“About 3 ½ years ago, I filed for protection under the Violence Against Women Act and was given permanent residency. My husband was born in Escondido. I would like to become a U.S. citizen. I told a friend and she said I could file right now. Another friend, who is a naturalized citizen, said my first friend was wrong. She told me I have to wait until five years after I received my green card. Which friend is telling me the truth?”
(Submitted by Brandy F., Carlsbad, CA)
This is a tricky issue because it covers two different areas of immigration law.
First, there are the rules for becoming a citizen through naturalization. Second, there are the rules for immigrants who became lawful permanent residents through the Violence Against Women Act.
As a general rule, the waiting period between becoming a green card holder and filing for naturalization is five years. This is what your second friend was talking about.
But there is an exception for immigrants who obtained residency by marriage to a U.S. citizen. It’s only a three year wait. This seems to fit your case. This is what your first friend was talking about.
However, as you probably know, there are always quirks about law which most non-lawyers will know about or understand – especially in the context of special immigration programs like VAWA.
The three year rule is one such example, and so we need to briefly discuss a few other requirements.
One such regulation is that you do not qualify to become a U.S. citizen under the three year rule if your marriage ended due to divorce or separation before you filed your naturalization application.
This could be your situation. Since you were abused by your husband, and you filed a VAWA petition as a self-petitioner, without his help, I assume you may be divorced already. At minimum, I feel you are likely separated from him.
Fortunately, immigration officials realized this requirement placed abused spouses of U.S. citizens in a horrible position. It left them with having to choose between (a) remaining in the abusive marriage to qualify under the three year rule or (b) leaving their spouses but only being eligible under a longer, five year, period.
As a result, the three year living together requirement was modified. Now, immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens who win legal residence through the Violence Against Women Act are allowed to allowed to file for citizenship after just a wait of three years.
This is good news for you. Since you were given a green card 3 ½ years ago, you are eligible to apply for naturalization right now.
Of course, this is not the only requirement for earning citizenship. Do not overlook that these other requirements can also trip you up and cause problems for you.
As usual, I suggest that you meet with an immigration attorney, who specializes in citizenship law, before going forward and taking any chances.
(Filed Under Q&As: Special Immigration Programs)