Citizenship through Marriage

Bride and grrom standing in front of american flag.Marriage is one of the biggest life events a person can go through. Not only are two people coming together to start a new life, but in many cases, two different cultures come together in the marriage. Marriage is a ceremony that knows no boundaries, and people from different parts of the country, and even different parts of the world, can marry. While marriage can unite people from different areas, there can be issues when parties are citizens of different nations. For example, issues may arise when a U.S. citizen marries a non-U.S. citizen, since immigration matters can be complex and frustrating to deal with. Fortunately, U.S. immigration law provides a way for non-citizen spouses of citizens to expedite the naturalization process and become U.S. citizens.

Becoming a Citizen

There are several ways a person can become a U.S. citizen. While the most people have become citizens through birth, it is also possible for non-citizens to go through a naturalization process in order to gain citizenship in the U.S. While there are a variety of ways to go through the naturalization process, generally, most people will need to meet certain requirements, some of which include:

-permanent residency;

-good moral character;

-physical presence; and,

-knowledge of U.S. history and government.

The lengthiest requirement, however, would likely be the permanent residency requirement. This is because an individual must be a permanent resident for at least 5 years before they can apply for citizenship. Typically, a person can become a permanent resident through either family members who have become citizens, job opportunities within the U.S., or due to asylum or refugee status. While the U.S. recognizes several other situations in which a person may apply for permanent residency, one of the ways most people might think of obtaining citizenship is through marriage to a U.S. Citizen.

Citizenship through Marriage

While the media has painted a picture of citizenship through marriage as an instant process, the reality of obtaining U.S. citizenship through marriage is much more regulated and time-consuming.  While there are several requirements that must be met in order to become a U.S. citizen, some that apply specifically to spouses of U.S. citizens include:

-permanent residency for at least 3 years;

-the existence of the marriage for at least 3 years;

-the spouse must be a U.S. citizen; and

-the non-citizen must reside in the U.S. for at least 1.5 years.

While the difference between applying through marriage and applying by other means might not seem so vast, these laws also help protect the U.S. from marital scams in which people might marry simply to gain access to the U.S., only to divorce once they have crossed the border.

While U.S. immigration law accounts for citizens who live within the U.S., it also takes into account the fact that some U.S. citizens choose to work or live outside of the U.S. In fact, U.S. immigration law recognizes marriages to citizens who either work abroad, or work for a non-profit organization (NPO).

Employment Abroad

While the rules are largely similar for non-citizens who marry citizens that are employed abroad, there are a few extra requirements that can affect when a person is qualified for citizenship. First, the citizen spouse must be regularly stationed abroad as either a government worker or a religious missionary. The next requirement is that the applicant must be within the U.S. at the time he or she submits the naturalization application. Finally, in lieu of the permanent residency requirement, the applicant must declare intentions to take up residence as soon as the spouse’s employment is terminated.

NPO Employees

On the other end of the spectrum is the non-citizen spouse married to a citizen spouse working abroad for a NPO. In order to qualify under these circumstances, the citizen spouse must have been an employee of an NPO for at least 5 years. In addition, the applicant must apply for naturalization either while the spouse is working for the NPO, or within 6 months of the spouse’s termination.

Same-Sex Marriages

While there are many advantages, there are a few issues that you should be aware of when applying for citizenship through marriage. The biggest issue is that your marriage might not be recognized in the state that you currently reside. The most pertinent example is that of same-sex marriages. While the majority of states recognize same-sex marriages, there are still a fair number that do not. If you happen to live in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages, then neither you nor your spouse will be able to claim state, and possibly even employee marital benefits.

Interestingly enough, while not all states are in agreement in their recognition of same-sex marriages, the Federal government does recognize the validity of same-sex marriages, and allows same-sex spouses of citizens to apply in the same manner as opposite-sex spouses.