural answer to that one is, "give it up... you're becoming Americans now", but in my mind it wasn't that simple. Yes, quite right, we are definitely becoming Americans, but for reasons that make sense to us, we decided that dual citizenship was the way to go.

The South African government changed the law in 1995 to where a South African that takes on the nationality of another country would automatically lose their South African citizenship, unless they specifically applied for permission to retain their South African citizenship. So we did, and that delayed the start of our naturalization process by about 3 months.

Applying For Naturalization

The application forms weren't a big deal to fill out. We sent the completed forms in, paid $300 a piece for the application fee, and two months later we were scheduled to go for fingerprints in San Antonio. We couldn't go at that time because there had been heavy rains in the area, and large sections of the roads to San Anotonio, and San Antonio itself, were flooded. So we requested a postponement, and another two months later we were finally able to go. The fingerprints are for a background check that the FBI does.

The Interview

The prospect of doing the interview with the INS was by far the most nerve-wrecking part in this household... not because we had anything to hide and were scared they'd find out, but because we had to take (and pass) a test on US history and government structure. We went all-out studying for this test, and we learnt a lot.

In the end, the interview was nowhere near as intimidating as we expected. The INS officer was very friendly, and immediately put us at ease. The test was a breeze, and an interview that we expected would be 2 hours long, was done in 45 minutes. We were thrilled! All that was left, was the Oath Ceremony.

The Oath Ceremony

Our Oath Ceremony took place in Austin at UT (University of Texas) on January 17, 2003. There were 432 people from 73 countries taking the oath. The ceremony is basically a court session, run by a judge. In our case it was US District Judge Sam Sparks.

The main address was given by Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson, a very impressive man. He's the first African-American to become a Texas Supreme Court Justice, and also one of the youngest ever. He spoke on what it meant to be a US citizen. Given that his great-grandfather had been a slave, he has a special appreciation for what it means to be a US citizen with all the rights that the Constitution guarantees. In closing, he said that even if his ancestors were never forcibly brought to the US, he thinks he would've done all he could to come to the US.

The Oath of Citizenship was read by Judge Sam Sparks, and at exactly 2:40 p.m. we were sworn in as US citizens! We then received our Certificates of Naturalization, as well as a letter from President George W. Bush.

I also have to mention Carey Dietert, an executive with Dell Computers, and also a member of a local opera group. He sang "God Bless America", "The Star Spangled Banner" (the national anthem), and "God Bless the USA" in a way that brought tears to our eyes. Unbelievably good!

After the ceremony we met up with another couple from Lago Vista (the husband was also sworn in) and their friends. Congratulations Yaquie! A representative from the NLT Log (our local newspaper) was also there. We spoke with him for a while, and also took some photos. Afterwards we met with them at a local restaurant for a few drinks.

This was a very special day in our lives, and we can truly say, "We are proud to be Americans!"

Go see the photos.


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Copyright, John Els