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Can I apply to become a US citizen if I am married to a US citizen but illegal?

Los Angeles, CA |

I read that if you are illegal, after 3 years of being marreid to a US citizen you can apply to become a citizen. I entered the US legally and got married. What is possible to do in this situation?

Attorney Answers 4


The information below is general in nature. It is not specific legal advice. I am not your attorney and this message does not create an attorney-client relationship.

The 3 year marriage rule for Citizenship is for people who already have greencards (lawful permanent residence), not for people who entered unlawfully or who are here without lawful permanent residence status.

For most people who came here illegally, if they are married to a U.S. Citizen they may need to leave the country to apply for the greencard. However, when that person leaves the U.S. they will be banned for 10 years from returning because they remained int he U.S. unlawfully for over one year.

But, there is a special waiver for the 10 year ban. If your wife can show that she would suffer extreme and unusual hardship if you were not returned, then the ban can be waived. This waiver is not easy to get.

If, a relative or an employer filed an immigration petition for you before April 30th 2001, then you might be able to adjust your status through your wife without having to leave the country.

Other issues, like criminal charges, convictions and finances can effect your ability to adjust your status.

You will need to see a licensed immigration lawyer to discuss the specifics of your case.

Andre Olivie
Seattle Immigration Lawyer

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The information below is general in nature. It is not specific legal advice. I am not your attorney and this message does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Assuming you entered the US legally, you first have to apply for a 2 year conditional Green Card based on your marriage to a US citizen. Three years after obtaining your Green Card, you can apply for citizenship, but first you must apply to remove the 2 year condition 21-24 months after approval of your Green Card.

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As long as you have a legal entry (even if you have overstayed for many years and even if you have worked without authorization) you may file the papers to become a PERMANENT RESIDENT (not citizen) thorugh your U.S. citizen spouse here in the U.S.. If you have returned to your home country after acucmulating illegal time in the U.S. then your case will be more complicated and you may not have the privilege of filing in the U.S. After you become a permanent resident you may apply for U.S. citizenship 2 years and 9 months (90 days before your three year anniversary) provided you have spent at least 1/2 of that time physically present in the U.S. and meet the other requirements for U.S. citzienship.

We woudl be happy to assist you with the permanent residency process. My contact information follows:

Lynne R. Feldman, Attorney at Law
Concentrating in Immigration and Nationality Law
2221 Camino Del Rio South, Suite 201
San Diego, CA 92108
phone: (619) 299-9600, facsimile: (619) 923-3277

Formerly Adjunct Professor -- Immigration law
University of Illinois College of Law

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The answer to your question depends on several facts which are not provided. Did you enter the country legally (with inspection)? If the answer is yes, then you should be able to adjust status in the U.S. following normal procedures followed by spouses of U.S. citizens. Check the USCIS website for detailed info.

If you entered the country illegally (without inspection), then you need to talk to an immigration attorney because you might be able to benefit from INA 245(i). If you are eligible for 245(i), then you should be able to adjust your status in the United States.

If you want to do some research on your own then look at section 245(i) of the INA and practice guides that explain/discuss the section.

My office handles cases such as yours, as well as those dealing with 245(i), feel free to make an appointment for a free consultation.

Omer Rangoonwala, Esq.
19811 Colima Rd., STE 340
Walnut, CA 91789

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