The death of a spouse can be an incredibly difficult experience to cope with, both emotionally and logistically. One of the most important decisions widow(er)s must make is whether to remain in the United States or not—especially if they are foreign-born. Fortunately, those who choose to stay have access to several paths that can lead them to legal status in the United States.
In this article, we will review how widow(er)s of United States citizens can gain permanent residence and ultimately acquire citizenship. By gaining a deeper understanding of these paths, widows(ers) of United States citizens can make an informed decision as to which one suits their individual situation and needs best.
1. How Becoming a Permanent Resident Works for Widows(ers) of United States Citizens
Foreign-born widow(er)s of United States citizens may be eligible to gain permanent residence in the United States if they meet certain criteria. Specifically, they must demonstrate that they have been married to a United States citizen at the time of the citizen’s death, and that the marriage was legal at the time it was entered into. If they meet these criteria, they may apply for a permanent residence card (also known as a green card) through an I-360 petition.
The application process is relatively straightforward and typically takes around 6 months to complete. Furthermore, widow(er)s who seek permanent residence through this route can usually remain in the United States without any interruption while their application is being processed. Those who are already living in the United States should keep any job authorization documents up-to-date while they wait for approval.
2. What the Naturalization Process Entails
Once widow(er)s of United States citizens have been granted permanent residence, they may choose to pursue citizenship through naturalization. The naturalization process requires applicants to meet certain criteria including being able to read, write, and speak basic English; having a basic understanding of US history and civics; and demonstrating good moral character.
Applicants must also reside in the United States for a certain period of time before applying—usually 3-5 years. In addition, applicants must pass an interview with Immigration Services officials in order to demonstrate their eligibility for naturalization. If approved, they will become United States citizens once they take the Oath of Allegiance at a ceremony.
3. An Overview of Resources Available for Assistance Through the Process
Those who need assistance navigating the paths to citizenship as a widow(er) of a United States citizen have access to various resources. Immigration attorneys can provide indispensable advice throughout the entire process, from helping to decide which route is best for an individual situation to filing paperwork and preparing for interviews.
Gaining permanent residence or citizenship as a widow(er) of a United States citizen can be a complex process, but fortunately there are resources available to help. By understanding these paths and the criteria necessary for eligibility, individuals can make an informed decision as to which one is most appropriate for them.
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