An American Completes The “Path To Citizenship” In Mexico. It`s Hard!

February 25, 2009

By
An American-Mexican Mom

VDARE.COM readers
are all too familiar with the


“path to citizenship”
that was part of the
notorious

Bush-Kennedy-McCain amnesty
proposals. For an

American living in Mexico
, the path to Mexican
citizenship requires skilled use of a machete

Americans

live in Mexico
for various reasons. The typical

expat
living here is retired and supported by
savings or Social Security. But there`s also a growing
number of younger working-age expat residents, like
myself.

With few
exceptions all foreign

visitors to Mexico
 and
with no exceptions all foreign residents of Mexico, are
required to have permission from the Mexican government
in the form of a visa.

A large percentage
of expats are
“snow birds”
: they live here only seasonally,
returning to the States; the routine is repeated yearly.
This kind of foreign resident usually holds a visa
called an FM 3 rentista
(non working temporary resident alien).

Foreign residents
who work in Mexico require a more specialized visa
called an

FM2
or FM 3

lucrativa
“Lucrativa”
as in making money. These visas come in the form of a
little book similar in size to a passport. Technically,
they are to be
carried at
all times
. The working visas are granted to a person
for a specific job. (Allan
Wall
had one of these when he was

teaching English
in Mexico.) I will explain the
importance of this later on.

There is a
“path to
citizenship”
in Mexico. According to the Mexican
Secretariat of Foreign Relations

 (SRE) an American
citizen may apply for Mexican citizenship: 

  • after residing
    in Mexico for five years under an FM 2 visa; or

     
  • after residing
    in Mexico for two years with a visa if they are
    married to a Mexican citizen; or,

     
  • after residing
    in Mexico for two years with a visa if they have
    Mexican-born children; or

     
  • after making a
    “significant contribution” (supposedly cultural or scientific
    but not limited to these)

There`s a long
list of documents required in addition to the completed
application form and the payment in order to submit a
citizenship application.

In 2003, after
having lived in Mexico for five years, and with my
children then aged 1 and 4 years, I decided that it
would be in our best interest to become a Mexican
citizen. Accordingly, I applied based on the fact that I
have two children born here in Mexico and I had been
residing in the country for more than two years.

After our seasonal
work had ended, my Mexican husband, the kids and I made
the trek to the SRE office in our state capital (five
hours on a windy one-lane road each way—with small
children) to apply. I had all of the documents in order
as well as the proof of payment for the application. In
Mexico we pay for all government services ahead of time
to prevent

bribery
(mordida).
So even before applying, I was already financially
committed.

After a few hours
of waiting in a mob scene at the office, my turn came
up. I presented all of the documents, the payment, the
photographs and even my Mexican-born children in person
as was required. My paperwork was received and I was
told that it would be sent to Mexico City (a.k.a.
“D.F.” for
Distrito Federal
) and that was it. I asked for a receipt or file
number but was told that they
“don`t work that
way”
.

On leaving, both
my husband and I realized that they could just throw my
file into the garbage can and forget about it. But we
were sure that I would be approved. After all, I had
been living in Mexico for five years, have Mexican
children, a business, employees, pay taxes and abide by
the law.

That was in
September of 2003.

To make a long
story short, my application was eventually disqualified.
Part of this was my own fault. When my children were
born, the city filled out their birth certificates with
the mother`s name (my name) as it appears on my birth
certificate. Well, 35 years, one marriage and a divorce
later, my

birth name
was no longer my legal name.

It took nearly one
year for SRE to notify me of this discrepancy. Then they
claimed that, since my application had taken so long, I
would have to start the process over again.

The court order to
change my name on the kids` birth certificates took
almost another year. During the time that I was waiting
for the court order, I could have reapplied based on
residency alone (I was now past 5 years). But the head
of the SRE office in our capital city talked me out of
it. I later found out that this same person does not
want Americans to become Mexican citizens due to our
inhumane
immigration policy
, a popular sentiment among
staff at SRE.

I applied again
and paid again for citizenship in the spring of 2006.
This time I had the children`s birth certificates
“exactly correct”,
even the seal was clear. (On a past trip I learned how
important
“exactly correct”
is to Mexican beaurocracy. The
newly-corrected birth certificates that I had worked so
hard for were rejected upon submittal. Everything was
spelled correctly, all dates, places, times were perfect
but the official at the SRE office told me that because
the seal, the ink stamp of our municipality, was not
“perfectly clear”—it was slightly blotched—Mexico City wouldn`t
accept it. This official further revealed that Mexico
City will think they are
fake
papers!
So we were turned away and accomplished
nothing. We had many visits to SRE like this.)

Throughout the
entire time that my application was considered I was
still required to follow immigration law and renew my
visa on a yearly basis. I came here to live but instead
of working for an employer, I opted to start a business
and formed a Mexican corporation. I work for myself but
my job is specific and I am highly restricted when it
comes to earning a living, even within my own company.

Every year in the
spring I must renew my visa. Since I use the office
located in my town and there are documents that they
already have on file, like my birth certificate (the one
that has my birth name on it), and the

apostille
of the birth certificate- (because a
notary in my birth country is considered meaningless and
an
apostille
is proof that the notarized seal on my
document is real and not fake) so I don`t have to
present them again.

Depending on who`s
at the desk at the immigration office, the list of
requirements will differ. But the important ones are
generally the same: my passport and a copy of every
page; the tax registry of my company; the past tax
payments of my company; a list of the persons under my
employ with proof that they are receiving government
benefits; proof of where my business is physically
located; a letter from my business offering me the job
and the description of the work; a letter from me
accepting the position (now they have me writing letters
to myself and responding to myself too); the payment for
the renewal, and a
folder
. I guess that`s because they`re too cheap to
buy office supplies.

I`ve learned
through the years that

government officials in Mexico
cannot collect money
directly. There are special forms that must be filled
out and presented at the bank along with the payment
deposit itself. The bank stamps your copy or gives a
receipt and that is your proof of payment. The
information on the form ensures that the payment goes
directly to the appropriate government agency, so that

bribes can be prevented.
But more often than not,
the immigration office in my city strongly recommends
that all payments are to be made to them in cash. And of
course the payment will vary from person to person.

A few rules of
thumb when dealing with the local Mexican immigration
office: the wealthier they perceive you to be the more
you will pay. The more in a hurry you are to receive
your visa, the more you will pay. The more trouble you
can get into for working without the proper permissions,
the more you will pay. The closer you are to

Christmas
, the more you will pay.

There are things
that are supposed to protect you from overpaying, like
the sign inside the immigration office clearly stating
the amount that each visa costs. But all information is
printed in Spanish and there is no help available in
English.

We are in Mexico
, after all. (Few expats who come to
live here ever bother to

learn the language
, so they set themselves up.)

I`m just a poor
working stiff so my husband accompanies me each year and
we present my requirements, along with the bank-stamped
payment form and the folder. My husband, like many
Mexicans, gets visibly upset when the subject of
mordida-collecting
government officials comes up. The guys at immigration
know this (it`s a small town) so they reluctantly accept
my papers and then take their sweet time. Rarely are we
ever in a hurry to receive what we came for.

In 2007, after
getting nowhere with SRE in our state capital city, I
attempted to contact the head office in the
Distrito Federal.
Their telephone numbers when dialed rang and rang but
nobody ever picked up. In June I hired a lawyer to help
me move things along. Based on how far into this process
I was, he said that I should have Mexican citizenship
within 8 months.

In the meantime I
found an area on the

SRE website where one can e-mail with questions
. I
e-mailed a complaint in July of 2007, but received no
response. Meanwhile the lawyer went to Mexico City for
other clients and asked about my particular case. He was
told that my solicitation had gone on for too long and
the best thing for me to do would be to start all over
again. So we scheduled the trip to Mexico City for late
October 2007.

But in September I
received a letter from SRE stating that my case could
continue. In it, I was instructed to present the
following documentation: my passport and two copies of
each page, my current FM 3 visa with two copies of each
page, a letter stating how many times I exited and
entered the country within the last two years, and a set
of recent passport-sized photos no more than 30 days
old.

As I prepared to
go to D.F. accompanied by my lawyer, he gave me the list
of documents to bring. Against his advice, I brought a 

small rolling suitcase
that contained every document they have ever
asked for in the past and including my children`s and my
husband`s documents and then some. I also brought that
letter that I received in September. It came in very
handy later on.

While I had
remembered all of these documents, I had forgotten those
photos that I was supposed to bring. Fortunately,
according to my lawyer there was a photo studio that
could do it near the SRE offices and we had an hour to
kill. When I went to where my lawyer said this place
was, it had obviously moved. I asked around and was able
to find another one. Upon receiving the photos, I
sprinted back to SER. I found the rest of the people in
the group—American citizens also accompanying our lawyer
to apply for citizenship—seated and visibly upset.

Prior to this day,
American citizens residing in Mexico for five years were
eligible to apply for citizenship. But they had just
found out this was no longer the case. That morning, the
office of SRE refused the citizenship applications of
scores of people (remember these applicants have already
paid the fee, yet were refused) and we watched in horror
as tears streamed down faces of people who came from as
far away as Tijuana (that`s as far away from the
Distrito Federal as you can get and still be in Mexico).

Our lawyer was at
the window with one of the attendants. I went up to him
with that letter that I received a few weeks prior. I
was instructed by the person behind the counter that I
could not apply for citizenship. Her assumption was that
I was in the same boat as the others. I gave her the
letter. With raised eyebrows, she said that she had to
show it to her boss.

Twenty minutes
later, I was told that I only have to present the
documents listed in the letter then my case could move
forward. So I gave her the documents and then tried to
give her the photos but she refused them, saying they
were “not needed”.

I then stepped
into the back room where they

digitized my fingerprints and signature
. I mentioned
the photos to the woman behind the desk, and again was
told they weren`t needed. Then she showed me her
computer where my original photos were displayed. These
were the same ones that I submitted four years before
with my original citizenship application. I looked much
younger for not having been put through constant head
games by SRE. Go figure.

In December, I was
surprised to receive a phone call from the SRE official
in my state capital requesting me to make the trip there
in order to present the documents required in that
letter from SER back in September. It had been cc`d to
him. He must have been made aware of it when I received
it in September, yet he was informing me four months
later.

In early 2008, I
tried my luck at finding out how much longer my
application for citizenship would take. I wasn`t
surprised to find that my local SRE official knew
nothing about my case and that the head office in Mexico
City didn`t respond.

So I was
pleasantly curious to see another letter from SRE in my
mailbox in April 2008. This letter stated that I will
need to present (at my local SRE office) my passport
with two copies of each page, my current visa along with
two copies of every page, a letter stating my exits and
entries into the country—all the same stuff they`ve
asked me for four times already. I wonder what they do
with it? Plus two new things: the complimentary payment
to complete my application process—and I would have to
pass the newly-required Mexican History exam.

So I scheduled my
appointment to present these things and take the exam in
late May 2008.

At this point my
work visa was only a few weeks away from expiring. So I
decided that it would be best to renew it before going
to the state capital to present those documents. After
all, if I didn`t they`d ask for it again anyway.

This time at the
immigration office, we were in a hurry to receive my
renewal. I informed them that I had a
“family
emergency”
and that I would need my visa right away
so that I could travel. If I had told them the real
reason why I needed it, they would have messed with me
for sure. It took them two weeks to give me my document
despite my “family emergency” but at least I got it back in time.

Now back to the
exam:

As of May 2008,
SRE didn`t publish potential exam questions. A basic
knowledge of the history of Mexico is required for
citizenship. The law also states that naturalized
citizens must assimilate into Mexican culture and
society and in order to do these things, knowledge of
Spanish is imperative.

The letter from
SER suggested that I study a 5th or 6th grade history
textbook, which I did. The test consists of five
questions. In order to pass, the applicant must answer
four out of the five questions correctly. Applicants are
given six attempts at this exam and if they fail all of
them, then they must start the application process over.
(Remember, applicants have already paid the fee to the
Mexican government even before applying.)

I was desperate to
pass because I did not want to make repeated trips and
have this citizenship ordeal hanging over my head. So I
read in Spanish and I read in English all about Mexican
history. During many a Google search in English I was
unsuccessful at finding what the test questions might
be. Then I searched in Spanish and found the information
that enabled me to study most effectively.

The website that I
stumbled on was a comment section within an unofficial
immigration law website that has since disappeared (I`m
not joking). Posters were including actual test
questions that they were given when they applied for
citizenship at SRE in Mexico City and in state capitals.
I saw several questions repeated over and again. Some of
the SRE offices gave extremely difficult questions. It
was obvious that they didn`t want to see applicants pass
the exam.

At first I went
into panic mode because of the difficulty of the
questions. But then I copied and pasted the entire
thread into a word document. I went over the entire
thing deleting questions that were repeated and
answering questions that were unanswered. The exam was
obviously not only about Mexican history but it also
covered geography and culture—as in T.V., current
events, and music. Here are examples of some of the more
memorable questions-

  • Who is the

    legitimate president of Mexico
    ?

     
  • In which year
    was IMSS [Mexico`s Social Security] established?

     
  • Who was
    Mexico`s first female medical doctor?

     
  • Who played the
    character of

    Cantinflas
    ? (Mexico`s version of Charlie
    Chaplin, same era)

     
  • Where are the
    sweet potato guys, the strawberry-ers the cactus
    people and the sausage makers from?[These are
    Mexican regional nicknames]

In the final 36
hours of studying I simply memorized the questions and
answers. My Mexican friends and family were amazed at
how much trivial information about their country I could
recite that they could not. I studied non-stop, even on
the bus all the way to my state capital city. Just in
case, I programmed a few answers to questions that I
couldn`t remember into my Blackberry so that I could
refer to them during the exam.

I was ready to
cheat. But the official never gave me the chance as he
sat right in front of me and chatted on his cell phone
the entire time I took the exam. I knew the answers to
four of the questions right off the bat, but I answered
the fifth incorrectly. However upon grading, the
official, with a frown on his face, informed me that I
had passed. So he accepted the documents and my payment
form along with the passing exam.

Again I received
no receipt. I left without proof that I had even been
there at all. Let alone studied so hard to jump through
yet another hoop they had put in front of me.

(Since I have
taken the exam a study guide with 101 potential test
questions [PDF]
has been published. Now applicants can more easily
prepare for this exam. I did not have this luxury.)

Fast forward to
November 2008: I was still waiting. SRE offered no help
even when I was able to get through to them to ask. The
office in Mexico City no longer answered their phones
and they did not respond to e-mail. They were trying
very hard to discourage me so that I would just drop the
entire matter.

But I was
persistent. I have a family and our business is in the
tourism industry, which is suffering along with the
economy. I have been offered other jobs that would
enable me to provide for my family at a time. But for a
legal foreign resident in Mexico, getting a new job is
no easy task.

A foreign visa
holder who wants to take a new position with an employer
must do the following: submit his work visa and copies;
submit his passport and copies; provide proof of where
he lives; provide a letter of the job offer from the
employer and his acceptance letter; and provide his
credentials (university degrees) translated into
Spanish. In addition to this, the employer must submit
their tax registration documents and last tax payments,
and a list of their Mexican employees receiving
government benefits as per the law.

Only then do then
does Immigration consider allowing the foreign visa
holder to take a new position.

Permission is
granted only after it is proven that the foreigner is in
the country legally and not is not replacing or being
given priority over an equally qualified Mexican
applicant.

What a concept!

In Mexico there is
a federal labor law (called
Ley
Federal del Trabajo
) that states there must be
nine Mexican employees for every one foreign employee
.
As a small business owner, I could tell many
hair-raising stories about how the Mexican federal work
law negatively affects the growth of the Mexican economy
and is especially predatory toward foreign employers,
but that`s another article altogether.

In early February
2008 my citizenship application was sent to
Immigration`s head office in D.F. so that they could
compare it with what they had on file and then submit
their opinion to SRE. They did not submit an opinion. My
application went into limbo. I had by then resided in
Mexico legally for ten years, created dozens of jobs,
paid significant taxes, with both my kids in elementary
school. But Immigration still had
no opinion
.

After many weeks,
phone calls, e-mails, and tooth pulling, I got things
moving with information from a

website posted by the Mexican government
. It
explained that I had defendable rights if I completed
all of the obligatory requirements and the government
had not properly acted. After many e-mail messages to
this website, I finally tried the toll free 800 number.
That
worked—and it cost me nothing but time. After calling
this help line several times a day, I started to make
progress.

When it was
finally determined that my application was held up at
Immigration, I found out that was in charge there. I
explained my case to him and he was very sympathetic.
Three weeks later he sent a favorable opinion on my case
to SRE. That happened right before the Christmas
holidays.

This now brings us
to the New Year—2009. After many, many more frustrating
phone calls in the hopes of moving things along, I made
yet another call to SRE in Mexico City early last week.
I was pleasantly surprised when, as I started to give my
full name in order to leave a message, the woman on the
phone completed my name. Then she said:
“Your citizenship
letter has been signed and forwarded, congratulations
you`re a Mexican citizen now”.

Currently my new
citizenship documents are sitting in our capital city
ready to pick up. I expect to go for them next week.
This week is carnival, which means it is very busy there
right now.

So this makes me a dual Mexican and American citizen. I
hereby refer to myself as an American-Mexican mom.

American-Mexican Mom (email
her
) lives with
somewhere in Mexico with her Mexican husband and two
children.