Everything You Need to Know About Citizenship Marriage

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • Citizenship marriage refers to the process where a foreigner marries a U.S. permanent resident or citizen to obtain permanent residency or citizenship in the United States.
  • The eligibility criteria include being at least 18 years old, having a bona fide marriage for a certain period, continuous residence in the U.S., passing language and civics tests, and demonstrating good moral character.
  • The process involves filing Form N-400, paying filing fees, attending interviews and tests, and receiving U.S. citizenship upon approval.
  • It’s important to note that marriage fraud is illegal and can lead to severe penalties.

It isn’t unusual for U.S. citizens to fall in love and marry foreigners. We know marrying a foreigner has certain practical implications such as getting visas and permits in order. The good news is all the administrative processes that go into getting and renewing visas and green cards isn’t forever.

Foreigners married to U.S. citizens have the opportunity to also become U.S. citizens through citizenship marriage. Below we take a look at what exactly citizenship marriage entails and some of the most frequently asked questions about it. Let’s take a look.

What is Citizenship Marriage

A foreigner has the opportunity to become a permanent resident whenever they marry a U.S. permanent resident or citizen. This is done through Green Card marriage. If a foreigner is married to a U.S. citizen and has obtained a Green Card, they can also apply to become a U.S. citizen after a certain period of time. This is referred to as a citizenship marriage.

A citizenship marriage makes a U.S. permanent resident (who once was a foreigner) eligible to become a U.S. citizen. This is called the process of citizenship through naturalization.

The success of a citizenship application will depend on your effort and eligibility. There are various steps that need to be completed and can be different forms and processes along the way. Don’t give up at the first sign of obstacles if you choose to apply. Becoming a citizen is a great privilege and will come with some effort.

To help you prepare and know what to expect, we take a look at the basic steps of the process below.

General Eligibility for Citizenship Marriage

The process of applying for any type of residency in the U.S. has some eligibility criteria involved. Here are the basics of what criteria you need to fulfill to file for your application of citizenship to be considered.

Citizenship marriage eligibility criteria:

  • The applicant must be 18 years of age or older
  • Permanent residency in the U.S. for (at least) the preceding 3 years leading up to the application date
  • A marital union with the U.S. citizen spouse (acting as the petitioner in the application) for at least 3 years before the date of the application
  • Have lived within the state, or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence, for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing the application
  • Continuous residence in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for the preceding 3 years of the application date
  • Reside continuously in the U.S. from application date until citizenship is granted
  • Spent 18 months of the preceding 3 years before the application date being physically present in the U.S.
  • Being able to read and write English to pass the civics test which requires a good knowledge of U.S. history and government
  • Good moral character in alignment with the Constitution of the United States, and a supportive attitude towards the United States during all relevant periods under the law.

If you are not yet a permanent resident, you’ll first have to file a petition for a green card marriage and fulfill the 3-year period of residency. After that, you can consider filing for a citizenship marriage.

Citizenship Marriage Application Process

If you fulfill the eligibility criteria mentioned above, you are by definition eligible to apply for citizenship based on your marriage.

Here are the basic steps to becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization (citizenship marriage). We want to stress the fact that this is just a basic guideline. It is always a good idea to seek professional help from an immigration attorney to increase your chances of success.

File Form N-400

Form N-400 lists various reasons for filing for citizenship (or naturalization) including a bona fide marriage to a U.S. citizen. Complete and file the form according to the instructions of the USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) shown on their website. The USCIS resources will also inform you about the documents and photographs they require in your application. Here are the basics.

Documents needed to file a Form N-400:

  • Copy of your Permanent Resident Card
  • Copy of your marriage certificate
  • Evidence of a bona fide marriage to your spouses, like a marriage photo album and other supportive evidence
  • Two passport-style photos.

Pay the Filing Fees

The basic filing fee for citizenship marriage is $640. There is also an $85 fee for the processing of biometric information necessary to complete your application. You don’t have to pay the biometric fee if you are over the age of 75. You can find information on how to how to pay your fees here.

Attend Appointments

Once your application has been processed, the USCIS will inform you about the interviews and tests you need to pass for your application to succeed. In most cases, you will be required to write and pass a civics test.

Receive Your Citizenship

The success of your application will grant you U.S. citizenship. The process of your naturalization will depend on your unique situation. The processing time for each green card marriage is a bit different for every case, depending on factors. Check this guide to how long it takes to get a green card through marriage to learn more.

When You Can Apply for Citizenship Marriage

You need to apply at the USCIS office that has jurisdiction over the state or area you live in. The processing periods of these applications may take a while. You can submit your completed Form N-400 90 days before your conditional permanent residency expires. There is no upper limit to the time you spend in the U.S. on a green card that makes you eligible or prevents you from being eligible for citizenship.

Inadmissibility and Citizenship Marriage

Even though some applicants may fulfill the natural eligibility criteria, there are certain factors that would make their applications inadmissible. Issues such as a criminal record or history of misdemeanors may cause the USCIS to view your application as inadmissible. Neither a Green Card nor citizenship will be granted if this is the case.

Spouses of U.S. Citizens Employed Abroad

If your spouse who seeks citizenship is employed abroad, they can in certain circumstances have some of the eligibility requirements waived to accommodate them. Applicants employed by the U.S. government or military and other qualifying employers must be scheduled to be stationed abroad for at least a year. The following eligibility criteria will then be required from them.

Spouses living abroad:

  • No specific period is required wherein the applicant must be a permanent resident, but the applicant must be a permanent resident of the U.S.
  • No specific period of continuous residence or physical presence in the U.S. is required
  • No specific period of marriage is required, but the spouses must be in a valid marriage at the date of application and until the date of naturalization.

Apply for a Citizenship Marriage Online

You can now apply for your citizenship marriage online. To learn about this new route to securing a green card through marriage, check out our guide to online marriages!

Citizenship Marriage Fraud

Marrying a U.S. citizen only to obtain U.S. citizenship is an act of fraud and carries heavy penalties. To learn more about the consequences of marriage fraud in the U.S., check out our guide to the penalties for green card marriage fraud.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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