By: Attorney Devin M. Connolly
Many people mistakenly believe that marrying a U.S. citizen will guarantee them permanent resident status (“green card”). However, the reality is that obtaining a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen is far more difficult than simply filing an application and awaiting the arrival of a green card. In fact, the desperate act of marrying someone solely for a green card almost always ends very badly.
Marrying a person solely for a green card is often called a “green card marriage,” but the more official term used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) is “sham marriage.” The USCIS is well aware that many people are willing to marry a person for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card. For this reason, they dedicate a substantial amount of resources towards detecting these “sham marriages.” Because of the USCIS’ efforts, it is crucial that a person applying for a green card on the basis of their marriage understand what the USCIS considers to be a valid marriage for immigration purposes.
The applicant and their U.S. citizen spouse must prove that their marriage is “bonafide.” The USCIS will not consider a marriage to be a “bonafide marriage” if the only reason the parties got married was so that the non-U.S. citizen could obtain a green card. The USCIS is not required to conclusively prove that the marriage is a “sham marriage.” Rather, the applicant must prove to the USCIS that the marriage is bonafide. This is not an easy task, though, as the USCIS officers are highly trained to detect sham marriages.
The USCIS will attempt to determine whether the parties “intended to establish a life together” at the time they recited their marital vows. But the USCIS will not be convinced based solely on the statements of the parties. On the contrary, they will also want to closely examine the conduct of the parties, e.g., is the couple residing together, how long have they known each other, are they conducting themselves as husband and wife, etc. Additionally, the USCIS will also consider whether the parties have a sufficient amount of documentation proving the bonafides of their marriage.
The USCIS will also commonly want to ask the parties personal questions about their relationship. The potential questions a person may be asked are nearly limitless, as the USCIS may ask just about anything they believe a person should know about their spouse. Nonetheless, it is crucial that the parties object to any vague, misleading or inappropriate questions. Also, it is not uncommon for a person to be questioned with only their attorney present, while their spouse is required to wait outside the examination room. Though this process may seem bizarre, the answers provided to the USCIS’ questions will likely determine whether a green card will be issued.
The USCIS may also conduct a field investigation if they suspect the marriage is fraudulent. A field investigation may include an officer visiting your home early in the morning or late at night, interviews with neighbors or your employer, and a review of public records. Moreover, it may also include a review of social networking sites, such as a person’s Facebook page. As you can see, field investigations are tremendously thorough, sometimes taking years to complete, leaving the applicant in limbo the entire time. Therefore, it is highly beneficial to prove the bonafides of your marriage during your initial interview with the USCIS.
The USCIS will only grant permanent resident status if they believe the marriage is valid after all of the above steps are completed. However, if the USCIS believes that the marriage was entered into to evade the immigration laws of the U.S., then the person being petitioned may become barred from ever being petitioned again as an immigrant. They will likely also be deported!
There are many other steps to properly determine whether a person is entitled to their green card on the basis of their marriage to a U.S. citizen, such as ensuring that the marriage is legally valid under the laws of the place where the marriage took place. This requires that the parties’ prior marriages were terminated before entering into the current marriage. And yes, this also includes marriages entered into outside the U.S.
In conclusion, obtaining a green card through a marriage-based petition can be a very complex process. Therefore, it is always advisable to retain the services of an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney.