An individual with permanent residency holds a green card and has many of the same rights and responsibilities as U.S. citizens – including the right to live and work in the U.S. A permanent resident can become a U.S. citizen through the process of naturalization. Permanent residency is one of many requirements immigrants must meet when applying for citizenship. In certain situations, getting divorced may strip an immigrant of her green card or her ability to apply for one. This, in turn, makes filing a naturalization application impossible.
A U.S. permanent resident who meets the requirements for naturalization can file Form N-400 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to request citizenship. Depending on how the permanent resident received his green card, he must prove that he has lived in the U.S. continuously for either three or five years since receiving permanent residency. He must be at least 18 years old, speak, read and write English and display a working knowledge of U.S. history and government. The permanent resident does not have to be married to a U.S. citizen to apply for citizenship.
No immigrant can apply for naturalization without first applying for and receiving permanent residency. One common ground under which immigrants can apply for permanent residency is through marriage. If you get divorced before filing your permanent residency application, or during the application and interview process, you lose the very grounds under which the application was originally filed – marriage. This does not automatically invalidate your petition, but could result in USCIS denying your permanent residency application.
Conditional Permanent Residence
Obtaining permanent residence through marriage does not mean that you can safely retain your permanent residence should you and your spouse divorce. Unless you and your spouse were married more than two years when you originally filed the permanent residency application, you will receive a conditional green card when USCIS approves your application. You and your spouse must fill out and submit a joint application to USCIS before your conditional status becomes permanent. Should you and your spouse divorce during the two-year conditional period, you can apply to have the joint application requirement removed and subsequently apply to have the conditions removed from your permanent residency. If you do not do so, you will lose your status and may be removed from the country.
Marriage is not the only grounds some immigrants have for filing a permanent residency application. If you obtained your green card through direct employment in the U.S., a job offer or your investment in a U.S.-based enterprise, your marriage – or lack thereof – has no impact on your current immigration status. Thus, you can apply for citizenship provided you meet the requirements for doing so. A divorce will not adversely affect your application.