Now that I’m back in the US, I’ve been asked all kinds of questions about the US immigration process.  We’re thick in the middle of it.  At the moment, I’ve often got more questions than answers.

But I do have answers to a number of questions!  So, here goes:

Since your husband is married to a US citizen, doesn’t he automatically get citizenship?

No.  First of all, no one gets anything automatically, immigration-wise.  Applications must be filed.  Fees must be paid.  Interviews must be had.  Cases can always be denied.

But that makes sense.

My husband currently has a visitor’s visa (B1).  On that visa (which he applied for, paid for, interviewed for, and renews every 10 years) he may visit the US.  He can not live here on that visa or hold a job in the US.  He does often come here to work, but that is only for a few weeks at a time, and he is still officially hired through his company in Mexico, and still making pesos, which is exactly what his current visa is for.

To be able to live here, he needs a resident visa.

Once he had that permant residency, if he wanted to, he would be able to apply for citizenship after three years of being a permanent resident.  (That’s because he’s married to a US citizen.  Other immigrants who do not have US citizen spouses may apply for citizenship after 5 years of being a permanent resident.)

Only citizens get the blue passport.  And the right to vote.

Sounds pretty straightforward and easy, right?  In our case, it is.

But that’s not true for many.

Why don’t undocumented immigrants “get in line”?

There’s no line to get into.

Either one qualifies for residency or one doesn’t.

Why don't they get in line?

What qualifies someone for US residency?

  • Being married to a US citizen or permanent resident.  (But keep reading–there’s a HUGE caveat to this one!)  Or, it’s possible for US citizens can apply for their children (even adult children), parents, and siblings.  Permanent residents can also apply for their spouses and children, of course.
  • Having an employer file your residency on your behalf.  (So you already have a job, once the visa is approved.)
  • Religious workers, international broadcasters
  • Refugees (which must apply and WAIT while outside of the US)
  • Asylum seekers (Must apply within a year of arrival in the US)
  • Iraqi or Afghan citizens who have helped the US military in those countries.

That’s about it.

Feel free to double-check here, on the USCIS website.  There are a few hard-to-prove categories I didn’t mention.

So beliving in the American Dream and wanting a better life for yourself and your children?

That’s so 19th century.

It’s not a good enough reason to get to live here anymore, apparently.

(Trust me, I wish I weren’t so jaded on this issue.  But I’ve known too many families that were broken up or forced to choose exile over this issue.)


US Citizenship and Immigration Services

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

If someone marries a US citizen they automatically get a green card, right?


Well, at least, not necessarily.

In a lot of uncomplicated situations where the immigrant spouse has never lived in the US, yes, this does work pretty well.  While it’s a tedious and expensive process, under these circumstances (where the immigrant spouse has never entered the US without a proper visa and never overstayed a visitor visa), it works well.

However, there are thousands and thousands of cases where US citizens marry immigrants who do live here and do not have valid visas.  They innocently think, “well, shoot–let’s fix your paperwork so you can live here legally.”  I agree.  Going through the right channels to get one’s spouse’s immigration status straightened out should be a great paperwork

Unfortunately, this is where it gets ugly.

If a US citizen’s spouse has lived in the US without proper documentation, they will have to attend an interview for their residency application in their home country.  At that interview, the application will be denied.  The applicant will receive a 10-year ban from entering the United States.  (Unless they’ve had a LOT of undocumented entries or lied about being a US citizen at some point in their past.  In that case, they will receive a lifetime ban from ever entering the US.)

At that point, the applicant’s US citizen spouse and children need to decide whether to continue to live without their spouse or parent in the US, or choose exile from the US and life in a foreign country, in order to be together as a family.border fence

I wish I were making this up.

But I’ve got a number of friends who are stuck in this situation.  They’ve spent years and years filing paperwork and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on application fees and lawyer fees.  Often, lawyers are either clueless or just out to suck money from hopeless cases.  Too many lawyers aren’t straight with families in this situation, telling them up front that there isn’t much hope for their case.

The US is losing a lot of good citizens by not making it possible to them to live here with their families.

(Not to mention the good citizens that the immigrant spouse/parent could become, if they were only given a chance.)

And no, the movie The Proposal (with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds) doesn’t paint an accurate picture of immigration.  At least, it’s not an accurate picture after the 1996 laws were put in place.  Curious about that?  Head to my History of Immigration page to find out more!

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Statue of Liberty Photo by Ximena Torres Rodriguez on Unsplash.

Photo of People in Line by Melanie Pongratz on Unsplash.

Photo of People Waving US Flags by Elias Castillo on Unsplash.

Passport photo by Nicole Geri on Unsplash.

Barbed Wire Fence Photo by Robert Hickerson on Unsplash.

Pinned Photo of the Statue of Liberty by Andy MacMillan on Unsplash.