Naturalization for Person Married to U.S. Citizen Member of the Military

May 17, 2013 | Family Petition, Legal Permanent Residents (LPR), Naturalization

Q.  I have a couple of questions to, hopefully, help in my wife’s situation. I am in the U.S. Navy currently serving on an aircraft carrier. I am soon to change duty stations to outside the United States.  My wife is a foreign national and currently holds a ten-year permanent resident card but isn’t able to apply for naturalization until for several more months I am afraid she will get her approved naturalization papers close to the time we are due to move outside the United States. I am trying to complete all the necessary paperwork as soon as possible but I was under the impression she would have to wait until she gets naturalized to get her passport. If so, then she will be cutting it extremely close to get her passport if she had to wait on her naturalization. I read on the U.S. Department of State website that she’ll need either previous passport (she doesn’t have one yet), birth certificate (born in foreign country), naturalization certificate (hasn’t gotten it yet), or certificate of Citizenship.  Does her ten-year Permanent Resident card count as a certificate of citizenship? Is there any chance to get her passport prior to her naturalization? Or, would it be better to get a no-fee passport now so she’ll be able to travel with me outside the United States? I appreciate any help that you can provide.

A. I want to thank you for service to this country and I appreciate your work and sacrifice in the U.S. Navy.

Keep in mind that a 10-year permanent resident card does not count as a certificate of citizenship and that in order to apply for a U.S. passport one must submit proof of U.S. citizenship (i.e. a naturalization certificate or certificate of citizenship). But fortunately your wife may apply for naturalization even before your deployment and can naturalize abroad without traveling to the United States for any part of the citizenship process.

To be eligible to apply for United States citizenship, a lawful permanent resident (LPR) must be at least 18-years-old, demonstrate an understanding of basic English and knowledge of U.S. government and civics, and she/he must be a person of good moral character who is attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States. Applicants also need to meet certain residency and physical presence requirements proving they have lived and been present in the U.S for a specific time period prior to filing their application for naturalization.

Generally, a LPR may qualify to become a U.S. citizen if s/he has been continuously residing in status as a permanent resident for at least 5 years prior to the time of filing and has been physically present in the United States for at least half of those 5 years. Additionally, the applicant must reside in the state or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district where the application is filed for at least 3 months prior to filing their application.

The residency and physical presence requirements for naturalization are slightly different for lawful permanent residents who are married to U.S. citizens. A resident married to a U.S. citizen is eligible to apply for naturalization if immediately preceding the date of filing he or she has been a resident for at least three years, has been married to and living with their U.S. citizen spouse for at least three years, and their spouse has been a U.S. Citizen for at least the past three years. During those three years, the resident applicant must have been physically present in the United States for at least half of that time and must have resided within the state or USCIS district where the application was filed for at least three months prior to application.

However, there are special eligibility rules for legal permanent residents married to U.S. Citizen military service members who are regularly stationed outside the United States. In particular, the physical presence and residency requirements of naturalization are essentially waived. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 319(b), spouses of U.S. citizen service members may be eligible to apply for naturalization without having to prove their prior residence or any specific period of physical presence in the United States.

The requirements of naturalization for resident spouses of U.S. service members are:

  1. the applicant must be present in the United States in lawful permanent resident status (and present in the United States as a LPR at the time of naturalization),
  2. he/she must prove that their U.S. citizen spouse is deployed abroad as a service member,
  3. he/she must declare in good faith an intention to reside abroad with the U.S. Citizen spouse service member and reside in the United States immediately upon the citizen spouse’s termination of services abroad.

Qualifying military service may include service with one of the following branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, certain components of the National Guard and the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.

Keep in mind the requirements for LPR spouses of U.S. citizen service members is in addition to the general naturalization requirements – the ability to understand basic English, knowledge of U.S. history and form of government (i.e., civics), and demonstrating good moral character.

Additionally under the National Defense Authorization Act, certain LPR spouses of service members may naturalize abroad without traveling to the United States for any part of the naturalization process. (Section 319(e) of the INA) The law provides that legal permanent residents are eligible to apply for naturalization while living outside the United States with their service member spouse pursuant to military orders. First, the permanent resident must be authorized to accompany and reside with their service member husband or wife abroad pursuant to the member’s official orders. Second, the resident must actually reside abroad with the service member spouse in marital union. Their residence and physical presence abroad with authorization will be treated the same as residence and physical presence in the United States for naturalization purposes.

In conclusion your wife has two options. Assuming that she can meet the other requirements for U.S. citizenship, she may apply for naturalization in the United States affirming that she intends to reside or live in the United States at the end of your deployment but she must be present in the United States at the time of naturalization. Or alternatively, she may apply for naturalization outside the United States after meeting the physical presence and residency requirements, upon proof that she is officially authorized to accompany and reside with you.

Contact the USCIS Military Help Line 877-CIS-4MIL (877-247-4645) for more information on immigration and citizenship services for armed services members and their families.