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How Long Do You Have to Be Married to Keep U.S. Citizenship?

In general, one of the most straightforward methods of immigrating to the United States involves getting married to an American citizen. If everything falls into place in terms of submitting immigration forms, getting timely interviews, and enjoying optimal processing times, a foreign fiancé or fiancée could apply for citizenship through the naturalization process in just three years. Once an applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance and the naturalization certificate is issued, there’s nothing that would preclude the new citizen from getting divorced.

Many immigrants who seek to obtain legal immigration status in the U.S. through marriage are known to wonder whether they’re forced to be locked into their relationships. This is a valid question because we know “till death do us part” is an expression that doesn’t always reflect the reality of marital dynamics. It’s easy to understand the apprehension of immigrants who fear they may have to stay in dysfunctional marriages just so deportation can be avoided. This is certainly not the case after naturalization, but it helps to address these concerns.

Immigrants who obtain their green cards through marriage can seek a dissolution of marriage without having to worry too much about their prospects for becoming U.S. citizens later down the line. However, there will be one change in terms of eligibility, and it has to deal with how soon naturalization can be petitioned. We already mentioned citizenship is attainable within three years under the most ideal circumstances, but only if the applicant is still in the marriage at the time the petition is submitted. Should there be a legal separation or divorce after the green card is issued, naturalization will have to wait five years instead of three.

When the time comes to apply for naturalization after a divorce, an applicant may be called for an interview similar to the one required before legal residency is granted. Should this happen, the applicant will have to once again establish the marriage was entered into in good faith and not for the purpose of enabling visa fraud. This reportedly took place more often during the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump, who was known to believe sham marriages were commonplace in the immigration system. There’s no way to predict with certainty what immigration adjudicators will ask at these interviews, but they tend to focus on the period of the marriages after Form I-751s were submitted.

Experienced San Diego immigration attorneys know one of the goals of interviewing divorced immigrants seeking naturalization is to check for discrepancies or contradictions. If the adjudicators ask for documents that reflect the nature of the relationship prior to the divorce, this may be a signal that they’re growing suspicious. One of the most effective ways to prove the marriage wasn’t dissolved with ulterior motives is to furnish evidence of having attended counseling before the divorce. This would show there was an attempt to save the relationship. 

For more information on issues such as citizenship, naturalization, and family-based immigration, San Diego residents should reach out to the experienced immigration attorneys at KS Visa Law. Call us today at 858-874-0711 to schedule an appointment.

April 2024