How easy will it be for Prince Harry to gain US citizenship?

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<span>Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA</span>
Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Prince Harry would not automatically be granted US citizenship through his American spouse the Duchess of Sussex, US immigration lawyers say, though should the renegade royal pair seek to settle in America Meghan could petition US immigration services for an F2A green card.

Related: Advisers applied for 'Sussex Royal' trademark in summer

“She could sponsor him as a spouse,” said US immigration attorney Karin Wolman, “But it’s not instantaneous, there’s no such thing as automatic, and citizenship happens later.”

Wolman said any prospective immigrant to the US – even a royal – will experience an immigration system roiled by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.

All immigration processes over the past year “are taking longer, become more burdensome, more administratively messed up, errors by the applicant are thrown back at the applicant or their lawyer, and there’s no accountability”, Wolman said.

Still, said Wolman, “If Meghan wants to sponsor Harry, that sounds lovely. I think they should be able to live wherever they want.”

Immigration lawyers say Harry would have to stay in the US while his application was processed, providing he can show a clean record even down to misdemeanors.

According to lawyer Glenn Bank, Harry’s past errors of judgement – dressing up as a Nazi as a teen and appearing naked in Las Vegas party pictures – do not amount to crimes of moral turpitude, a category under which some applications can be denied. “He has to show good moral character, which means no criminal act or violation of immigration law or act of persecution that would make him inadmissible,” Bank said.

One category that carries no weight at the border are inherited titles – indeed, the US constitution specifically forbids their recognition.

Article I, section 9, clause 8 of the US constitution, commonly referred to as the emoluments clause, states: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

That applies to immigration, said Bank. “As a general rule, royalty is absolutely not recognized and we don’t acknowledge titles, either.”

But the opposite is also true. Meghan was also in jeopardy of losing her US citizenship by accepting a royal title. In the 11th Congress (1809-11), an amendment to the constitution was passed but never ratified.

The proposed amendment stated: “If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or honour, or shall, without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them.”

If Harry used diplomatic status to enter the US – if he carries it – he would have to surrender it to obtain a green card.

A work visa, such as an H1, is a less likely route to a new life in America, since Harry has no obvious professional skills. “He’s a prince, so it’s not a profession that demands an H1 work visa,” Bank said.

Still, if he applied for an 0-1 extraordinary ability visa with petitioners on his behalf, such as Barack and Michelle Obama or George Clooney, it is hard to see it being denied, he added. “That’s outside my pay-grade but, sure, certain strings get pulled sometimes … I’m sure at the interview he won’t be sitting in the waiting room.”

Less likely, said both lawyers, is Harry coming to the US on an EB-5, a controversial investment visa supposed to bring investment to economically disadvantaged areas of the US but has often been used to fund Manhattan luxury high-risers or shadow-makers.

“It takes too long and you have to provide five years of financial records,” Wolman said. “I’m sure he would not want his finances gone over with a fine-tooth comb, and the royal family would object, since they’re not a matter of public record. I can’t imagine the family being comfortable with that.”

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