Thanks to special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), people that marry United States citizens can be eligible for naturalization. In most cases, spouses of U.S. citizens seeking naturalization must meet general requirements, but there are some special provisions that provide modifications to those requirements.
History of Marriage-Based Immigration
Marriage-based immigration dates back to legislation passed in 1922. At the time, lawmakers believed the original five-year waiting period for spouses of U.S. citizens of the naturalization process was both inefficient and undesirable. In 1934, Congress altered the law to include a shortened waiting period of three years. Lawmakers added more provisions via the Nationality Act of 1940. Today’s laws aim to further facilitate the process for spouses of U.S. citizens to gain the lawful protection of their own citizenship in the U.S.
Lawful Ways for U.S. Citizen Spouses to Naturalize
The following provisions to the Immigration and Nationality Act allow for the spouses of U.S. citizens to become legal naturalized citizens.
- A U.S. citizen’s spouse is eligible for naturalization under general naturalization provisions if he or she has lived in the U.S. for at least five years after becoming a lawful permanent resident (getting a Green Card).
- A U.S. citizen’s spouse may also naturalize after residing in the U.S. for three years after becoming a lawful permanent resident, rather than five years as general naturalization provisions require.
- The spouse of a U.S. citizen, who is employed abroad and working for the U.S. government or another qualified entity, may naturalize in the U.S. without any required period of time nor a necessary physical presence in the U.S. after officially receiving a Green Card.
- If a U.S. citizen is serving abroad, his spouse may become a citizen abroad while residing with his or her U.S. citizen spouse. Time spent abroad under these circumstances counts towards the time spent in U.S. requirements listed above (both the three and five year requirements).
- If a U.S. citizen dies during a period of honorable service while on active-duty status in the U.S. armed services, then his or her surviving spouse may become a U.S. citizen without any of the time period requirements (three and five year) or the physical presence in the U.S. after becoming a lawful permanent resident.
- Any spouses, former spouses, or intended spouses of U.S. citizens, who have already obtained legal permanent residence, may become a citizen if they have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by their citizen spouse.
General Provisions for Spouses of U.S. Citizens
|Provision||Marriage and Marital Union||Continuous Residence||Physical Presence||Eligibility for Overseas Processing|
|Spouses of U.S. Citizens Residing in the Country||Married and living in marital union for at least 3 years prior to filing||3 years after getting a Green Card||At least 18 months of U.S. residence||Only spouses of military members may complete entire process from abroad.|
|Spouses of U.S. Citizens Employed Abroad||Married prior to filing||Must have Green Card at filing but there is no specified period required.||No, all applicants must be in U.S. for interview and Oath.|
|Spouses of Deceased Service Members||Must have been married, living in marital union at time of the U.S. citizen’s death.||Must have Green Card at filing but there is no specified period required.||No, all applicants must be in U.S. for interview and Oath.|
For more information on marriage-based immigration, check out the official website from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).