Citizenship for Spouses of Service Members

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Citizenship for Spouses of Service Members

Can I become a U.S. citizen if I am married to someone serving in the military who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident?

As the spouse of a U.S. service member, you may be able to apply for “naturalization” in one of several ways.

  1. First, you must already have U.S. permanent resident status. This requirement applies in all cases. This status may be based on your marriage to the U.S. service member. Or you may have obtained your status in some other way.

    Spouses of U.S. service members who died in combat during certain periods of hostilities may self-petition for permanent resident status in some cases. Also spouses who are victims of emotional or physical abuse by their service member spouse may be able to self-petition for permanent residency based on the abuse.

    The process and timing to gain residency as a spouse varies depending upon whether the U.S. service member is a permanent resident or a U.S. citizen.

    For non-U.S. citizen service members who were serving honorably and who died while in active duty status during certain periods of hostilities, U.S. citizenship for the service member may be applied for after the service member’s death.

    Self-petitioning is complicated.  Try to get help from an experienced immigration attorney.
  2. Basic rule when living in the U.S. You may be able to apply for citizenship if:

    • You are living in the United States;  
    • You have had permanent residency status for at least 3 years; and
    • You have been married to and living with a U.S. citizen service member for at least 3 years.

    A period during which your U.S. citizen spouse is deployed abroad for military service does not interrupt the 3 years "living with" requirement.

    NOTE: This does not apply to spouses of permanent residents doing U.S. military service abroad.  These applicants must have 5 years of permanent residency, not 3 years.

  3. Imminent deployment. You may not have to meet the 3 year requirement (above).  Here is another way that some spouses may qualify for naturalization:

    • You are living in the United States;  
    • You have permanent residency status;
    • You are married to and living with a service member who is a U.S. citizen;
    • Your service member spouse has been deployed abroad;
    • You will be leaving the U.S. within 45 days after naturalizing to join your spouse abroad;
    • Your spouse will be deployed abroad for at least one year after your naturalization; and
    • You intend to resume living in the U.S immediately after the deployment abroad ends.

    NOTE: This does not apply to spouses of permanent residents doing U.S. military service abroad.

  4. Living overseas with a deployed service member spouse. This method may be available to you, regardless of whether your service member spouse is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. You may qualify if:
    • Your spouse is a U.S. citizen and you have been a permanent resident for at least 3 years; or
    • Your spouse is a permanent resident and you have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years.
       
  5. Spouse of deceased service member. Again, you must be a permanent resident first. Spouses of U.S. service members who died in combat during certain periods of hostilities may self-petition for permanent resident status in some cases. Here are the other "naturalization" qualifications for this group:
    • Your spouse was a permanent resident or U.S. citizen.
    • Your spouse served honorably and was killed while on active duty.
    • You were marrried and "living with" your service embmer spouse at the time of his death. (Time living separately solely because the service member was deployed abroad is counted as time living together.)
    • You are a permanent resident on the day of the naturalization interview. Remember that if you are not a permanent resident, you may be able to self-petition for residency based on the death of your U.S. service member spouse who died while in active duty status during certain periods of hostilities (see Item 1, above)

Cautions

Again, these applications are complicated. The forms and steps are confusing. And a misstep can lead to delays or application denials.

Your status as the spouse of a U.S. service member means you may enjoy some relaxed requirements. This includes, for example, a reduced permanent residency time period (normally 5 years) for some miltiary spouses. On the other hand, other requirements still apply. These include:

  • good moral character
  • ability to read, write, and speak English
  • passing a test on U.S. civics and history

Even a person who appears eligible to apply for naturalization based on his marriage to a U.S. service member can run into complications. This could result in denial of citizenship or, in some cases, being placed in proceedings to remove him from the U.S.

Speak with an experienced immigration attorney or accredited representative before attempting to apply for citizenship. 

Get legal help

Within the U.S.: Go here to find free or low-cost legal assistance

Outside the U.S.: Contact the USCIS’s Military Helpline: 1-877-CIS-4MIL (1-877-247-4645), or send an e-mail to: militaryinfo DOT nsc AT dhs DOT gov

Don't be scammed. Avoid offers of help from unqualified people.

June 2010