Single Aliens May Be Prevented From Immigrating Under New State Department Policy

Many people have children out of wedlock. However, some people try to hide this fact out of embarrassment, or to avoid being criticized by their church or members of their community. One of the ways commonly used to hide the fact that a child was born out of wedlock is to indicate on the child’s birth certificate that the parents are married.

Unfortunately, indicating that you are married on your child’s birth certificate can hurt you if you subsequently try to immigrate to the United States. As most of you already know, unmarried sons or daughters of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents are able to immigrate to the United States much more quickly than married children; married children immigrate under the third preference, versus the first or second preference for unmarried children.

In order to successfully immigrate, unmarried children must first obtain a Visa from the United States Embassy in their native countries. However, if the individual wishing to immigrate has children, and the birth certificates of those children show that the individual wishing to immigrate is married, the Embassy will not issue that person a first or second preference Visa, even if both the National Statistics Office and the Local Registrar have certified that there are no marriages registered for that individual.

This information came to light at a recent liaison meeting I conducted with Larry Woodruff, Chief Immigrant Visa Officer at the United States Embassy. According to Mr. Woodruff, the Embassy no longer has sufficient funding to conduct investigations to determine whether or not an individual is in fact married. Accordingly, as of October 19, 1995, the Embassy is denying first and second preference immigrant visas in cases where there is any documentary evidence in the record indicating the individual is married — including a statement to that affect on a child’s birth certificate.

Mr. Woodruff stated that the reason for this policy is two-fold: (1) the State Department believes that the highest incidence of fraud in these cases occurs at the Embassy. In other words, more married individuals try to immigrate to the United States by claiming they are single than anywhere else in the world, and; (2) although Officer Woodruff admits that there is no corruption at the local statistics bureau, the State Department feels that the information is incomplete. Therefore, according to the State Department, a ‘no marriage’ certification from these agencies does not necessarily mean that no marriage took place.

For unmarried sons and daughters who have indicated that they were married on their children’s birth certificates, this new policy of the State Department imposes the nearly impossible requirement of having to prove a negative — the lack of a marriage — in order to immigrate to the United States, and also requires that this be done by some means other than a certificate from these designated agencies.

It remains to be seen whether the INS will also adopt this policy. However, regardless of the INS’ position, cases of this type are certain to be delayed for a significant period of time before they are approved, if they are approved at all.

Of course, the best way to avoid this situation is to avoid getting into it in the first place. However, anyone seeking to immigrate under the first or second preference, but has birth certificates or other documents indicating that they are married, should immediately take their case to a qualified immigration attorney to have their case reviewed. If this issue is not addressed and the Embassy refuses to issue the Visa, your efforts to avoid embarrassment could keep you from ever obtaining lawful status in the United States.