Overseas Employment and Naturalization: A Guide for Immigrant Spouses

Posted on Feb 26, 2024 by Chris Prescott

Becoming a U.S. citizen is a significant milestone for immigrants who have made the United States their home. For those married to U.S. citizens, the process is often streamlined through the submission of Form N-400, the Application for Overseas Employment and Naturalization. However, when the U.S. citizen spouse has been employed abroad, there are unique considerations and challenges to be aware of. This article aims to guide individuals through the process of completing the Naturalization process under such circumstances.

Understanding the Basics:

Before delving into the specifics of filing when a U.S. citizen spouse works abroad, it’s essential to grasp the fundamental requirements for naturalization. These include:

Age Requirement: Applicants must be at least 18 years of age at the time of filing.

Lawful Permanent Resident Status: The applicant must be a lawful permanent resident (a.k.a. green card holder) for a specified period, which is usually five years or three years if married to a U.S. citizen.

Continuous Residence: The applicant must have maintained a continuous residence in the U.S. during the required period.

Physical Presence: The applicant must have been physically present in the U.S. for 30 months of the five-year period or 18 months of the 3-year period.

Good Moral Character: An applicant should demonstrate good moral character, which includes adherence to U.S. laws and regulations.

US Knowledge and English Language:  Applicant must establish that they have knowledge of basic US history and the English language.

How are the requirements different for spouses of U.S. citizens employed abroad?

Although the majority of the naturalization requirements apply, including basic knowledge of US history and the English Language, good moral character, etc., these individuals can apply for naturalization immediately after obtaining their lawful permanent residence status.  They do not have to wait the typical 3 years. They are also not subject to the Continuous residence and Physical Presence requirement.

To qualify for this exemption, the following must be established:
  • The immigrant spouse is currently married to the US Citizen (The marriage will need to continue throughout the whole process. If the marriage ends prior to the Oath Ceremony, the immigrant spouse will no longer be eligible for naturalization.)
  • The US Citizen spouse must regularly be stationed abroad for at least one year.
  • If the immigrant spouse is not already residing abroad with the US Citizen spouse, he/she must depart the US to join the US Citizen spouse within 45 days of naturalization.
  • Upon termination of employment abroad the immigrant spouse and US Citizen intend to reside in the US.
What kind of employment qualifies for this exemption?

It is important to know that not all work abroad qualifies for this exception. To qualify, the US Citizen spouse must be working in what USCIS deems as “Qualified Employment.”  These occupations involve military service, government work/research, religious occupations, foreign trade development, or employment with qualifying international organizations.


Filing an N-400 when the U.S. citizen spouse is engaged in specified employment abroad requires careful preparation and attention to detail. Furthermore, understanding the eligibility criteria listed above and being able to document the requirements is imperative to a successful application.  If you have any questions regarding this type of filing, please reach out me at cprescott@patellegal.com to schedule a consultation.