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Most permanent residents need to hold a green card for at least 5 years before they are able to apply for U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process.

But if you got your green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen – a major exception allows you to apply for citizenship after just 3 years as a permanent resident.

To qualify for that you must meet all of the following requirements (per the Immigration and Nationality Act):

  1. You stayed married to and lived with the same U.S. citizen spouse who applied for your green card in the first place.
  2. Your U.S. citizen spouse has been a citizen for the entire 3-year period
  3. You and your citizen spouse have lived together as a married couple for at least three years before you file Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization).
  4. You meet all other standard naturalization requirements (good moral character, English ability, civics knowledge, etc.)

The Naturalization Process

Whether 2 year or 5 year permanent residence timeline – the naturalization process is generally the same.

  1. File Form N-400 with supporting documentation and fees
  2. Attend a biometrics appointment for fingerprinting
  3. Complete an interview with a USCIS officer that includes an English test and civics exam
  4. Attend a ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance and receive your Certificate of Naturalization

The only real difference is that people who have a green card based on marriage can finish this process faster than other permanent residents.

Keep This in Mind

You aren’t eligible for the 3 year exception if your marriage ends. This could be because of unfortunate death, divorce or annulment before your naturalization process is complete. In this case you would have to wait until reaching 5 years as a permanent resident to apply.

Also, USCIS looks more closely at marriages that are less than 2 years old when the green card interview takes place.

If your marriage was newer than 2 years, you likely received a conditional 2-year green card initially. You would have had to apply to remove those conditions and get a permanent 10-year green card before being eligible to apply for naturalization under the 3-year rule.

Sounds Complicated?

That’s because it is. And there are other, more detailed considerations that only a legal professional can help you with.

The process can be complex regardless of the advantage you’re getting on the naturalization timeline and needs their expertise to look over it.

You can make sure you meet all the requirements and send in your application correctly to become a U.S. citizen as soon as you are eligible by talking to an experienced immigration lawyer or service.