USCIS Policy Manual Update on Naturalization Based on Marriage to USC

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy manual has been updated with regard to marriage and cohabitation requirements for those applying for citizenship based on marriage to a U.S. citizen (USC). As summarized in the USCIS policy alert, the policy update clarifies how long the couple must live together for the foreign national spouse to qualify, and reaffirms that the applicant must remain married until taking the oath of allegiance in order to qualify for this benefit.

Eligibility Criteria to Naturalize Based on Marriage to USC

One of the standard requirements for eligibility to naturalize is that the applicant must be a lawful permanent resident (i.e. “green card” holder) for at least five years. However, if the green card holder is married to a USC, this requirement is reduced to three years if all of following conditions are satisfied.

  • The applicant has continuously resided in the United States for a period of at least three years as a lawful permanent resident.
  • The applicant has been living in marital union (living in the same home) with the USC spouse for three years prior to filing for naturalization.
  • The applicant has been physically present in the Unites States for periods totaling at least 18 months.
  • The applicant has resided in the state or district where the application for naturalization is being made for at least three months prior to filing.
  • The applicant continuously resides in the U.S. until s/he is sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Policy Manual Update

The USCIS policy manual update explains that the three-year marital union requirement must be met by the time the applicant files for naturalization, not by the time of citizenship examination, as previous, inconsistent regulations have suggested. This means that the applicant and USC spouse must be living together continuously for three years before the applicant can apply for naturalization. The only exception to this requirement is if the applicant is suffering severe physical, mental, or emotional abuse at the hands of the U.S. citizen spouse.

There is no marital union requirement for the period of time between filing for naturalization and the swearing-in ceremony. This means that the applicant and USC spouse can reside in separate homes during this period as long as they maintain a valid marriage.

The USCIS has reaffirmed that a valid marriage must exist up until the swearing-in ceremony. If the marriage terminates prior to the swearing-in ceremony, then the applicant generally would have to qualify using the standard criteria (e.g., green card holder for at least five years).


This update to the USCIS policy manual should help clarify some ambiguities and inconsistencies in eligibility for this immigration benefit.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.