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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, spouses of U.S. citizens are required to meet the general naturalization requirements. [1] The special provisions, however, provide modifications to those 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] 

  • The spouse of a U.S. citizen may naturalize after residing in the United States for three years after becoming an LPR, rather than five years as generally required. [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 becoming an LPR. [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] 

  • 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] 

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] 

B. Background

The current naturalization provisions for spouses of U.S. citizens reflect legislation dating back to 1922. Congress considered it inefficient and undesirable to require the spouse of a U.S. citizen to wait five years before naturalization. [8] Congress made further amendments in 1934, to include a required period 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)

Married and living in marital union for at least 3 years prior to filing

3 years after becoming an LPR

18 months during period 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) 

 

Married 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

Footnotes


[^ 1] See INA 316. See 8 CFR 316. See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements [12 USCIS-PM D].

[^ 2] See INA 316(a). See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements [12 USCIS-PM D].

[^ 3] See INA 319(a). See Chapter 3, Spouses of U.S. Citizens Residing in the United States [12 USCIS-PM G.3].

[^ 4] See INA 319(b). See Chapter 4, Spouses of U.S. Citizens Employed Abroad [12 USCIS-PM G.4].

[^ 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].

[^ 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)].

[^ 7] See INA 319(a). See Chapter 3, Spouses of U.S. Citizens Residing in the United States [12 USCIS-PM G.3].

[^ 8] See H.R. REP. 67-1110, 2d Sess., p. 2. See Immigration Act of September 22, 1922.

Resources

Legal Authorities

8 CFR 316.5(b)(6) - Residence for certain spouses of military personnel

8 CFR 316.6 - Physical presence for certain spouses of military personnel

8 U.S.C. 1443a - Overseas naturalization for service members and their qualifying spouses and children

INA 316, 8 CFR 316 - General requirements for naturalization

INA 318 - Prerequisite to naturalization, burden of proof

INA 319, 8 CFR 319 - Spouses of U.S. citizens

INA 332, 8 CFR 332 - Naturalization administration, executive functions

Appendices

Appendix: History of Acquiring Citizenship under INA 320 for Children of U.S. Citizens who are Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Government Employees, or their Spouses

Before October 29, 2019, USCIS considered children of members of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employees, who were stationed outside of the United States, to meet the requirement of “is residing in” the United States for the purpose of acquiring citizenship under INA 320.[1] This interpretation was consistent with the definition of “residence” for purposes of naturalization under INA 316.[2] Based on this treatment of U.S. government employees and their children in the context of naturalization under INA 316, USCIS determined that “residing in the United States” for purposes of acquisition of citizenship under INA 320 should likewise be interpreted to include children of U.S. military and government employees stationed outside of the United States who were residing with their parents.[3]

This interpretation, however, was inconsistent with other provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), including the definition of “residence” at INA 101(a)(33) and language in INA 322(a) and INA 322(d), which suggested that the citizenship of military children residing outside of the United States should be considered under that provision rather than under INA 320. Effective October 29, 2019, USCIS amended its policy guidance to address these concerns, and determined that children of members of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employees stationed outside of the United States would not be eligible for citizenship acquisition under INA 320.[4]

On March 26, 2020, the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act was enacted,[5] amending INA 320, so that a child residing with his or her U.S. citizen parent, who is stationed outside of the United States as a member of the U.S. armed forces or a U.S. government employee, or is residing in marital union with a member of the U.S. armed forces or a U.S. government employee who is stationed outside of the United States, acquires citizenship under INA 320 if all requirements of INA 320(c) and INA 320(a)(1)-(2) are met. In line with the statute, USCIS rescinds its previous guidance, clarifying that these children are eligible to acquire citizenship under INA 320 if all other requirements under INA 320 are met.

The amendment to INA 320 applies to children who were under the age of 18 on March 26, 2020.

Footnotes


[^ 1] Even though the child of a member of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employee stationed outside of the United States may be eligible to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship under INA 322 since he or she resides outside of the United States, USCIS interpreted the child to meet residency requirements under INA 320 as well, which formerly required the child to be residing in the United States with his or her parent to acquire citizenship.

[^ 2] For example, U.S. government employees, including members of the U.S. armed forces, are eligible to apply for an exception to the continuous residence requirement for naturalization under INA 316 as long as their residency outside of the United States was on behalf of the U.S. government. See INA 316(b). See INA 316(a). See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements, Chapter 3, Continuous Residence [12 USCIS-PM D.3].

[^ 3] See Policy Manual Technical Update, Child Citizenship Act and Children of U.S. Government Employees Residing Abroad (July 20, 2015); and Acquisition of Citizenship by Children of U.S. Military and Government Employees Stationed Abroad under Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), No. 103, issued May 6, 2004.

[^ 4] See USCIS Policy Alert, Defining “Residence” in Statutory Provisions Related to Citizenship [PA-2019-05] (PDF, 308.45 KB). This Policy Alert has been superseded by Policy Manual updates to reflect changes made under Pub. L. 116-133 (PDF).

[^ 5] See Pub. L. 116-133 (PDF) (March 26, 2020).

Updates

Technical Update - Moving the Adjudicator’s Field Manual Content into the USCIS Policy Manual

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is updating and incorporating relevant Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) content into the USCIS Policy Manual. As that process is ongoing, USCIS has moved any remaining AFM content to its corresponding USCIS Policy Manual Part, in PDF format, until relevant AFM content has been properly incorporated into the USCIS Policy Manual. To the extent that a provision in the USCIS Policy Manual conflicts with remaining AFM content or Policy Memoranda, the updated information in the USCIS Policy Manual prevails. To find remaining AFM content, see the crosswalk (PDF) between the AFM and the Policy Manual.

Technical Update - Replacing the Term “Foreign National”

This technical update replaces all instances of the term “foreign national” with “alien” throughout the Policy Manual as used to refer to a person who meets the definition provided in INA 101(a)(3) [“any person not a citizen or national of the United States”].

POLICY ALERT - Comprehensive Citizenship and Naturalization Policy Guidance

USCIS is issuing updated and comprehensive citizenship and naturalization policy guidance in the new USCIS Policy Manual.

Read More