American Citizenship (Naturalization): The Final Step for your Filipina Spouse

It’s time to talk about naturalization: acquiring U.S. citizenship for your Filipina spouse.  But before we go further let’s review.

Here are a few of the steps I have already discussed in previous posts:

  1. Getting Married in the Philippines
  2. The Medical Exam
  3. The Embassy Interview
  4. The CFO Stamp
  5. The Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (applying for the 10-year visa)

The above steps are for the spousal visa.  The process for a fiancee visa is a little different, but steps 2-5 are part of everyone’s immigration who comes to the USA to be with his/her fiancee/spouse.

There is one final step once you’ve gone through all of this: naturalization.  By this I mean your Filipina wife becoming U.S. citizen.

Here are the requirements, straight from the USCIS Website:

  • Be 18 or older
  • Be a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
  • Have been living in marital union with the U.S. citizen spouse, who has been a U.S. citizen during all of such period, during the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application and up until examination on the application
  • Have lived within the state, or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence, for at least 3 months prior to the date of  filing the application
  • Have continuous residence in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application
  • Reside continuously within the United States from the date of application for naturalization until the time of naturalization
  • Be physically present in the United States for at least 18 months out of the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government (also known as civics)
  • Be a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during  all relevant periods under the law.

How soon can you apply?  Within 90 days of reaching the requirement of living in the USA for three years as a “lawful permanent resident.”  Take note: if you apply before she reaches this window your application will be denied. 

Should you apply as soon as she is allowed?  It’s really up to you.  By this time she’ll have her 10-year visa, so there’s not necessarily a rush.  You may be planning to move, expecting a baby, or other events that would make the timing less than idea.

There are three things I would advise you to keep in mind:

  1.  Don’t wait until her 10-year visa is about to expire if you plan to apply for citizenship.  By this time you should be familiar with the sluggish pace at which the U.S. government moves regarding immigration issues.  In other words, plan for delays and make sure she has plenty of time left on her 10-year visa when you apply (a minimum of two years would be my recommendation).  You could apply for another 10-year visa I guess, but planning ahead will eliminate paying unnecessary fees.
  2. Keep an eye on her Philippine passport’s expiration date.  You don’t want your wife to be without a viable passport if you can help it, and you probably wouldn’t want to go through the hassle of renewing her Philippine passport if you are just weeks away from her getting a U.S. passport.
  3. Remember that government fees never get cheaper.  The longer you wait, the more likely that fees will increase.

Let’s say you are ready to apply.  Here’s the good and bad news (bad news first):

Bad news:

Your government loves fees, and you’ll have to pay 725$ when you apply (640 for the application fee and 85 for the background check).

There is a wait involved, just like every other step.

Good news:

The n-400 form is pretty simple and straightforward–it’s actually less complicated than some of the previous steps.

You are waiting out this process together as husband and wife.

You are (hopefully) just months away from being finished with this process for good–no more USCIS red tape!

The Naturalization Process

The application for naturalization is form n-400.  Go to the government page, read the instructions, and download the form.  Fill it out and send it in along with the fee and anything else that is required.  You may find it helpful to look up sample completed n-400’s online to guide you.

Next is the biometrics notice and appointment.  You should get a notice for her biometrics (fingerprinting, etc.) appointment within a month or so of applying.  The appointment itself usually happens within about two months of the application.  Once she’s done with biometrics you’re in for another wait.

She should get a notice for her naturalization interview appointment within 3-5 months.  The interview itself usually happens within 5-6 months of the initial application.  By this time she should already be studying for the interview.  There are materials available on the USCIS website, and there are apps available for both Mac/Apple and Android.

The actual citizenship interview is usually scheduled within about 6 months of the application.  The typical Filipina will have no trouble with this interview as long as she’s studied.  Her English proficiency will be more than enough to satisfy the language requirements, and the civics portion is not difficult.  The interview only takes a few minutes, but you may have to deal with the hassle of traveling to a different city (depending on where you live and the nearest USCIS office).

You should receive an invitation for the oath-taking ceremony within a month of the interview (the invitation will include a short questionnaire).  But the USCIS does have 120 days (4 months) to issue a decision, so don’t get too concerned if you don’t hear from them right away.

The oath taking itself is the final step.  Here are just a few helpful hints for the ceremony, but remember things can vary a little (depending on how many applicants there are, the specific venue, your location, etc.).

*There will probably be two lines going into the venue: one for the applicants and the other for the applicant’s family/friends.

*The applicant will see an agent to make sure the details are correct on the certificate of citizenship.  She’ll surrender her green card and will receive the certificate after the ceremony.

*Be prepared for a significant wait.  The ceremony itself will probably be about an hour, but it may not start until 2-3 hours after the time posted on the invitation letter (once again, this may vary greatly).

*The ceremony is an official court proceeding.  You’ll be asked to dress and act in a way that honors the dignity of the event.

I think you’ll find this ceremony to be a very satisfying conclusion to the long process you’ve both been through.  Once she has taken the oath she is a US Citizen!

She may be able to apply for her U.S. Passport at the ceremony itself if agents are available.  If not she can just follow the passport application instructions from the Department of State for other locations.  Applying for the very first passport must be done in person at an approved location.

She’ll want to change her citizenship status with Social Security at some point.  This can be done either in person or by mail.

One last thing: she may want to consider obtaining dual citizenship–especially if the two of you want to take long visit to the Philippines (or even consider moving back there).  She can do a little research and find the closest Philippine Embassy office for more details.  The consulates will periodically travel to larger cities so that Filipinos can have access to services without having to go to the embassy location.

The I-751: Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence

Green card

The first (and maybe most difficult) step to living happily ever after in the USA is getting the initial 2-year green card for your wife (I’ve shared some things about that process in previous posts).

There’s one more hurdle awaiting you on your way to her becoming a US citizen: the ten-year green card (or ten-year visa).  You will eventually have to complete an I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence in order for her to continue living in the United States legally once her 2-year green card expires. (and eventually apply for citizenship).

It’s more paperwork and red tape, but it isn’t all bad news.

I-751 Application

*This step is not nearly as complicated as the initial spousal/fiancee visa process.  There’s no harm in getting some professional help for it, but you may find that it is unnecessary.  The form is fairly simple and straightforward.  You can look for some sample forms online that have been filled out (with fictitious names, of course–just to give you an idea of how it should look).

*Unlike the previous step, you are presumably waiting out this one together.  She should already be with you at this point and maybe you’ve even started your family (having children).

*Technically the burden of proof would be on the government to deport her–a judge would have to get involved.

*Most filers don’t have to go in for an interview if their paperwork is in order.

The only bad news (other than the cost) is that it may take 8-9 months.  The government is backlogged (at the time of this post) and most offices are running behind.  Good thing you are waiting this out together, right?

Here are some tips for the I-751 application:

*You are eligible to apply once you are within 90 days of the expiration of her 2-year green card.  Go ahead and send it once you reach this time frame, but don’t send it any earlier than that–otherwise your application will be rejected.

*Documentation: The most important thing you can do to avoid delays is have complete documentation (evidence of relationship) in your initial application.  They may ask for additional information if they aren’t satisfied with what you sent.  The instruction form spells out the kind of documentation they are looking for, but here are a few additional ideas that will help:

  • Probably the most important thing you can do is provide copies of a Power of Attorney (POA), Living Will, and Last Will and Testament with you and your spouse listed as each other’s beneficiary or POA. If you don’t have any of these forms you can buy them at a place like US Legal Forms (the “Dave Ramsey special” is a good deal), fill them out, and get them signed/notarized.  You can go to an attorney if your will is more complex.  I’m not saying you have to include these, but legally binding documents like this are strong evidence that your lives are intertwined. Birth certificates of children would also be very strong evidence if you have already started your family.
  • Provide evidence that joint bank accounts or credit card accounts are still active.  Just showing them a copy of a check or bank card with both of your names on it isn’t quite enough.  Print out a few months’ worth of transactions and include that with your application.
  • Include proof that joint insurance policies are paid for.  You can ask your insurance company to email a letter to you or (easier still) print out a transcript of your payment history.
  • You can order IRS transcripts online a few weeks before you put your information together.  These are considered authoritative in terms of evidence that you filed jointly (and paid your taxes).  Ordering them online also saves you the hassle of having to make copies yourself.
  • Make a cover letter with a list of all the evidence you are including with your application.

The government can still ask for additional information (or even for an interview), but following these steps will probably minimize the chances of that happening.

After you apply your spouse will be required to go to a local office for biometrics (finger printing, etc.).  This happens pretty quickly (within a few weeks after your application).  You’ll also receive an official government letter stating that your spouse’s green card has been extended for one year.  Hang on to this letter because it’s the only legal proof you have of her legal immigration status while you wait for application to process.  She would have to carry this letter with her if for some reason she needed to leave the country and get back in.

You probably won’t hear anything from the government for a while after the letter and biometrics appointment.  You just wait for their decision.

Once the petition is granted your spouse will have almost all the rights of a US citizen (she can’t vote, but almost everything else would be the same).  You’re set for the next ten years and you can apply for her US citizenship once she’s eligible.

See Also: Helping Your Filipina Spouse Adjust to the USA