UNC Global collaborated with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to host a naturalization ceremony on April 12. The ceremony was held in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium in the FedEx Global Education Center, where nearly 60 immigrants were naturalized.
Elizabeth Barnum, director of International Student and Scholar Services for UNC Global, said she believes hosting naturalization ceremonies allows UNC to connect to the local community as well as the world at large.
“The hope is also that it's part of our service to the community,” Barnum said. “We work with international students and scholars from all over the world, and we also embrace the diversity that's part of America and all of the richness that comes to UNC from around the world. So the naturalization ceremony is a integral part of that recognition.”
Among those naturalized on Friday was Jojo Paka, who is from Republic of the Congo and has spent the last few years as a student at North Carolina Central University. For him, the immigration process went swiftly as he has now been a permanent resident in the U.S. for seven years.
“It wasn’t hard at all because I was a permanent resident since 2012 so it took me about five or six years from when I applied,” he said.
The USCIS requires all candidates for citizenship be a permanent resident in the United States for at least five years before applying for citizenship. In order to remain in the U.S. that long, one must obtain a green card, which is what David Wilkinson, from West Yorkshire, England, did.
Wilkinson was also naturalized on Saturday and was able to get a green card and live in the United States through his job with Cisco Systems. For Wilkinson, acquiring his green card and meeting his requirement of five years of permanent residency was fairly easy. He said it is much easier process for immigrants coming from places like the United Kingdom than from other places around the world.
“It depends which country you come from as to how long the waiting times are for the green card process, but for the UK it was pretty quick,” Wilkinson said.
He now lives in Cary, North Carolina with his family and just recently started a new brewery with some of his friends. He and his family plan on living in the United States for the foreseeable future.
“We’ve got five children in various different years — high school, middle school and elementary,” Wilkinson said. “The kids are in the school system, so we’ll be staying here for a while.”
Barnum said what she loves most about these naturalization ceremonies hosted by UNC Global is witnessing the different paths to citizenship such as that of Paka and Wilkinson.
“There are folks who came initially as students. There are people that married American citizens and kind of came through on a family route. There are people who were refugees and asylees and were fleeing persecution, and now having the legal status to be in the United States permanently and to have all of the opportunities and rights of a citizen," Barnum said. "Everybody’s got a long journey and the whole process from going from whatever status they came to the United States to permanent resident status.”
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