How to Get US Citizenship by Marrying a US Citizen

By Mary Jane Freeman
Smiling brides on beach with newlywed husbands.

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If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you are eligible to apply for citizenship in the United States. However, you must first satisfy several requirements, from being married for at least three years to successfully completing the citizenship interview. Your marital lifestyle will be closely examined along the way. If it seems like your marriage is a sham that you entered into solely to gain citizenship, your application will be denied.

Eligible to Apply for Citizenship After Three Years of Residence

You can apply for U.S. citizenship as the spouse of an American if you meet all other eligibility requirements and have been a legal permanent resident of the U.S. -- known as having a green card -- for at least three years, and you’ve been married to your spouse for the same period. Additionally, you must have been present in the U.S. for at least 18 months of the last three years and at least three months in your state or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district with jurisdiction over your residential area. For example, if you live in South Carolina, you live in USCIS District 8, governed by the District 8 office in Atlanta.

Citizenship Application Requires Information About Your Marriage

To begin the application process, known as naturalization, you must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, with USCIS. In addition to personal information, you must give details about your marital history, such as the date of your marriage, whether your spouse is a U.S. citizen and whether either of you have previous marriages. After submitting your application and providing fingerprints for a background check, USCIS will schedule you for an interview.

Citizenship Interview Confirms Eligibility

On the date of your interview with USCIS, you must bring your green card, passport, reentry permits, tax returns for the last three years and your driver's license. USCIS may ask for additional documents, such as a marriage certificate and a court decree showing a legal name change. At the interview, a USCIS official places you under oath and asks you questions about your background. She also tests your ability to read, write and speak English, and your knowledge of American history. After the interview, USCIS will notify you of its decision by mail. If approved, the letter will inform you of the date, time and location of your oath ceremony, and where you'll recite the Oath of Allegiance and receive your Certificate of Naturalization, proof of your new citizenship.

Marriage Fraud Can Result in Denial or Revocation

When citizenship is based on marriage, USCIS scrutinizes applicants and their circumstances very closely. USCIS may suspect your marriage is a sham if your application was poorly prepared or contains inconsistencies; if there's a significant age difference between you and your spouse; or if you speak different languages, have different levels of education, reside at different addresses, are of different races or national origins, or have different cultural and religious backgrounds. Additionally, if you're not doing things married couples usually do, such as live together, have sex, open joint bank accounts or have children together, USCIS may believe your marriage is a sham. If you're unable to provide satisfactory explanations for these inconsistencies, especially at the interview, your application is likely to be denied. Even after you are granted citizenship, USCIS can later revoke your citizenship if it finds out you lied to immigration officials. However, if you have a genuine marriage but later divorce, you won't lose your citizenship.

About the Author

Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.