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Chapter 3 - Spouses of U.S. Citizens Residing in the United States

A. General Eligibility for Spouses Residing in the United States

The spouse of a U.S. citizen who resides in the United States may be eligible for naturalization on the basis of his or her marriage.[1] The spouse must have continuously resided in the United States after becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the naturalization application and must have lived in marital union with his or her citizen spouse for at least those 3 years.

The spouse must establish that he or she meets the following criteria in order to qualify: 

  • Age 18 or older at the time of filing.

  • LPR at the time of filing the naturalization application.

  • Continue to be the spouse of the U.S. citizen up until the time the applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance.

  • Living in marital union with the citizen spouse for at least 3 years preceding the time of filing the naturalization application (the citizen spouse must have been a U.S. citizen for those 3 years).

  • Continuous residence in the United States as an LPR for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application and up to the time of naturalization.

  • Physically present in the United States for at least 18 months (548 days) out of the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application.

  • Living within the state or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing.

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage. 

  • Demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and principles and form of government of the United States (civics).

  • Demonstrate good moral character for at least 3 years prior to filing the application until the time of naturalization.

  • Attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law.

The spouse of a U.S. citizen residing in the United States may also naturalize under the general naturalization provisions for applicants who have been LPRs for at least 5 years.[2] In addition, in some instances the spouse of a member of the U.S. armed forces applying pursuant to INA 319(a) or INA 316(a) may be eligible for any naturalization proceeding abroad, to include interviews, filings, oaths, ceremonies, or other proceedings relating to naturalization.[3] 

B. Living in Marital Union for Spouses Residing in the United States

The spouse of a U.S. citizen residing in the United States must have been living in marital union with his or her citizen spouse for at least 3 years immediately preceding the time of filing the naturalization application. This provision requires that the spouse live in marital union with the citizen spouse during the entire period of 3 years before filing.[4] 

However, the statute does not require living in marital union for the period between the date of filing the application and the date of naturalization (date applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance). The corresponding regulation conflicts with the statute in stating that the spouse must have been living in marital union with his or her citizen spouse for at least 3 years at the time of the examination on the application, and not at the time of filing.

USCIS follows the language of the statute in requiring living in marital union only up until the time of filing.[5] Accordingly, only the existence of a legally valid marriage is required from the date of filing the application until the time of the applicant’s naturalization.[6] 

A person who was a spouse subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by their citizen spouse is exempt from the marital union requirement.[7] 

C. 3 Years of Continuous Residence

The spouse of a U.S. citizen residing in the United States must have continuously resided in the United States as an LPR for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of the filing the application and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance. Continuous residence involves the applicant maintaining a permanent dwelling place in the United States for the required period of time. The residence is the applicant’s actual dwelling place regardless of his or her intentions to claim it as his or her residence.[8] 

D. 18 Months of Physical Presence

The spouse must have been physically present in the United States for at least 18 months (548 days) out of the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application.[9] Physical presence refers to the number of days the applicant must physically be present in the United States during the statutory period up to the date of filing for naturalization.[10] 

E. 90-Day Early Filing Provision (INA 334)

The spouse of a U.S. citizen filing for naturalization on the basis of his or her marriage may file the naturalization application up to 90 days before the date he or she would first meet the required 3-year period of continuous residence.[11] Although an applicant may file early and may be interviewed during that period, the applicant is not eligible for naturalization until he or she has satisfied the required 3-year period of residence. All other requirements for naturalization must be met at the time of filing.

USCIS calculates the early filing period by counting back 90 days from the day before the applicant would have first satisfied the continuous residence requirement for naturalization. For example, if the day the applicant would satisfy the 3-year continuous residence requirement for the first time is on June 10, 2010, USCIS will begin to calculate the 90-day early filing period from June 9, 2010. 

In cases where an applicant has filed early and the required 3-month period of residence in a state or service district falls within the required 3-year period of continuous residence, jurisdiction is based on the 3-month period immediately preceding the examination on the application (interview).[12] 

F. Eligibility for Persons Subjected to Battery or Extreme Cruelty

1. General Eligibility for Persons Subjected to Battery or Extreme Cruelty

On October 28, 2000, Congress expanded the provision regarding naturalization based on marriage to a U.S. citizen for persons who reside in the United States. The amendments added that any person who obtained LPR status as the spouse, former spouse, or intended spouse[13] of a U.S. citizen who subjected him or her to battery or extreme cruelty may naturalize under this provision.[14] 

Specifically, the person must have obtained LPR status based on:

  • An approved Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant (Form I-360) as the self-petitioning spouse of an abusive U.S. citizen;

  • An approved Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant (Form I-360) as the self-petitioning spouse of an abusive LPR, if the abusive spouse naturalizes after the petition has been approved;[15] or

  • Special rule cancellation of removal for battered spouses and children in cases where the applicant was the spouse, or intended spouse of a U.S. citizen, who subjected him or her to battery or extreme cruelty.[16] 

A person is also eligible for naturalization under the spousal naturalization provisions if he or she had the conditions on his or her residence removed based on:

  • An approved battery or extreme cruelty waiver of the joint filing requirement for Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (Form I-751), for a conditional permanent resident, if the marriage was entered into in good faith and the spouse was subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by the petitioning citizen or LPR spouse.[17] 

2. Exception to Marital Union and U.S. Citizenship Requirements for Spouses

A person subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by his or her U.S. citizen spouse is exempt from the following naturalization requirements:[18]

  • Married to the U.S. citizen spouse at the time of filing the naturalization application;

  • Living in marital union with the citizen spouse for at least 3 years at the time of filing the naturalization application; and

  • Applicant’s spouse has U.S. citizenship from the time of filing until the time the applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance.[19] 

The spouse must meet all other eligibility requirements for naturalization.[20] 

G. Application and Evidence

1. Application for Naturalization (Form N-400)

To apply for naturalization, the applicant must submit an Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) in accordance with the form instructions and with the required fee.[21] The applicant should check the appropriate eligibility option on the naturalization application to indicate that he or she is applying on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen.

2. Evidence of Spouse’s United States Citizenship

Under this provision, the burden is on the applicant to establish that he or she is married and living in marital union with a U.S. citizen.[22] A spouse of a U.S. citizen must submit with the application evidence to establish the U.S. citizenship of his or her spouse.[23] 

Evidence of U.S. citizenship may include:

  • Certificate of birth in the United States;​

  • Department of State Consular Report of Birth Abroad (FS-240);​

  • Certificate of Citizenship;​

  • Certificate of Naturalization; and​

  • Valid and unexpired United States Passport.

If an official civil record cannot be produced, secondary evidence may be accepted on a case-by-case basis. An officer has the right to request an original record if there is doubt as to the authenticity of the record.[24] 

Footnotes


1. [^] See INA 319(a). See 8 CFR 319.1.

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

3. [^] See Part I, Military Members and their Families, Chapter 9, Spouses, Children, and Surviving Family Benefits [12 USCIS-PM I.9].

4. [^] There are limited circumstances where an applicant may be able to establish that he or she is living in marital union with the citizen spouse even though the applicant does not actually reside with the citizen spouse. See Chapter 2, Marriage and Marital Union for Naturalization, Section D, Marital Union and Living in Marital Union [12 USCIS-PM G.2(D)].

5. [^] See 8 CFR 319.1(a)(3). See Ali v. Smith, 39 F. Supp. 2d 1254. (W.D. Wash. 1999).

6. [^] See INA 319(a). See In re Petition of Olan, 257 F. Supp. 884 (1966). See Petition of Yao Quinn Lee, 480 F.2d 673 (C.A. 2, 1973). See Chapter 2, Marriage and Marital Union for Naturalization [12 USCIS-PM G.2].

7. [^] See INA 319(a). See Section F, Eligibility for Persons Subjected to Battery or Extreme Cruelty [12 USCIS-PM G.3(F)].

8. [^] See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements, Chapter 3, Continuous Residence [12 USCIS-PM D.3]. See 8 CFR 316.5(a).

9. [^] See 8 CFR 319.1(a)(2) and 8 CFR 319.1(a)(4). See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements, Chapter 5, Modifications and Exceptions to Continuous Residence and Physical Presence [12 USCIS-PM D.5].

10. [^] See 8 CFR 319.1(a)(2) and 8 CFR 319.1(a)(4). See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements, Chapter 4, Physical Presence [12 USCIS-PM D.4]. 

11. [^] See INA 334(a). See 8 CFR 334.2(b).

12. [^] See 8 CFR 316.2(a)(5).

13. [^] See INA 101(a)(50) (definition of intended spouse).

14. [^] See INA 319(a). See the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Pub. L. 106-386 (PDF) (October 28, 2000). See Part H, Children of U.S. Citizens, Chapter 6, Special Provisions for the Naturalization of Children [12 USCIS-PM H.6].

15. [^] See INA 204(a)(1)(B)(ii).

16. [^] See INA 240A(b)(2)(A)(i)(I) or INA 240A(b)(2)(A)(i)(III).

17. [^] See INA 216(c)(4)(C)

18. [^] See INA 319(a).

19. [^] See INA 319(a) and 8 CFR 319.1(b). See INA 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(II)(aa)(CC)(bbb).  

20. [^] See INA 319(a). See 8 CFR 319.1.

21. [^] See 8 CFR 319.11(a). See 8 CFR 103.7(b)(1).

22. [^] See Chapter 2, Marriage and Marital Union for Naturalization [12 USCIS-PM G.2].

23. [^] See INA 319(a). See 8 CFR 319.1(a).

24. [^] See 8 CFR 103.2(b)(5). See 8 CFR 319.1 and 8 CFR 319.2

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

INA 101(f) - Definition of good moral character

INA 312, 8 CFR 312 - Educational requirements for naturalization

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

INA 334, 8 CFR 334 - Application for naturalization; declaration of intention

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 - Naturalization of Spouses Subjected to Battery or Extreme Cruelty by U.S. Citizen Spouse

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is updating policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify that the spouse of a U.S. citizen who was subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by his or her U.S. citizen spouse does not need to establish that he or she is still married to the abusive spouse at the time he or she files the application for naturalization.

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 - Special Naturalization Provisions for Children

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is issuing policy guidance to amend the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify certain special naturalization provisions for children.

Read More
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