Can The Spouse of a U.S. Citizen Still Get a Green Card If They Entered Illegally?

Unlawful entry can be a significant barrier to immigration status in the United States. In many cases, the method of entry into the country can complicate and even remove opportunities for citizenship regardless of whether an individual is married to a U.S. Citizen. Keep reading to learn more.

Green Card Eligibility

In general, foreign nationals who are married to U.S. citizens are considered immediate relatives and if the union is legitimate may be eligible for citizenship. Their spouse must petition on their behalf and the couple must undergo an interview to confirm the validity of their marriage.

Fiancé visas are also available for those who are engaged to a U.S. citizen within 90 days of arrival. Once the migrant spouse arrives, they must apply for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident. If approved, the fiancé may have a clear pathway to citizenship.

Unlawful Entry

As mentioned previously, unlawful entry can be a significant barrier to citizenship for spouses of U.S. citizens. There are two circumstances where this issue occurs: the foreign citizen enters the U.S. unlawfully once or they cross the border illegally several times.

Single Unlawful Entry

If an individual has entered the United States unlawfully but has only done so once, they may still have a chance at citizenship. Essentially, a person may retain eligibility if their spouse advocates for them by filing Form I-130 Petition for a Relative once the marriage is finalized.

There are rare exceptions for first offenders including cases where denial to entry would result in extreme hardship for their relatives. Otherwise, individuals guilty of a single unauthorized entry without inspection may need to leave the country before their unlawful stay reaches 180 days and apply for citizenship or a green card through the consulate office in their country of origin. The consular process is often more time consuming and complicated than adjustment of status.

Multiple Unlawful Entries

The other circumstance involving multiple unlawful entries may remove an individual’s eligibility altogether. In general, if the total amount of unlawful time in the United States equals a year or more or the spouse was formally deported and returned illegally, they become inadmissible.

Once an individual is inadmissible, their marital status to a U.S. citizen becomes irrelevant. Instead, their only option is to leave the country for the mandatory ten year minimum for repeat violators. Bars to entry can be overturned, but not without the help of a qualified attorney.


Can the spouse of a U.S. citizen still get a green card if they entered the country illegally? In general, no. There are few circumstances where there could be leniency or exceptions to the rule but if a person enters the United States illegally – especially if they do so more than once – they lose direct green card eligibility.

The immigration system is complex, and often remains a frustrating mess for those it seeks to protect. Maghzi Law Firm LLC understands the pain and frustration immigration issues can create and we offer a variety of legal services to support immigrants and migrants during the immigration process and help them pursue their American Dream. Our founding attorney, Ameneh Maghzi is an immigrant herself and understands, on a personal level, how important legal support can be during these cases.

Contact Maghzi Law Firm LLC for all your immigration needs. We offer legal services in English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Farsi.