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Obtaining U.S. Citizenship Through Marriage
When a foreign national marries a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, the foreign national can apply to become a permanent resident. A permanent resident is someone who is authorized to live and work in the United States. Permanent residents can eventually apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization.
What is a "Green Card?"
When an immigrant spouse is granted permanent residence status, she receives a "green card." Green cards are identification cards that prove an immigrant’s status as a lawful permanent resident. There are two types of green cards: conditional green cards and unconditional green cards.
If the couple is married for less than two years when the immigrant is granted permanent resident status, the immigrant spouse receives a conditional green card. This conditional green card is valid for two years. After two years, the immigrant spouse can apply to trade the conditional green card for an unconditional green card by filing a Form I-751 (Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residents). In most cases, both spouses must sign the From I-751 within 90 days of the two-year anniversary of the date that the conditional green card was issued.
However, if the couple is married for at least two years when the immigrant is granted permanent resident status, the immigrant spouse receives an unconditional green card.
How Does Divorce Affect an Immigrant Spouse’s Permanent Residence Status?
Divorce or annulment may adversely affect an immigrant’s permanent resident status. The consequences of a divorce or annulment differ in three different scenarios:
- When the immigrant does not have a green card
- When the immigrant has a conditional green card
- When the immigrant has an unconditional green card
1. The Immigrant Does Not Have a Green Card
If the marriage is terminated through divorce or annulment before the immigrant spouse becomes a permanent resident, the immigrant spouse will not be eligible for permanent resident status through her former spouse.
2. The Immigrant Has a Conditional Green Card
If the immigrant has a conditional green card, divorce or annulment will complicate her ability to convert her green card to an unconditional green card. The immigrant will still need to file a Form I-751 (Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residents), but she will also need to include a request for a "waiver" of the joint filing requirement. Waivers can be based on the following criteria:
- Divorce after a good-faith marriage
- Abuse or battery in a good-faith marriage
- Extreme hardship to the immigrant if she returned to her country of origin
3. The Immigrant Has an Unconditional Green Card
Divorce or annulment does not negatively affect an immigrant’s permanent residence status if she has an unconditional green card. However, divorce may extend the time it takes for her to become a U.S. citizen. If a permanent resident continues her marriage, she can usually apply for citizenship after three years. However, if the permanent resident gets a divorce before becoming a U.S. citizen, she generally cannot apply for citizenship until after five years of residency.
Should I Consult a Lawyer?
If you are going through a divorce that may affect your immigration status, you should consult an experienced immigration attorney or family law attorney. Divorce can be a difficult time, and not knowing how it affects your permanent resident or citizenship status can make it even more difficult. Your attorney can help you fill out the necessary paperwork, determine how your divorce will affect status as a permanent resident or U.S. citizen, and help you understand complicated immigration laws.
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Last Modified: 10-22-2013 01:17 PM PDT
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