How to Become a United States Citizen By Marrying an American

By Gwen Wark
Filing for naturalization based on a spouse is shorter than traditional paths.
USA Flagge image by glockemann from

Naturalizing as the spouse of a U.S. citizen is a process that spans several years. It begins with achieving a green card and ends with the oath ceremony of naturalization. To naturalize, an immigrant must maintain both marriage and residency in the United States. The process may also involve a visa application for those who initially reside outside of the United States.

Check to make sure your marriage is legal and recognized by the U.S. government. Certain marriage ceremonies, such as proxy marriages, are not recognized and need to be legally solemnized before proceeding. A U.S. consulate or embassy will be able to tell you if your marriage is valid for immigration purposes.

File for a visa to enter the United States, if you are not already in the country. Spouses may enter on either a K-3 or CR-1/IR-1 visa. To file for these visas, the U.S. spouse must file a petition to apply, which is approved by USCIS and forwarded to the U.S. embassy or consulate. The immigrant spouse is then invited to apply for a visa and must attend a medical exam and in-person interview to have a visa issued.

Adjust your status to permanent resident, if necessary. Those who entered the United States on a non-immigrant visa such as a tourist visa, a K-1 fiancee visa or a spousal visa such as the K-3 must apply for permanent residence by filing the I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. At this time, the immigrant may also file the I-131 for advanced parole, which allows leaving the country without abandoning status, and the I-765 Employment Authorization forms. Once these applications have been accepted, a green card will be issued.

Maintain your residency and physical presence in the United States for at least three years after the date your green card was issued, including remaining in a bona fide marriage with your U.S. citizen spouse. This means the immigrant must live inside the United States and not leave for periods longer than six months, or their residency will be considered abandoned.

File for naturalization three years after the date the green card was issued. You will file the N-400 Application for Naturalization. Once the application is accepted, you will need to have a biometrics appointment and an in-person interview, which contains a test of your English language skills and a small civics test. If the interview is passed, you will receive a letter stating the time and place of your oath ceremony. Once the ceremony is completed, you will receive a certificate of naturalization and be granted your U.S. citizenship.

About the Author