Family Based Immigration Law

How Do You Get U.S. Citizenship Through Marriage?

Whether you're planning a wedding or already married, living in the U.S. or living abroad, if you're trying to get the spouse of a U.S. citizen their own citizenship, it can be a daunting task.

The citizenship process includes filing fees, interviews, and a lot of legal paperwork. Mistakes along the way could cause an application denial, which can cost you even more time and money in reapplication, or even prevent the citizenship at all. So, it's important to know what to expect and get experienced counsel for everything required to complete the process.

Getting a Visa for Your Fiance

Organizing a wedding is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming to make all the arrangements, hire the services, and the get the right paperwork taken care of. If your fiance isn't a U.S. citizen, you have even more steps to take as you navigate the visa and later the naturalization process.

Getting Your Fiance to the U.S.

To get your fiance to the U.S., you'll need to follow the application process of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These steps generally include:

  • Filing Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiance, and supplying any evidence they ask you to send in support of your petition.
  • Once your petition is granted the U.S. Embassy in your fiance's country will schedule a fiance interview for your partner. Your fiance will need to fill out the forms for a K-1 nonimmigrant visa, more commonly referred to as a "fiance visa," and bring it to the interview.
  • A representative from the U.S. Department of State will conduct an interview with your fiance to determine if they're eligible for the visa.
  • If the visa is granted, your fiance will have six months to use it to come to the United States.
  • Your fiance will then need to come to the U.S. and get admitted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent.
  • Within 90 days of your fiance entering the U.S., you'll need to have your wedding.
  • After you're married, your fiance will need to apply for a green card.

If your fiance has any unmarried children under 21 who are also coming to the U.S., your fiance will need to file for a K-2 visa and the children will need to apply for green cards after the wedding, too.

Eligibility Requirements for a Fiance Visa

In order to apply for the fiance visa, you and your partner will need to meet a few qualifications:

  • You'll need to be a full U.S. citizen to bring a non-U.S. citizen over through a fiance visa.
  • You'll both have to be legally free to be married, namely, not legally married to anyone else at the time you file for the visa.
  • You and your fiance must meet in person at least once in the two years before you file, unless you're granted a waiver. Waivers are usually only granted if you can prove financial and logical hardship made meeting impossible, or if meeting in advance of the wedding would violate a long-standing tradition in your fiance's culture.
  • Once your fiance enters the country on this visa, you'll have to be wed in the next 90 days.

If you don't get married within the 90-day period, the visa will expire and your fiance will likely be required to leave the country or else face deportation, which can affect their ability to apply for citizenship in the future.

If the visa is denied, you'll need to address the issues that led to the denial and then restart the process from the beginning.

Getting Your Spouse U.S. Citizenship: Green Cards

Not every spouse of a U.S. citizen will be granted their own citizenship after they marry. First, the noncitizen spouse will need to get a green card.

Generally speaking, the USCIS has two forms you'll both need to fill out to begin the process of adjusting your spouse's status:

  • Your fiance will file a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
  • You'll file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

You'll need to send supporting documentation, like your marriage certificate and birth certificates, during the application process.

If the green card is denied, you may have the option to appeal. This is not a common result, so check your denial notice to see if you're eligible. You'll need to pay additional fees and file by the deadline they provide. Usually you won't be able to appeal the decision, but you can address the issues that caused your partner to be denied and then refile.

Getting Your Spouse Citizenship: Naturalization for Spouses

After your new spouse becomes a green card holder, you'll have to play a bit of a waiting game before they can get citizenship through naturalization; your spouse will need to live in the country, continuously, for three years with their green card before they can be eligible for citizenship. You will also need to live together as spouses for those three years.

In addition to these marriage-specific naturalization requirements, your spouse will need to meet the general requirements for citizenship, such as:

  • A minimum age of 18
  • The ability to read and write English
  • An understanding of U.S. history and government (demonstrated through a civics test)
  • Have a good moral character

They will also need to fill out Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and will need to pledge an oath of allegiance to support the U.S. Constitution.

At each stage of the process, either or both of you may be asked to participate in additional interviews to prove you have a genuine, or bona fide, marriage. The U.S. government representatives working on your case will need to determine that you have a bona fide marital union for your spouse to be eligible for citizenship.

Get Counsel From An Experienced Immigration Attorney

The best way to ensure your family's security in the U.S. is to complete the citizenship process fully and accurately to save you the significant time and expense of restarting. Errors could even prevent your spouse from getting citizenship in the future. With so many technical, legal procedures to follow to get your spouse to the U.S., and then to get them citizenship, it can be very challenging to correctly follow the process alone.

Working with an experienced local immigration attorney could help you find and file your forms and documents and prepare you for the next stages of the citizenship through naturalization process. With the extra help of an immigration lawyer, you could get on track to get your spouse's citizenship in less time.