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Dirk Nowitzki starts the long process of becoming a U.S. citizen

He and his wife applied for their green cards.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Dirk Nowitzki has called the United States, and specifically Dallas, home for the past 21 years. That means that Nowitzki, who hails from Germany and turns 41 this summer, has therefore spent more than half his life in Texas after landing in Dallas with a bleached blonde bowl cut in 1998. During all his time in the States, though, he never once started the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. That’s about to change.

Nowitzki and his wife, Jessica, who is a Swedish citizen, have started down the long road of gaining citizenship, The Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend reports. If everything goes smoothly, they will become citizens in about five years.

”We’re in the process of getting a green card,” Nowitzki told Townsend about him and Jessica. “So once we accomplish that, then you have to be a green-card holder for, I think, over five years before you can even think about doing that [becoming a U.S. citizen]. So we’re going to do that and see how it goes. But obviously our [three] kids were born here and they all have U.S. passports and the wifey and I have been on a visa for the last few years.

”So hopefully that’s going to be accomplished soon.”

As with all foreign-born athletes, Nowitzki was likely in the country on either a P-1A or O-1 visa. P-1A visas are specifically for internationally recognized athletes. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spells out the eligibility requirements for individuals:

You must be coming to the United States to participate in individual event, competition or performance in which you are internationally recognized with a high level of achievement; evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country.

Proof of an NBA contract is one of the documents needed to qualify for this kind of visa. The initial period of stay is up to five years with the ability to extend the athlete’s time in the U.S. for another five. Nowitzki, however, has been in America for 21 years. NBA teams will help facilitate the legal immigration needs and requirements of their foreign players, which can allow players remain in the country longer.

Now though, he’s in the process of getting a green card, which can take up to half a year. A green card is the most common path to naturalization for immigrants. As Nowitzki correctly noted, he must be a green card holder for five years before he and his wife can apply for citizenship.

Once the Nowitzkis become citizens, they’ll be eligible for U.S. Passports and be able to vote in elections, things many of us take for granted. Looking down the road, Dallas will be a better place having Citizen Dirk amongst its ranks.