Marriage to a U.S. citizens makes foreigners eligible for a green card. However, getting your green card is just the first step toward naturalization, or U.S. citizenship. The naturalization process is much the same if you received your green card through marriage or for some other reason, but a marriage-based green card means you can apply for citizenship sooner.
Most green card holders must wait five years before they can begin the naturalization process. If you're married to a U.S. citizen, you need to wait only three years. However, you must still be married, both when you apply for citizenship and at the time U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves your naturalization. You don't actually have to be living with your spouse at the time of your naturalization but, if you're not, USCIS might believe your marriage is a sham and you may not get approval.
Domicile Is Important
Where you've lived for the past three years helps prove that your marriage is real and you didn't marry just to acquire U.S. citizenship. Several rules apply. You must have held a valid U.S. address continuously during the three years. Typically, you must have resided with your spouse the entire time. In legal terms, this is "living in marital union." You can still travel outside the United States during the three-year period, especially if you do so with your spouse. But you must be physically present in the United States for at least half the time.
Form N-400 Begins the Process
If you meet eligibility requirements, you can file Form N-400 with USCIS to request citizenship. You'll have to collect and copy other documents as well and submit them with your Form N-400 application. Some documents prove your identity, such as your green card and a color photograph of yourself in duplicate. Others confirm your marriage, such as your spouse's birth certificate or naturalization papers proving citizenship for at least three years, your marriage certificate, and a document such as a joint tax return or jointly held mortgage showing that you've been living as husband and wife.
USCIS Will Contact You for an Interview
After you submit Form N-400 and your other documentation, the naturalization process is the same as if you had gotten your green card for a reason other than marriage. You must go to an USCIS-approved location for fingerprinting and participate in a USCIS-scheduled interview. The interview will test your knowledge of the American government and history, and your interviewer will talk with you and your spouse to decide if your marriage is real.
An Immigration Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding marriage as a path to U.S. citizenship is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an immigration lawyer.