It’s a long haul to get a green card no matter which way you got there. A lot of couples are asking, “What’s the next step? When do we get to actually become a US citizen?” There’s a lot of confusion because some people are eligible at three years and some people are eligible at five years.
The general rule in the US immigration law is that an immigrant has to have a green card for five years before they can become a US citizen through the naturalization process.
There are several different types of exceptions. If you are on a marriage-based track and you have been continuously married to the same US citizen for three years while having your green card, while meeting all of the other requirements to become a US citizen, you can actually become a US citizen as early as three years.
It would be three years from the date on the very first green card you got whether it was conditional or just a regular 10-year green card. The date that says “resident since this date” is when you start counting the time.
You can actually apply a little bit earlier in anticipation of getting to those three years. When you get to the 90-day period before you reach the three years or two years and nine months before you meet the three years, then you can actually submit your naturalization application.
This is something you want to start thinking about when you’re at two and a half years of having your green card. You can start looking for an attorney or figuring out how you want to do the process to make sure that you can do it as soon as possible, which for a lot of people married to a US citizen continuously is two years and nine months.
If you’re in a situation where your relationship has unfortunately broken down, in those cases, you can still become a US citizen as long as you keep your green card but you have to wait for the five-year mark.
It’s not that they’re punishing you, it’s just that they’re not giving you a special exception either. That is not true in some cases of domestic violence where you actually received your green card yourself due to being in a dangerous relationship where you were abused. In some cases, they can also use the three-year exception.