One route immigrants can take to obtain citizenship in the United States is to marry a U.S. citizen. After getting married, the immigrant has the right to apply for permanent residency and, ultimately, citizenship. Depending on your current immigration status, getting divorced during the application process could threaten your ability to remain in the U.S.
A permanent resident is an non-citizen who holds a U.S. green card. According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, permanent residents enjoy most of the same rights and responsibilities that U.S. citizens do – including the right to live where they wish and pursue the career of their choice. A permanent resident who is married to a U.S. citizen does not lose his residency when he gets divorced. This is true even if USCIS originally awarded him permanent residency based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen.
Immigrants can apply for permanent residency by filing an adjustment of status request with USCIS. If an individual's permanent residency application is based on her marriage and she gets a divorce before she receives her green card, she cannot remain in the U.S. Marrying a U.S. citizen, however, is not the only way to become eligible for permanent residency and citizenship. If an immigrant's pending permanent residency application is based on his employment in the U.S. rather than his marriage, getting divorced does not affect the application process.
Every immigrant that travels to the U.S. legally does so using a visa. The visa stipulates how long the immigrant can remain in the U.S. Once the visa expires, the individual no longer has permission to remain in the country. When an immigrant submits an application for permanent residency, his status changes to that of an applicant and his previous visa status no longer applies. Although this is beneficial to those who arrived in the U.S. under short-term visas, it leaves an immigrant without a valid visa should USCIS deny his application. USCIS will deny a marriage-based permanent residency application if the couple divorces. The immigrant is then left without permanent residency or a valid visa and must leave the country.
Overstaying a Visa
USCIS uses an automated border system to keep track of all arrivals and departures. If an immigrant does not immediately leave the country when her visa expires, USCIS will flag her in the system. Flagged individuals face a variety of consequences, such as being banned from the U.S. for ten years or being banned from ever submitting a permanent residency application.
References & Resources
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Rights and Responsibilities of a Green Card Holder (Permanent Resident)
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Green Card Through a Job
- Zhang & Associates, P.C.: Frequently Asked Questions on Divorce
- Temple University: Visa Overstay and Illegal Presence in the U.S.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Resources
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