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How Long Does It Take to Get Citizenship After Marrying a U.S. Citizen?

There is a popular misconception that when a citizen of the United States marries a foreign national, that foreigner  will receive U.S. citizenship immediately. Sadly, this misconception could not be farther from the truth. 

In reality, the foreign national must first become a permanent resident of the United States. After obtaining their green card, they can then apply for citizenship. In most cases, this might take about 3 to 5 years, depending on the individual.

In this piece, we’ll give you a breakdown of the timeframe. We will also cover what happens in this period.

What is Visa Immigration? 

Visa immigration is the process where foreign nationals obtain visas for immigration. A visa for immigration is a document that allows such foreign nationals to live permanently in the U.S.  One way to get this document is via marriage. 

If you are a foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen, you can only apply for legal permanent residence in the United States (“green card”). A green card for a specified number of years might qualify you for U.S. citizenship. 

The application process might differ depending on your unique circumstances. As such, it’s best to speak with an immigration lawyer to understand your visa immigration status and options. The immigration lawyer have law degrees and specialize in immigration law. These lawyers focus on helping individuals have a smooth immigration to the U.S process. 

How to Get a Marriage-Based Green Card ?

People looking for a marriage-based green card may find it helpful to speak with a family lawyer. Throughout the procedure, a family lawyer can offer direction and support,

The family lawyers can go with you to your interview for a green card and offer advice on how to react to inquiries from immigration officials.

The processing period for a spouse’s green card application is often shorter than required for applications in other permanent residence categories. 

The United States recognizes spouses as “immediate relatives” for immigration purposes. There are no limits on the number of green cards the USCIS awards to immediate family members, and the waiting times are usually less.

Step One: The Visa Sponsor Files a I-130 Visa Petition

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires that a visa immigration process starts with sponsorship. So, what does visa sponsorship mean?

A visa sponsor is responsible for submitting the visa petition at the USCIS. A sponsor will also cover the costs associated with the visa immigration application. 

The visa sponsor ( the U.S. citizen spouse) initiates this visa immigration process by drafting a petition on Form I-130, provided by the USCIS. 

Along with the form I-130, the USCIS will need you to provide evidence that you are legally married. That includes your marriage certificate and proof that your relationship is real. Evidence can consist of joint bank statements and images of the both of you together.

USCIS might also request additional evidence if the adjudicator is not convinced that the application has sufficient information to be processed. 

Generally speaking, this visa immigration process typically takes six to fifteen months.

Step two: Application for a Green Card

Once the I-130 has been accepted, you may apply for a green card (visa for immigration). The visa immigration application procedure, however, varies depending on where the foreign national spouse resides.

If the spouse resides in the country legally, they will apply for an adjustment of visa immigration status using Form I-485. The USCIS allows you to submit the I-485 and I-130 forms together. This can reduce processing time to about 9-12 months.

If the spouse is outside the United States, they must submit form DS-260 to a National Visa Center (NVC). If the application is granted, it will be sent straight to the U.S. diplomatic post in their home country for further processing. Typically, NVC processing takes three to five months.

Immigrants are only entitled to adjustments of status based on legal entrance and immigrant visa validity. 

So, if you entered the United States illegally or your visa has expired, you may need to consult an immigration lawyer. Illegal entry and expired visa immigration status can be dicey to deal with as it is a very intricate and delicate area of the law.

Step Three: The Couple Is Interviewed by USCIS

This is usually the final step in the green card application procedure. During the interview, an official of the USCIS will question the couple to verify the legitimacy of their marriage.

If you are applying from inside the United States, you and your U.S. citizen spouse will attend the interview at a local USCIS office. However, if you are applying from outside the United States, the interview will be held at the U.S. diplomatic office in your home country. The U.S. citizen does not have to attend.

Step Four: The Immigrant Is Granted a Visa for Immigration

If the interview is successful, the immigrant will get a visa. Usually, the immigrant will get either one of these two visas:

  • CR-1 Conditional Green Card

The USCIS issues this green card to couples married for less than two years. The green card given on this occasion is valid for two years. To get a permanent green card, you must renew this card within 90 days before it expires. The renewal procedure requires a joint submission by both spouses. Furthermore, the USCIS will once again request for evidence that the marriage is still valid.

  • IR1 Permanent Green Card

The USCIS will award this green card if the applicant has been married for at least two years at the time of application. Applicants must renew this green card every ten years until they get U.S. citizenship.

If the marriage fails or the couple divorces before the constraints on permanent residence are removed, the immigrant may be subject to deportation unless they qualify for a waiver. To understand if you qualify for a waiver, you may need to see a visa immigration lawyer. 

How to Gain Citizenship Via Marriage ?

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With a green card, applying for U.S. citizenship may be your next step. Marriage to a U.S. citizen expedites eligibility for citizenship. Usually, people must wait five years to become eligible, while spouses of U.S. citizens only have to wait three years. 

As a U.S. citizen’s spouse, you can apply for naturalization using form N-400 after three years if you meet the following requirements:

  • You have maintained your visa immigration status as a legal permanent resident for three years 
  • You have stayed married to and resided with your U.S. spouse throughout the three years
  • To qualify for the three-year exemption, you must still be married at the time of your naturalization ceremony.
  • You must be above the age of 18.
  • You must have resided in the state or USCIS district that has jurisdiction over your place of residence for a minimum of three months immediately preceding the filing of your application.
  • You must speak, read, and write English, and pass a test on American civics.
  • You must not have any immigration violations, fraud, criminal records, or certain medical or mental conditions.
  • You must have attended an interview at a USCIS office 

Final Thoughts 

Marriage to a U.S. citizen does not confer American citizenship to a foreign-born spouse. If they desire to become U.S. citizens, they must still undergo the visa immigration process.

However, the marriage-based visa immigration application can be challenging. The reason is the USCIS thoroughly reviews applications for U.S. green cards via marriage. The government monitors the process strictly because it takes false marriage exceptionally seriously.

Therefore, you may need to consult with a U.S. immigration lawyer if you have questions about your visa immigration status or what options you have when marrying a U.S. citizen.

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