If you are a U.S. citizen and have married someone who does not have legal status here, you are likely concerned about your next steps. Although he or she can seek citizenship as your spouse, being an undocumented immigrant can complicate this process. 

Read on to learn more about how to help your spouse seek lawful permanent resident status in this situation. 

Eligibility for citizenship 

When a person from another country crosses into the United States without inspection by border patrol, he or she does not have legal status in the country. However, if your spouse crossed the border illegally only once and/or crossed more than once but stayed for a total of fewer than 12 months, he or she has several options to pursue legal citizenship. 

However, if your spouse crossed illegally into the U.S. more than once and/or stayed for more than a year without legal status, he or she falls into the permanently inadmissible category. This status, which also applies to those who returned to the U.S. illegally after deportation, means you cannot seek legal citizenship for 10 years. 

Paths to lawful permanent resident status 

Your spouse may apply for a green card right away, but must do so from his or her home country. Unfortunately, leaving could result in a ban from the U.S. for three to 10 years if he or she was here without legal status for more than six months. Options in this situation include: 

  • Leaving the U.S. before the six-month mark and applying for citizenship through a foreign U.S. consulate 
  • Seeking an adjustment of status, available to some individuals who began the green card application process before Jan. 14, 1998, or between Jan. 14, 1998, and April 30, 2001, with proof that he or she was in the U.S. on Dec. 21, 2000 
  • Applying for a waiver on the grounds that separation would create an extreme hardship 

Carefully consider these options before acting. Although a short separation may result, you will prevent later legal action and/or deportation.