What You Should Know Before Marrying a Non-U.S. Citizen

newly wed couple

Marriage is indeed a milestone to celebrate with your partner. But when your partner is a non-U.S. citizen, the process can become longer than usual, especially if your goal is to live together in the United States in the long term.

Doing this on your own is often an intimidating undertaking, so it is good to take advantage of available resources that can ease the process on your behalf. Whether your future spouse is facing issues with their green card or you do not have time to prepare all the forms and legal documents, hiring a naturalization attorney simplifies the whole journey for you.

The approaches to gaining citizenship will be different depending on your current situation, so this guide details the differences in how you should go about the process specific to your circumstances.

Take a look at both of these scenarios to see which route applies to you.

Your Future Spouse Currently Lives Outside of the United States

Applying for a Fiancé(e) Visa

One of the options you have if your partner lives abroad is to apply for a fiancé(e) visa or K-1 visa for them. With a K-1 visa, you and your future spouse are to have your wedding in the U.S. within 90 days of their arrival in the country.

To obtain a K-1 visa, ensure that you and your partner have seen each other in person within two years before the application. Along with filling out your Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) Form, you should also prepare identification documents, such as valid passports and medical examinations.

Collect proof of your relationship, too, to prove its validity. These usually include photos together, records of your travels, and screenshots of conversations with each other through the course of your relationship.

After marrying, your spouse must then apply for permanent residency. When granted, immigrant individuals are given a green card that allows them to reside and work in the U.S.

couple looking at documents

Consular Processing

Alternatively, you and your partner may also decide to have your wedding outside of the United States. In this situation, you apply for a green card via the U.S. embassy after you have been married. This option allows your spouse to stay in their home country for a while should they need to manage anything before moving to the States.

Note that in this process, your future spouse will also have a medical examination and an interview from the embassy or consulate.

Your Future Spouse Already Resides in the United States

Your future spouse may already possess a valid U.S. visa, usually a work visa, if they already live and work in the U.S. What you need to do in this kind of setup is change their status from being a work visa holder into a green cardholder. The adjustment of status also involves an interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

You and your partner may get married in the United States, and you can apply for a green card on their behalf. While waiting for their green card application to be approved, it is best if your future spouse can maintain their immigration status. If your spouse fails to maintain their status during the application, it can be excused during the process since you are a U.S. citizen.

Applying for Naturalization

Naturalization, or becoming a full U.S. citizen, does not immediately happen to your spouse when you have gotten married. Having a green card also does not automatically qualify you for naturalization.

To qualify for naturalization, these are some requirements your spouse must have fulfilled upon application:

  • Be 18 years of age or older.
  • Be a green card holder for three years or longer.
  • Have been married to a U.S. citizen through those three years and in the duration of the application.
  • Have been residing for at least three months in the state the application was filed in.
  • Have been in the United States for a consecutive 18 months during those three years.
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English.
  • Have knowledge of U.S. history and government (civics).

Your spouse will also participate in an interview and take a citizenship test as part of the application process. Once approved, they will take an Oath of Allegiance to render the naturalization valid.

Make sure to check the USCIS website for further information on eligibility requirements and to stay up-to-date on the news to find out if adjustments have been made due to the current pandemic situation.