There are many requirements that a U.S. permanent resident who wishes to become a U.S. citizen has to meet in order to qualify for the naturalization process. In a past post, we discussed some of the general requirements for becoming an American citizen. As a note, there are certain U.S. permanent residents who can qualify for a different set of naturalization criteria than the general set. One such type of permanent residents are permanent residents who are married to U.S. citizens.
One of the big ways the citizenship criteria for spouses of U.S. citizens differs from the criteria for general permanent residents regards the length-of-residency requirement. Spouses of U.S. citizens typically qualify for a shorter residency requirement as long as they secured their residency through their U.S. citizen spouses. Section 319(a) of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act establishes that a spouse of a U.S. citizen can qualify for U.S. citizenship after three years of continuous lawful permanent residency in the U.S., at least half of which must have been spent physically in the U.S., if, throughout this residency period, their spouse was a U.S. citizen and they were living in marital union with their spouse.
As a note, some spouses of U.S. citizens may even be exempt from having to meet any length-of-residency requirement to qualify for naturalization. Specifically, certain U.S. permanent residents who are married to U.S. citizens who work abroad for the U.S. government or some other type of qualifying employer can qualify for a special set of eligibility criteria for U.S. citizenship (under the INA's Section 319(b)) that does not include a length-of-residency requirement.
In addition to requirements regarding residency, there are a variety of other requirements for spouses of U.S. citizens who wish to become a U.S. citizen.
Whether a person qualifies for a special set of rules for naturalization can impact what options they have if they wish to become a U.S. citizen. Thus, it can be very important for a person who desires to become a U.S. citizen to understand whether their particular circumstances could give them access to a special set of eligibility criteria for U.S. citizenship, such as the criteria for spouses of U.S. citizens under Section 319 of the INA.
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, "Naturalization for Spouses of U.S. Citizens," Accessed Dec. 1, 2015