Immigrants that marry a U.S. citizen may have questions about their citizenship shortly after the honeymoon is over. Applying to become a citizen can be confusing at first, especially after discovering that your California marriage doesn’t automatically qualify you to become one.
What marrying a U.S. citizen means if you’re an immigrant
When you marry a U.S. citizen, your immigration status is elevated only enough to obtain a green card. You can apply to be naturalized three years after receiving your green card. First, you must apply for your green card, and that has many steps that take a decent amount of time.
Steps toward citizenship in the U.S.
As an immigrant married to a U.S. citizen, the first step requires your spouse to prepare a petition on Form I-130, provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You must also fill out an adjustment of status application with Form I-485, include all pertinent documentation, and mail the package to USCIS.
After receiving your form, you will be scheduled for an interview with USCIS. One requirement for permanent residency is becoming a conditional resident for two years. If you filed for your green card shortly after marriage, it is unlikely that you will meet this requirement before the initial interview. At the end of the two-year wait, you must submit a joint petition on Form I-751 to request permanent residence; there are only 90 days to file the petition. USCIS may approve the petition after a few months.
After three years still married immigrants can apply for citizenship if they meet all criteria for eligibility. Eligibility includes speaking English and passing the citizenship test.
In short, marrying a U.S. citizen is only one step in citizenship. Becoming a naturalized citizen can take two to three years or more.