Marriage to US Military Personnel: Advantages for Foreign Nationals Seeking Naturalization

by admin on March 18, 2010

Naturalization is the process of obtaining US Citizenship. Thai nationals marrying a US citizen face fewer overall restrictions and obstacles in the naturalization process than those applicants who are either single or married to a non-US citizen. Foreign national fiancé(e)s and spouses of US military personnel benefit to an even greater degree.

For example, advantages gained by a US military personnel becoming a husband to his Thai fiancée are found in three areas:

1) Consular Procedures  

2) Residence Requirements (applying to the Thai applicant)

3) Financial Requirements (applying to the established US Citizen ‘sponsor’)

Consular Processing Expedition

Consular processing involves the necessary steps taken by a foreign applicant to obtain an Immigrant Visa at a consular post located outside of the US (in Bangkok, for example). A K1 visa (available in Thailand) is considered a step in the right direction for eventual US citizenship.

US immigration visas are tightly controlled by a complex system of worldwide numerical restrictions, and are also based in part on the chronological order of the applicant’s established ‘filing-date.’

However, due to recent changes in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) ‘certain eligible’ spouses of US Armed Forces personnel (such as a Thai wife of a US military husband) currently deployed abroad for one year (or recently discharged) may qualify for ‘expedited naturalization.’ This prioritized determination streamlines the naturalization process and may include:

a) Exemption from the need to establish this original visa application filing date

b) Waiver of processing fees

c) Flexibility to file the application in the United States; or at US consulates and military bases outside of the country

Eligible spouses of members of the US Armed Forces may now complete the entire naturalization process outside of the US. Since 2008, more than 400 spouses of members of the U.S. armed forces have naturalized outside of the US.  

Relaxed Resident Requirements 

Residence requirements are not easy to meet for foreign nationals wishing to become official US citizens. For example, according to the Requirements for Naturalization (found within the INA) applicants must have resided continuously as a ‘lawful permanent resident’ (green-card holder) in the U.S. for at least five years before the filing of the application. This time length is reduced to three years in cases where the applicant is married to and living with a US citizen (the US spouse must have been a citizen for all three years). The term ‘resided continuously’ translates to maintaining a physical presence in the US for at least half of the preceding three years ahead of the naturalization filing date. 

However, for foreign nationals who are lawful permanent residents and married to US citizens employed abroad by the Armed Forces, exceptions do exist to these residency requirements. In some cases, the foreign national eligible spouse will not be required to comply with the residence and ‘physical presence’ parameters.

Reduced Financial Requirements

US citizen K1 visa sponsors with fiancée from abroad must first prove financial ability and accept legal responsibility for ultimately financially supporting the fiancée.

Along with the Thailand K1 visa  application, the sponsor must submit an ‘Affidavit of Support’ (Form I-134which details specific evidence of sufficient financial resources) for a foreign national.  The point of this is to assure that the fiancée will not become a ‘public charge’ (someone receiving financial welfare assistance) in the US.

Note that Affidavit of Support is used mainly for K1 visa applications. For those applying for Permanent Residency, Form I-864 is required. In this case, the sponsoring US citizen must prove income and assets at 125% over the established ‘Poverty Line’.  However, in the case of Active-Duty military personnel, only the minimum poverty level must be met.

For a 1-person household the Poverty Line is listed as $10,210 (for military personnel residents in the 48 contiguous States); whereas the calculated 125 percent amount (which applies to non-military personnel) comes to $12,762. [Source:  Federal Register, 2007].

Although this amounts to only a reduction in $2,500 of required assets and income on the part of the US Citizen sponsor at least it – combined with the expedited consular processing and relaxed residence requirements – represents some level of compromise in restrictions for US military personnel wishing to marry foreign nationals. Perhaps with today’s miserable economic conditions in the US these small efforts could eventually make a positive difference in a significant amount of cases.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

SrA Kevin Heusel September 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Hi, I am currently active duty in the USAF and stationed at Kadena AB in Okinawa, Japan. My wife and my step-daughter are both citizens of Thailand. They both currently live with me in Okinawa and they are on SOFA status with the Japan government and Us Military. I am projected to leave Okinawa and permently be stationed back in the US in May 2015. I am mostly aware of what is needed for my wife and step-daughter to reside with me in the US, however, my main question is if you have any knowledge about whether or not I can apply for their visas, or green cards, while in Japan. I am trying to avoid having to go back to thailand being as how I do not have the time or money to do so. Also, my parents would like all of us to go visit them in the US this December and I am trying to find out if, being US military, means I do not need to get an actual visa for them since we would only be visiting for 2-3 weeks and returning back to Okinawa. Any information you have is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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