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Steps to Becoming a U.S. Citizen Through Marriage

Of all the various ways immigrants can become legal residents and naturalized citizens of the United States, marrying an American citizen or a permanent legal resident is often considered to be the most straightforward. The best-case scenario involves an American citizen who meets his or her future spouse abroad and gets married in the U.S. Let’s say a woman from Nebraska travels to Venice and falls in love with a gondolier. Although the prospect of a nice Italian wedding on the Adriatic Sea may sound tempting, the best course of action would be a wedding in the U.S. if this is where the couple intends to settle. 

The process starts with a nonimmigrant K-1 visa application for a fiancé or fiancée who will be sponsored by the citizen groom or bride in the U.S. This visa will grant entry for the purpose of getting married within 90 days of admission. If the U.S. citizen decides to marry abroad, the process will require filing a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, which can be a bit more intricate. In the case of permanent legal residents who wish to marry immigrants, it’s also preferred that the marriage ceremony take place in the U.S. 

In all cases, the next steps will involve proving the admissibility of the immigrant spouse and the good faith basis of the marriage. This is the prelude to getting a green card, and it requires interviews with case adjudicators from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Once the adjustment of status takes place, the foreign spouse gets a green card and becomes a permanent resident. 

Only green card holders can apply for naturalization, and only after they have been permanent residents for at least three years. The marriage must still be valid, and the applicant must have complied with the terms of permanence, which means keeping a clean criminal record and not being absent from the U.S. for long periods. To apply for naturalization, the immigrant spouse must complete a Form N-400 and pay the $640 filing fee plus $85 for biometric fingerprinting. A copy of the marriage certificate should be included. Applicants shouldn’t automatically expect the process to go smoothly when they submit their N-400 forms. Problems can occur any time the USCIS does a background investigation, so it’s recommended that applicants retain the services of San Diego immigration attorneys to anticipate and deal with any potential issues.

In addition to being permanent residents for three years, applicants must have resided in the state or regional USCIS jurisdiction for at least three months before the N-400 is submitted. Applicants can expect another interview to attest to their good moral character and bona fide marriage and to complete the English language and American Civics testing process. If the applicant is at least 50 years old and has resided in the U.S. for more than 20 years, the English language portion of the test becomes optional, and the American Civics portion can be taken in a foreign language of choice. The final step involves reciting the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony and receiving a certificate.

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.

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