Becoming a U.S. Citizen Through Marriage

The timeframe required to receive naturalized citizenship for immigrants who marry U.S. citizens expedites, but the naturalization process still entails multiple steps over several years. Understanding the rules around citizenship through marriage and following the guidelines precisely ensures the path to citizenship runs as smoothly as possible.

Immigrant spouses– either same sex or opposite sex– begin the process of citizenship through marriage with legal permanent resident (LPR) status– holding a green card. While a green card establishes a path to citizenship for immigrants, green card holders married to U.S. citizens gain access to a faster route. Instead of waiting 5 years to apply for citizenship after receiving a green card, the requirement for immigrants married to U.S. citizens falls to only 3 years.

Foreign-born individuals married to U.S. citizens and who live outside the United States begin the green card process with a visa petition submitted by the U.S. citizen spouse to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Along with the petition– Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative– the U.S. citizen spouse also submits the marriage certificate and other evidence demonstrating the legitimacy of the marriage. In other words, USCIS considers a marriage for the purpose of gaining citizenship as fraud.

For those immigrants who either currently live in the United States through a visa or a visa waiver program, or immigrants who will be entering the United States through the Alien Relative visa, USCIS requires filing for adjustment of status to request a green card. For those entering the United States with the approval of a Petition for Alien Relative filed by a U.S. citizen spouse, USCIS accepts both the visa filing and the adjustment of status filing together.

While details of the approach vary by individual circumstance, establishing U.S. citizenship through marriage always requires a green card path. Once an immigrant spouse is granted a green card, USCIS only requires a 3-year waiting period to file for naturalization as opposed to a 5-year waiting period.

Other specific requirements to gain citizenship through marriage include:

Living in marital union with the same U.S. citizen spouse who has been a U.S. citizen during the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the naturalization application and up until examination on the application

Living within the state, or USCIS district for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing the application

Holding continuous residence in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least 3 years immediately before the application filing date.

Residing continuously within the United States from the date of application for naturalization until the time of naturalization

Being physically present in the United States for at least 18 months out of the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application

Being able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. civics.

Holding good moral character with an attachment to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and favorably disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law

Gaining citizenship through marriage includes many of the same steps as is required for immigrants who don’t marry U.S. citizens. However, marriage to a U.S citizens allows for shortened time frames.