There is a common misconception that foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens will automatically obtain U.S. Citizenship through marriage, this is not true.
If you get married to a U.S. citizen, you may have a shorter wait time till you can apply for citizenship, but you will not become a citizen immediately after your marriage. You will have to wait for several months to get your Green Card, and after that process, you will have to be a Green Card holder for a few years to apply for U.S. Citizenship.
This article details the process of becoming a U.S. citizen through marriage to a U.S. citizen.
Permanent Resident Status in the U.S.
To obtain U.S. Citizenship through marriage, one must first gain legal permanent resident status in the U.S. Marrying a U.S. citizen will not make someone eligible for a U.S. Green Card. Everyone will need to meet the requirements to apply for a Green Card in the U.S.
Husbands or wives of U.S. citizens fall under the immediate relative category. There is a limit in the number of immigrant visas issued every year, but this limit does not apply to those who belong to the immediate relative category. Immediate relatives may not have to wait in line to get an immigrant visa issued to them.
In order to apply for an immigrant visa, a U.S. citizen spouse must begin the process by completing and submitting Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.
Adjustment of Status
For those already living in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa, you can go through a process called adjustment of status. Adjustment of status allows those in the U.S. to obtain a Green Card while remaining in the U.S. These applicants do not have to wait for the approval of the I-130 petition to apply for adjustment of status. They can submit both the petitions in one package. The USCIS requires those seeking to apply for adjustment of status to file Form I-485. The application package should include supporting documents like a marriage certificate.
Those who are not in the U.S., but were married to a U.S. citizen while abroad may not find themselves eligible to apply for adjustment of status. These applicants will need to go through a process called consular processing.
For those who have to go through consular processing to immigrate to the U.S., their U.S. citizen spouse must first sponsor them on Form I-130. Once this form is approved by the USCIS, it will be forwarded to the National Visa Center. After processing their form, the case will be sent to the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate in their home country. Applicants will then be required to attend a medical examination and an interview. An immigrant visa will be issued if applicants are found eligible to immigrate to the U.S. With this visa, those seeking benefits will be able to travel to the U.S. as a legal resident.
Adjustment of status and consular processing are the two processes through which a Green Card can be obtained. For those who did not come into the U.S. as a legal immigrant, it may be best for them to seek the advice of a licensed immigration attorney. This is because they may not be able to apply for adjustment of status while in the U.S. as an illegal immigrant.
Even after being married to a U.S. citizen, applicants must be admissible into the U.S. and be eligible for legal status in the country. For example, if someone committed certain types of crimes, broken U.S. immigration laws or are likely to become a public charge, they might be considered to be inadmissible. The reasons why an immigrant may be considered ineligible into the U.S. can be found in Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Applying for U.S. Citizenship
Unlike other green card holders who will have to wait five years from the date on which they received their Green Cards to apply for citizenship, those married to U.S. citizens can apply in just three years. They must be living with the same U.S. citizen who sponsored them, they will likely be eligible to apply for citizenship in just three years from the date of receiving their Green Card.
This is not the only requirement that needs to be met to apply for naturalization. Those applying must have a good moral character and must meet the residency requirements for citizenship. Apart from that, applicants must be able to read, speak and write English and be aware of the U.S. history.
If all of the naturalization requirements are met, USCIS requires applicants to file for U.S. citizenship on Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
Applications for permanent residency based on marriage are scrutinized carefully by the USCIS. There have been cases where it was discovered the marriage was a sham for immigration purposes. The U.S. government takes fake marriages very seriously. Those applying for permanent residency based on marriage must be sure to submit all their required documents to prove their marriage is legitimate in order to prevent their application from being rejected or denied.