Can I Apply for Citizenship If I’ve Divorced the Person Who Got Me My Green Card?

Question:

When USCIS may raise questions about a divorce during the naturalization process.

I am from China, and married a U.S. citizen. He helped me get a green card in the United States. But we got divorced two and a half years after I came here. Now I have been a resident for five years, and would like to apply for U.S. citizenship. Will I be permitted to do that? Or will the divorce mean they will refuse my application?

Answer:

Many applicants for U.S. citizenship (naturalization) worry that if they got their green card through marriage, but later divorced, they will no longer qualify for citizenship. In most cases, such applicants have little or nothing to worry about.

The people who truly need to worry about the effect of a divorce are those trying to get early citizenship after three years as spouses of U.S. citizens. You have to remain married up until you actually get your citizenship, and you have to be living with your spouse three years before filing your citizenship application to qualify for early citizenship. Because you have been a permanent resident for five years, you’re not subject to the early citizenship rules.

As long as your marriage was the real thing—meaning that you honestly intended to establish a life together, as opposed to entering into a fake, or a sham marriage, meant to get you a green card—you should be okay. (U.S. immigration authorities are always on the lookout for fraudulent marriages, and perceive them to be a common problem, but don't automatically assume that a divorce indicates a sham marriage.)

Judging by your description, you probably spent two years as a “conditional resident,” then had to submit proof of your real, ongoing marriage (along with Form I-751) in order to become a permanent resident. So U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has already once verified that your marriage was real. But when you apply for citizenship, your divorce might cause USCIS to question how real your marriage was. 

While your divorce will not, by itself, cause USCIS to assume that your marriage was a fraud, when you attend your naturalization interview, the USCIS officer may ask some additional questions to double-check. The officer may not make a decision on your citizenship that day, but may ask you to first submit additional paperwork proving that your marriage was real.

If that is indeed the case, then USCIS will be looking in particular for documentation covering the time period beyond your submission of the I-751.

For example, you might want to submit the same sorts of documents that you did before, but covering that time period, such as leases or mortgages in both your names, copies of joint bank or credit card statements, and so on.

If you and your husband attended couples counseling before your divorce, a statement from your therapist would be good evidence that you were really trying to make this marriage work. And if you happen to have had any children that USCIS doesn’t yet know about, their birth certificates will serve as excellent evidence that your marriage was real.

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