Marriage Based Residency
If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, you, too, may be eligible for U.S. citizenship after receiving your own green card (residency) through marriage. There are various requirements for those wishing to be granted citizenship through marriage-based residency. After becoming a lawful permanent resident through your U.S. citizen husband or wife, you may be considered for citizenship if you can establish:
- That you have been a permanent resident for at least 3 years;
- That you have been living in a marital union with the same U.S. citizen during this time period; and
- That you are able to meet all other requirements related to general eligibility.
These three qualifiers are necessary to be considered for citizenship based on permanent residency through marriage to a U.S. citizen. These requirements are found under Section 319(a) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA).
For immigration purposes, the United States will generally recognize marriages in foreign countries as marital unions. However, the burden of proof is always on the applicant to prove the validity of the marriage. United States Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) will not recognize the following as marital unions:
- Relationships involving bigamy, polygamy, or incest;
- Relationships where one party is not present during the marriage ceremony (known as “proxy marriages”), unless the marriage has been consummated; or
- Relationships entered into for the purpose of avoiding U.S. immigration laws.
As noted, in addition to the three marriage specific stipulations, you must also be able to show that you meet other general citizenship requirements:
- Be 18 years of age or older;
- Have lived within the state for at least 3 months prior to completing the application;
- Reside within the U.S. continuously from the application for naturalization date until the date of naturalization;
- Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 18 months out of the required 3 years immediately prior to the date on your application;
- Have the ability to read, write, and speak English;
- Have knowledge and sufficient understanding of U.S. history and government; and
- Have good moral character.
As you can see, there are many factors and considerations that go into the process of becoming a citizen of the United States. While some of the listed qualifications are self-explanatory, others can be confusing or overwhelming.
Good Moral Character
One area that causes questions and often needs further explanation is the “good moral character” provision. Generally, good moral character is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and is judged by community standards.
It is often easier to understand what is not good moral character. For example, you will be deemed to not have good moral character if it is found that you have ever been convicted of murder or an aggravated felony. Other examples of lacking good moral character include any involvement in prostitution, being convicted of committing two or more gambling offenses, and the commission of certain drug offenses.
The list of requirements also includes the ability to read, write, and understand simple English. Your ability to speak English will be determined by a USCIS officer during your eligibility interview. For the writing component, you will be required to write one of three prepared sentences correctly. Similarly, the reading test requires you to read one of three prepared sentences correctly.
Should You Contact an Attorney?
Contact an experienced immigration attorney if you are wishing to begin the application process to gain U.S. citizenship. Immigration law is detailed, specific, and constantly changes. You will benefit from working with an immigration attorney who knows the laws and can guide you through this process.