Citizenship In Canada

US Citizenship Through Marriage

American citizenship is granted through the process of naturalization, when the foreign spouse has fulfilled the requirements established by Congress in the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Almost every citizenship applicant, the applicant has to be a green card holder or lawful permanent resident before filing the naturalization application. For foreign spouses married to American citizens, he/she may qualify for naturalization after at least 3 years of being a permanent resident in the US prior to filing. Otherwise, the permanent resident requirement is at least 5 years for applicants who obtained their green card through other means.

Under Section 319(a) of the INA, a spouse of a US citizen may apply when he/she have been a green card holder for at least 3 years, have been living in marital union with the same US citizen spouse during such time, and meet all other eligibility requirements under this section.

Often the US citizen spouse who marries a foreign spouse wants to retire or raise a family in the foreign spouse's country but wants to pass citizenship to their foreign spouse after marriage. Section 319(a) of the INA requires a citizenship applicant to reside continuously within the US from the date of application for naturalization until time of naturalization, and be physically present in the US for at least 18 months out of the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application. There are no exceptions or waivers to this requirement, therefore most naturalization applicants must spend the first few years on US soil before they can return to their country.

Other citizenship requirements are similar to those for the immigrant visa, that the applicant is a person of good moral character, understand the principles of the US Constitution, and able to read, write, and speak English and have a basic understanding of the US history and government.

Another issue to keep in mind is that US citizenship grants the individual the right to obtain a US passport, making traveling less cumbersome. Moreover, US passport holders may be outside of the US indefinitely without fear of losing their passport or US citizenship. Green card holders have to maintain their residence in the US, meaning they have to spend most of their time within the US, otherwise they run the risk of losing their green card. A consular officer or customs and border patrol officer may find that the inordinate amount of time spent outside of the US without a properly approved re-entry permit or travel document equates to the immigrant's intention to abandon lawful permanent resident status. US citizenship also removes the risk of deportation or removal for the immigrant, as they are still subject to the moral turpitude requirement every time they renew the green card or run afoul with the criminal court.

Having US citizenship has many benefits for new immigrants and for those who obtained their green card though a US citizen spouse, they have less time to wait before filing and obtaining their American citizenship.

About the author: Cathy Tran Reck is an American immigration attorney working from Bangkok, Thailand. Cathy is the Managing Partner at Cathy Tran Reck & Associates, Ltd. Bangkok with an office in Bangkok, Thailand and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Cathy is licensed by the California State Bar, American Bar Association, and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached at or in Bangkok at (+66) 2 302 1448.


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