Chapter 1: Purpose and Background

A. Purpose​

Spouses of United States citizens may be eligible for naturalization on the basis of their marriage under special provisions of the ​Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)​, to include overseas processing.​In general, ​s​pouses of ​U.S.​ citizens are required to meet the general ​naturalization ​requirements​.​ [1] See INA 316. See 8 CFR 316. See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements [12 USCIS-PM D]. The ​special provisions​, however,​provide modifications to th​os​e​requirements.​

The spouse of a ​U.S.​ citizen may naturalize through various ​provisions​:​

The spouse of a ​U.S.​ citizen may naturalize under the general naturalization provisions for applicants who have resided in the ​United States​ for at least five years after becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR).​ [2] See INA 316(a). See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements [12 USCIS-PM D].

The spouse of a ​U.S.​ citizen may naturalize after ​residing in the ​United States​ for ​three years ​after​ becoming a​n ​LPR​,​rather than ​five ​years ​as ​generally requi​red.​ [3] See INA 319(a). See Chapter 3, Spouses of U.S. Citizens Residing in the United States [12 USCIS-PM G.3].

The spouse of a U.S. citizen ​employed​ abroad who is working for the U.S. Government​ (including the armed forces) ​or other ​qualified ​entity may ​naturalize in the United States ​without any required period of residence​ or physical presence​ in the United States after be​c​oming ​an LPR.​ [4] See INA 319(b). See Chapter 4, Spouses of U.S. Citizens Employed Abroad [12 USCIS-PM G.4].

The spouse of a U.S. citizen who is serving ​abroad ​in the U.S. armed forces may naturalize ​abroad while residing with his or her spouse​, and time spent abroad under these circumstances is considered residence and physical presence in the United States for purposes of ​the general five-year or ​three-year provision​ for spouses​.​ [5] See INA 316(a), INA 319(a), and INA 319(e). See 8 U.S.C. 1443a. See Part I, Military Members and their Families [12 USCIS-PM I].

The surviving spouse of a ​U.S.​ citizen who dies during a period of honorable service in an active-duty status in the ​U.S.​ armed forces ​or was granted​ citizenship​ posthumously ​may naturalize in the ​United States​without any required period of residence or physical presence after becoming ​an LPR​.​ [6] See INA 319(d). See Part I, Military Members and their Families, Chapter 9, Spouses, Children, and Surviving Family Benefits, Section B, Spouses of Military Members [12 USCIS-PM I.9(B)].

In addition, spouses, former spouses, or intended spouses of U.S. citizens may naturalize if they obtained LPR status on the basis of having been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by their citizen spouse.​ [7] See INA 319(a). See Chapter 3, Spouses of U.S. Citizens Residing in the United States [12 USCIS-PM G.3].

B. Background​

The current naturalization provisions for spouses of ​U.S.​ citizens ​reflect ​legislation dating back to 1922. Congress considered it in​efficient​ and undesirable to require the spouse of a ​U.S.​ citizen to wait five years before naturalization.​ [8] See H.R. REP. 67-1110, 2d Sess., p. 2. See Immigration Act of September 22, 1922.Congress made further amendments in 1934, to include a required peri​od of three years of residence. ​In 1940, Congress incorporated provisions ​into the ​Nationality Act of 1940​ that were​ substantially similar to those of the 1922 and 1934 acts. Today’s statutes reflect Congress’ long-standing aim to ​facilitate the naturalization process for ​spouses ​of U.S. citizens to provide spouses with ​the ​protections afforded by U.S. citizenship.​

C. Table of General Provisions​

The table below serves as a quick reference guide to the pertinent naturalization authorities for spouses of ​U.S.​ citizens. The chapters that follow the table provide further guidance.​

General Provisions for Applicants filing as Spouses of U.S. Citizens​

Provision​

Marriage and ​Marital Union​

Continuous​

Residence​

Physical​

Presence​

Eligibility for Overseas Processing​

Spouses of ​U.S.​ Citizens Residing in United States​

INA 319(a)​

Mar​ried and living in mar​ital union for at least 3 years prior to filing​

3 years after becoming an LPR​

18 months during ​p​eriod of residence​

Not applicable, except for spouses of military members who may complete entire process from abroad – ​INA 319(e)​

Spouses of U.S. Citizens Employed Abroad​

INA 319(b)​

Mar​ried ​prior to filing​

Must be LPR at filing; no specified period required​

Not applicable; all must be in U.S. for interview and​Oath​

Spouses of Deceased Service Members​

INA 319(d)​

Must have been ​married and ​living ​in marital union at time of death​

Must be LPR at filing; no specified period required​

Not applicable; all must be in U.S. for interview and Oath ​

D. Legal Authorities​

INA 316​; ​8 CFR 316​ – General requirements for naturalization​

INA 319​; ​8 CFR 319​ – Spouses of U.S. citizens​

INA 319(e)​; ​8 CFR 316.5(b)(6)​ and ​8 CFR 316.6​ – Residence, ​p​hysical presence, and overseas naturalization for certain spouses of military personnel​

8 U.S.C. 1443a​ – Overseas naturalization for service members and their family​