Many immigrants in the United States become citizens through the naturalization process. When you have your marriage green card, you can begin to think about naturalizing as a U.S. citizen. All lawful permanent residents can apply to become U.S. citizens. As an American citizen, you'll be eligible to vote in all state and national elections, apply for federal jobs, and live abroad however long you want. You will also never be deported from the United States as a U.S. citizen. This article explains the requirements for naturalizing as a citizen if you hold a marriage green card. It also explains the naturalization process itself.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Written May 25, 2022
Who Qualifies for U.S. Citizenship?
You can apply for U.S. citizenship five years after obtaining your green card regardless of whether your spouse is a green card holder or a U.S. citizen. If you have a marriage green card from your marriage to a U.S. citizen, you only have to wait three years to apply for citizenship. You must have lived continuously in the United States during either these three or five years.
If you have ever left the United States for a long time or received a reentry permit (which permits up to two years of foreign travel for green card holders), you will need to wait longer than three or five years to apply for citizenship. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will deduct the time you spent abroad from your full three or five years of continuous residence.
Marital Union Requirement
To be eligible for the three-year period, you must have lived “in marital union” with your American spouse for three years before applying for naturalization. To live in marital union means that you physically resided together for three years and that you do not end your marriage before taking the Oath of Allegiance during your naturalization ceremony.
If you have a marriage green card, but you have not lived in marital union with your U.S. spouse, you will have to wait five years to submit your application for naturalization instead. Other eligibility requirements for U.S. citizenship include the following:
You are at least 18 years of age.
You can speak, read, and write basic English.
You have a good moral character.
You have good knowledge of U.S. history and are familiar with the U.S. Constitution and government.
You have lived in the same U.S. state for three months before submitting your application.
You have registered for Selective Service if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25.
The Selective Service is a government agency that collects information from young men who might be subject to U.S. military service in the future. Men will need to provide proof of registration with the Selective Service when they apply for citizenship. If you got your green card after your 26th birthday, you do not need to register with the Selective Service.
To learn more about whether you’re eligible for U.S. citizenship, check out our article on the naturalization process.
Are There Other Requirements for U.S. Citizenship?
Besides the residence and marital union requirements, there are some other requirements to qualify for U.S. citizenship. When you apply for citizenship, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires you to submit your federal tax returns from your three- or five-year residence period. USCIS will not consider your application if you have failed to pay any of these taxes.
USCIS also frowns on applicants who have tried to register to vote or claimed to be U.S. citizens on past official paperwork. If you have done either of these things, you risk having a delayed application decision or an outright denial. You may also face deportation for any history of fraud. If this is the case for you, you may want to work with an immigration attorney for legal advice before applying for U.S. citizenship.
Lastly, a criminal record may harm your chances of becoming a U.S. citizen. Like in the green card application process, USCIS weighs criminal records in the U.S. citizenship application process. Most green card holders will have to wait five years after their last crime occurred before applying.
What Is the Citizenship Application Process?
The citizenship application process usually takes a total of 12 to 17.5 months. To apply for citizenship, you’ll first need to complete Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. You can file the form online on the USCIS website. The form will ask for your biographical and contact information, as well as information about your U.S. residency, your family members, and your educational, employment, and marital history. You will also need to provide information to allow USCIS to conduct a background check on your history.
Form N-400 has a $640 filing fee. You’ll also need to pay an $85 filing fee for a required biometrics appointment. At a biometrics appointment, USCIS processes your fingerprints, photo, and signature. USCIS uses biometrics appointments to confirm your identity and collect helpful information for background checks.
Naturalization Interview and Final Steps
After your biometrics appointment, USCIS will send you a notice with a date, time, and location for your naturalization interview. Make sure to prepare for this interview in advance. At the interview, a USCIS officer will place you under oath. The official will ask you questions about your application and your marriage. You’ll also take an English language and U.S. civic test. Some applicants may qualify for exemptions or waivers for the language and civics test. You can find out if you are eligible for any exemptions on the USCIS official website. At the end of the interview, most interviewers will tell you if they have approved your application.
Finally, you’ll need to take the Oath of Allegiance. Most applicants will have to make an appointment for the Oath of Allegiance at a nearby USCIS field office. After you take the oath, you will become a naturalized citizen. You’ll also receive a certificate of naturalization. You’ll now be eligible to apply for a U.S. passport and register to vote.