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Citizenship after Marriage to U.S. Citizen

by Hamid R. Kashani, Attorney at Law
Nov 07, 2018

Ordinarily permanent residents must wait five (5) years to become eligible for naturalization (citizenship). See Applying for Citizenship.  However, those permanent residents who have been married and living with the same U.S. citizen (same-sex or opposite-sex) for three (3) years, may apply for citizenship in three (3) years instead of five (5). The foreign-born spouse need not have obtained his or her permanent residence through marriage to the U.S. citizen spouse.

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What are the eligibility requirements for naturalization?

If you wish to apply for naturalization and benefit from the reduced residence requirement based on marriage to a U.S. citizen, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be 18 or older. See Minimum Age Exemption for Military Service During Hostilities.
  • You must have been a permanent resident for at least three (3) years prior to filing your naturalization application. If you held a conditional permanent resident card before removing the condition, the three-year period is counted from the effective date of your conditional permanent residence card.
  • You must have been living with the same U.S. citizen spouse, as spouses, for the three-year period immediately before filing for naturalization and to the time when you are interviewed and examined for citizenship.
  • You must have continuously maintained residence in the United States for three (3) years before filing your application for naturalization.  See Continuous Residence Exemption for Certain Employees Stationed Overseas.
  • You must have been physically present in the United States for at least eighteen (18) months out of the last three (3) years immediately before filing your application for naturalization.
  • You must not have taken a trip lasting one (1) year or more out of the United States over the last three years, unless you had received approval on your Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes (USCIS Form N-470), before such a trip.
    In general, overseas trips under six (6) months do not break the continuous residence requirement. Trips over 6 months, but less than a year, may break your continuous residence, and trips lasting one year or more will break your continuous residence. Note that if you engineer your trips to take successive trips each under six (6) months, the USCIS may combine them all together and deem them as a single long trip.
  • You must have lived within the state or the USCIS district for a period of three (3) months immediately before you file your naturalization application.
  • You must be able to read, write, and speak English at a basic level.  See Language Test Exemption Based on Age or Disability.
  • You must demonstrate knowledge and an understanding of the United States history and the form and principles of the U.S. government (civics).  See Civics Test Exemption Based on Age or Disability.
  • You must be a person of good moral character.
  • You must not have evaded registration with the Selective Services or deserted from the U.S. armed forces. See Selective Service Registration/Military Service Requirement for Citizenship.
  • You must be ready to support the Constitution of the United States and be willing to take an oath of allegiance to the United States

What happens, if I am married to a U.S. permanent resident who later becomes a U.S. citizen?

The three (3) year period starts running from the time your spouse becomes a U.S. citizen.  Note that if your spouse becomes a U.S. citizen two years or more after you are married and start living together as spouses, it would be more expedient for you to proceed under the normal rules of naturalization.

How do I apply for naturalization (citizenship)?

To apply for naturalization (citizenship), you must file an Application for Naturalization (USCIS Form N-400), together with the supporting documents and fees, with the USCIS.  In a few weeks, you will receive a notice for biometric interview. After the preliminary approval of your application a few months later, you will be called for an interview and citizenship examination (including the language and civics tests, if applicable).  If you are approved, you will receive a notice scheduling you for the naturalization ceremony, where you will take the oath of allegiance and receive your naturalization certificate.

To see the current USCIS fee for naturalization petitions, see USCIS Fee Schedule.

To see how long the USCIS would take to adjudicate the petition, see USCIS Processing Times.

You may file your naturalization application ninety (90) days before meeting the continuous residence. Note that 90 days is not always the same as three (3) months.

Can I travel out of the United States after filing for naturalization?

Yes. However, note that the rules regarding continuous residence and physical presence apply up to the time of naturalization itself. Therefore, if you meet these requirements on a marginal basis, you should avoid overseas travel.  In any event, consult your attorney before departing the country.

Related Topics:

Selective Service Registration Requirement

Preparing for Citizenship Civics Test

Civic Test Exemption

Language Test Exemption

Continuous Residence Exemption or Reduced Requirement

Minimum Age Exemption


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