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Getting A Green Card And Citizenship As A Widow or Widower Of A US Citizen

January 04, 2024

The spouse of a U.S. citizen, even in the event of the U.S. citizen’s passing away, has the opportunity to apply for a green card and subsequently get U.S. citizenship. U.S. immigration law has provisions for cases where the U.S. citizen spouse passes away before the foreign national spouse completes the application process for permanent residence (green card). Then, after a specified waiting period, individuals with permanent resident status generally become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

It’s essential to note that marriage to a U.S. citizen doesn’t automatically confer U.S. citizenship upon the foreign national spouse. Instead, there is a structured process in place. Importantly, this process remains accessible even if the U.S. citizen spouse has unfortunately passed away.

For individuals who were married to a U.S. citizen and experienced the loss of their spouse before securing a green card, there exists a viable pathway to both residency and citizenship. As the widow(er) of a U.S. citizen, you have the option to initiate the green card application process, leading to potential U.S. citizenship through the subsequent naturalization process.

Securing A Green Card As A Widow(Er) Of A U.s. Citizen

The process for a widow of a U.S. citizen to apply for permanent resident status depends on whether the U.S. citizen spouse had filed a petition on the widow’s behalf before their death. It’s important to distinguish between cases where the U.S. citizen had started the petition process and situations where such a petition wasn’t in progress. Additionally, there exists a third avenue specifically designed to acknowledge the sacrifices made by widows and widowers of U.S. service members who lost their lives in combat.

Filed Or Approved Petition

If your marriage was to a U.S. citizen who filed a Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) on your behalf before their death, there’s no need to submit a separate petition. The initial Form I-130 automatically transforms into a Form I-360 (Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant). Moreover, if you have unmarried children under the age of 21, they can be included in the Form I-360, regardless of whether your deceased spouse had previously filed a petition for them.

However, if you were separated from your spouse before their death, you are ineligible for this process. To meet the criteria, you must not have been divorced or legally separated from the U.S. citizen at the time of their demise. Additionally, your eligibility as a widow(er) for immigration purposes ceases if you have remarried.

No Petition Previously Filed

If your U.S. citizen spouse did not file Form I-130 on your behalf before they died, there is an alternative route to obtain a green card. You can initiate a self-petition as an “immediate relative” by completing Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.

To be eligible, you must not have been divorced or legally separated from the U.S. citizen at the time of their death. Furthermore, your qualification for immigration as a widow(er) ceases if you have remarried. It is essential to submit the Form I-360 petition within two years of the citizen’s death.

Military Widow(Ers)

Surviving spouses of U.S. military members who lost their lives in combat have distinct immigration benefits. Those who meet specific criteria can independently petition for immediate relative status by completing and submitting Form I-360.

For additional details and potential assistance in accessing these benefits, reach out to USCIS. A dedicated toll-free military help line, 877-CIS-4MIL (877-247-4645), has been established exclusively for current members of the military and their families. Contacting USCIS through this line can provide valuable information and resources.

Military Widow(Ers) Requirements For A Widow Or Widower To Acquire A Green Card

In essence, eligibility for permanent residence in the United States as a widow or widower hinges on several key criteria. To qualify, the applicant must meet the following conditions:

  • Being married to a U.S. citizen at the time of the citizen’s passing away.
  • Having a pending or approved Form I-130 or filing Form I-360 within two years of the U.S. citizen spouse’s death.
  • Not having remarried.
  • Avoiding divorce or legal separation from the U.S. citizen spouse at the time of their death.
  • Demonstrating a genuine marital relationship until the spouse’s death.
  • Meeting the admissibility requirements for entry into the United States.

Children Of The Widow Or Widower

In the majority of instances, the children of a U.S. citizen parent are automatically conferred U.S. citizenship. When the child is born abroad, it is advisable to contact the nearest U.S. Embassy to secure documentary evidence, typically in the form of a Consular Report of Birth Abroad.

Moreover, the stepchildren of a U.S. citizen are generally eligible for permanent resident status. It’s crucial to emphasize that for the child to be legally considered a stepchild, the parents must have married before the child reached the age of 18. Unmarried children below the age of 21 are categorized as “derivatives” in the parent’s green card petition.

As immediate relatives, derivative children benefit from the Child Status Protection Act, which effectively “freezes” their ages at the date of the principal’s filing of Form I-130 or I-360, whichever is applicable. This provision safeguards them from aging out if they turn 21 before the approval of their green card application. It’s essential, however, for them to continue meeting any additional filing requirements.

How To Apply For Citizenship If You Are A Widow Or Widower Of A U.s. Citizen

Typically, a permanent resident spouse of a U.S. citizen qualifies for U.S. citizenship after just three years of continuous residence in the United States, providing a faster path to naturalization compared to the standard five-year requirement for other applicants.

However, if the U.S. citizen spouse passes away before the permanent resident naturalizes, the three-year provision no longer applies. In such cases, the widow or widower of a U.S. citizen may apply for citizenship after fulfilling the standard five-year requirement.

If you are a widow(er) of a U.S. citizen and you want to naturalize and become a citizen of the United States, you can do so once you meet the following requirements:

• Are at least 18 years old

• Have resided within the same state for at least 3 months before filing the application

• Satisfy the 5-year continuous residence requirement

• Fulfill the 30-month physical presence requirement

• Can pass the English test as well as the U.S. civics test

• Demonstrate good moral character

If you are considering getting US citizenship as a widow or widower or a US citizen, it is important to have the guidance and expertise of an immigration law firm like Meimaris Law. Our experienced team can help you navigate the complexities of the naturalization process specifically based on your particular circumstances in life. Take the first step towards a brighter future for you and your family by visiting www.meimarislaw.com to learn more about how we can help you.

Meta Description:  It is possible to get a green card and US citizenship as a widow or widower of a US citizen. This applies to step-children of the deceased US citizen too. Do you meet the criteria?

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