Immigration and Divorce

Divorce is a complicated matter by itself, but when one of the spouses is an immigrant, more questions and concerns can arise. The dissolution of such marriages can trigger a range of immigration consequences, from potential loss of legal status to deportation from the USA. So, it is paramount to understand the legal implications of an immigration divorce if you are contemplating one.

Of course, going through marriage termination when either spouse is a foreign-born individual is much easier when lawyers are guiding you. Still, to get a basic idea of the upcoming procedure, potential challenges, and your rights, you can start with this article. You’ll learn what happens if you marry a U.S. citizen and then divorce, how marriage ending affects your chances to get a permanent green card, what happens if you divorce an immigrant and your marriage was a sham in the first place, and what to do to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Will My Status Be Affected?

How a divorce affects someone’s immigration status depends on where they are in the immigration process. At different stages, people get different kinds of documents that fit into such categories:

  • Visas, subdivided into Marriage-Based Visas (CR-1/IR-1) and Dependent Visas (H-4).

Marriage-based visas, like the CR-1 and IR-1, are for spouses of Americans or green card holders who want to come and live in the country. The CR-1 visa is for immigrant spouses who have been married for less than 2 years. They must stay married for at least two years before getting an IR-1 visa, which lasts for 10 years. The IR-1 visa is for immigrant spouses who have been married for over 2 years. When they come to the United States, they get immediate and unrestricted permanent residency upon entry.

If you are in the process of obtaining a marriage-based immigrant visa, a divorce can impact your eligibility for it. If a divorce takes place before you get the visa, the UCIS authorities may disapprove your request if they think your marriage was fraudulent with the aim to relocate to the USA.

In accordance with the terms of dependent visas, spouses of visa holders can come with them to another country or stay with them while they study or work there. If you have a dependent visa and getting divorced, you may lose your dependent status. Then, you will have to prepare the papers and ask the authorities to change your status if possible.


  • Green Cards that can be conditional or permanent.

Conditional green cards are like temporary green cards given to people who are married for less than two years when they receive the document. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issue conditional green cards to check if the marriage is bona fide before giving permanent residency to immigrants. If you have a conditional green card and are going through a divorce, it may be harder to get a permanent green card in the future. Usually, both spouses must ask to remove the conditions within 90 days before the card expires jointly. They have to complete Form I-751. However, if you’re divorced, you may need to ask for an exception by filling out a Form I-751 waiver to be allowed to apply for a permanent green card without your American spouse’s participation.


Permanent green cards are also called permanent residency cards or 10-year green cards. If you have this residency status, you can permanently live and work in the United States. Permanent residents have most of the same rights as U.S. citizens according to immigration laws. Though a permanent green card typically has to be renewed every 10 years, the holder’s status as a lawful permanent resident remains valid unless abandoned or revoked by the U.S. government. If you have a permanent green card, your status as a permanent resident won’t be altered after a divorce. However, the process of naturalization may become longer.


  • Citizenship Applications.

People with a permanent green card can become U.S. citizens after holding permanent residency for 3 years if they are still married to an American spouse. If they have a permanent green card but got divorced, they must abide by a standard waiting timeframe of 5 years to get U.S. citizenship.

If you get divorced after receiving your green card, immigration officials are more likely to look closely at your case when you apply for citizenship. They may ask more questions about your marriage and why it was terminated during the citizenship interview. Besides, they may request irrefutable proof that your marriage was authentic, not just for receiving a green card and citizenship.


So, divorcing an immigrant may be complicated. Official marriage ending may impact residency status of a foreigner-spouse, but it doesn’t necessarily mean deportation. Some people ask, “Do I need to notify USCIS of divorce”? If you are applying for a visa, conditional green card, or citizenship and get divorced before your request is approved, it’s usually a good idea to notify USCIS. This is particularly important if your immigration status is related to your spouse, like with a marriage-based visa or a conditional green card.

If you divorce after you already have the needed immigration status, you usually don’t have to inform the immigration authorities. Anyway, if you want to apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship in the future, the officials will closely study your marriage history.

In case you have any worries about your situation and are afraid of losing immigration benefits, it is recommended to consult an attorney with expertise in divorce and immigration matters. An expert will study your case, evaluate the potential consequences of divorce, and provide guidance on what you should do to preserve the legal right to live in the USA.

How Does Divorce Affect My Progress Toward U.S. Citizenship?

Divorce is quite a traumatizing life event. Anxiety may soar for immigrant spouses who are divorcing their American partners before obtaining U.S. citizenship. In this case, their chances of becoming residents may decrease. Still, it doesn’t mean that divorce before a green card totally removes the possibility of naturalization. There are many factors that impact the outcome of the application:

  • Residency and physical presence

To become a citizen of the United States, you need to prove that you’ve been living in the U.S. for a certain time uninterruptedly. Usually, that’s about five years or three years if you’re married to a U.S. citizen. If you get divorced during this time, applying for U.S. citizenship may be more difficult and time-consuming.

  • Good moral character

Another requirement for naturalization is to demonstrate that you obey laws, pay taxes, and generally follow American regulations in different spheres of your life. Divorce alone doesn’t denote that a particular person is a lawbreaker. However, if an individual is accused of a wrongdoing such as asset hiding, fraud, or abuse, it can be a red flag for immigration officials reviewing the citizenship application. In such cases, applicants should be ready to explain the situation and offer evidence to prove they are morally upright.

  • English language and civics knowledge

People applying to become citizens must show they can speak English well and understand how the U.S. government works. Divorce usually doesn’t affect these regulations, though going through a divorce can be tough and distracting, and people who are constantly questioning, “Will divorce affect my green card?” may be too stressed and exhausted to prepare for the English and civics tests.

Therefore, becoming a U.S. resident is possible even if your marriage with a native American is terminated. Sometimes, the process may be longer, but you can still achieve the desired outcome.

How Does Divorce Affect a Conditional Green Card?

Conditional green card divorce can be extremely stressful for people trying to become permanent residents of the United States. The most frequent search query among soon-to-be-single immigrants is “Do you lose your green card if you get divorced”? Let’s clarify how marriage termination can change an immigration status.

If there is a prospect of divorce during a conditional green card period, a foreign-born partner may face problems when applying for permanent residence in the USA. Usually, a conditional green card lasts 2 years. Within 90 days before the expiry date, the couple should file a Petition to Remove Conditions together. If they get divorced before doing that, USCIS officials may doubt whether the marriage was real. So, what happens if you get divorced before the green card expires? You may lose your conditional resident status and be deported unless you prove a marriage was bona fide.

In case of divorce after conditional green card ends, a non-American spouse also risks losing migration benefits. It is necessary to file Form I-751 waiver without a partner, asking to remove the conditions on the residency. It is paramount to provide solid evidence to support the request and demonstrate that the marriage was entered into in good faith. Joint financial accounts, joint leases, or coverage under the same auto can be proof.

Does Divorce Mean Automatic Deportation?

Divorce doesn’t always lead to deportation in the context of immigration. Whether divorce affects your immigration situation depends on the type of residency you have and the period when marriage dissolution happens. When applying for divorce in the middle of the immigration process, you may need to collect irrefutable evidence that you got married not for the sake of getting permanent resident status. If your documents are accepted by the USCIS, you’ll stay in the USA.

The most important factor when seeking a divorce before getting green card is a person’s current immigration status. For instance, if they have a temporary marriage-based visa and finalize divorce before getting a green card, they may need to look for other visa options or possibly leave the country if their current visa is no longer valid.

In general, deportation after divorce can happen, but there isn’t a clear cause-and-effect relationship between 2 procedures. Deportation typically occurs when a non-native individual breaks immigration laws or commits crimes, not just because of divorce.

What If I File for Divorce After Getting My Permanent Green Card?

When applying for divorce after green card obtaining, your immigration status will be unchanged. Unlike with conditional green cards, divorce after getting permanent residency usually doesn’t mean a person loses their green card right away. However, USCIS may study the circumstances surrounding your divorce if authorities suspect any marriage fraud.

As for the “How long do you have to wait to get a divorce after you get a green card?” question, there is no specific predetermined period. However, if USCIS defined that your marriage was fraudulent or not entered into in good faith, there may be serious problems. First, your green card can be revoked upon divorce. Secondly, you may be deported from the country.