How to Get Citizenship After Marrying a US Citizen
If you are marrying a US citizen, it will be important to understand what this means for your immigration status if want to live with your spouse in the USA.
Non-US spouses of US citizens do not gain US immigration rights or status automatically on marriage. You will have to make the required applications, and prove that you meet certain, strict requirements that make you eligible a green card and ultimately for US citizenship after marriage to a U.S. citizen.
The process of how to get citizenship after marrying a US citizen is essentially in two parts.
You will first need to apply to become a lawful US permanent resident, otherwise known as being granted a Green Card. With permanent residence, you can live and work anywhere in the United States indefinitely. You will need to have a Green Card for three years before you can then apply to become a US citizen as a spouse.
Apply for a Green card based on marriage
Green card applications for spouses do not generally have the protracted waiting and processing times as other permanent residence categories. Spouses are considered ‘immediate relatives’ under US immigration rules. Immediate relatives are not subject to any cap on the number of green cards that can be issued nor are there long waiting lists.
To apply, your US-citizen spouse (your ‘sponsor’) will be required to complete and submit form I-130 to USCIS, and provide proof that the marriage is legally recognized, ie a marriage certificate, and that your relationship is genuine eg joint bank statements, photographs together.
USCIS may send a Request for Further Evidence if the adjudicator is not satisfied they have sufficient information to process the application. In total, processing ordinarily takes between 6 and 15 months.
Once the I-130 has been approved, you can move onto the green card application, the process for which will depend on whether you are applying from within the US or from outside the country.
In-country green card applications are made by applying to adjust your status, using form I-485.
Spouses of US citizens can in most cases file the I-485 and I-130 forms concurrently, reducing processing times to 9-12 months.
From outside the US, you will need to make an application to a National Visa Center (NVC) using form DS-260. NVC processing typically takes 3–5 months. If approved, the application will be sent on directly to the US consular post in your home country for further processing.
If you are living in the US unlawfully, take legal advice as this is a highly complex and sensitive area of law. For example, you may need to apply for a provisional waiver and leave the country in order to make your application, but this risks being found inadmissible due to your past unlawful stay.
The final stage in the green card application process is the interview, where you will be questioned on your relationship to confirm the authenticity of the marriage.
If you are applying from within the US, you will attend the interview with your US citizen spouse at a local USCIS branch. If applying from outside the US, you will be interviewed at the US consular post in your country of residence. Your spouse does not attend.
Successful applicants will be granted either:
- A CR-1 conditional green card – if you have been married for less than two years. This is valid for two years and must be renewed during the 90-day period immediately prior to the expiration of the conditional green card to obtain a permanent green card. The renewal process requires a joint filing from both spouses and USCIS will again seek proof of the continued authenticity of the marriage.
- IR1 permanent green card – issued if you have been married for more than two years at the time of your green card application. It is valid for 10 years and should be renewed to maintain your status, unless you apply for and are granted US citizenship.
Applying for Citizenship
With a Green Card in place, the next step for you may be US citizenship.
Marriage to a US citizen permits fast tracked eligibility for citizenship; ordinarily, individuals have to wait five years to become eligible, as opposed to three for spouses. If you have held lawful permanent residence for three years and during this entire period have remained married to and living with your US spouse, you can apply to naturalize using form N-400.
You must remain married all the way up to the naturalization ceremony to qualify for the three-year exception.
There are also a number of other requirements that will need to be met to qualify for US naturalization.
You must be over 18 and have spent at least 18 months out of the 3 years immediately preceding the filing of your application living in the United States.
You must also have lived within the state or USCIS district with jurisdiction over your place of residence for at least three months prior to filing of application.
You must also be able to speak, read, and write English and you cannot be found inadmissible for grounds such as immigration breaches or fraud, criminal history, or suffer certain physical or mental illnesses.
You will also need to attend an interview at a USCIS office and pass the US civics test.
If you have a question about your immigration status and options when marrying a US citizen, speak to one of our US immigration attorneys.