If you are planning to get married for the sole purpose of obtaining U.S. lawful permanent residence status, think twice. What you are planning is illegal and stop now. This article is not going to give you any wild ideas of how to be successful in this illegal planning. Instead, the intent of this article is to heighten your awareness as to what constitutes a real marriage under U.S. immigration law. Lastly, we will outline the consequences of entering into a “sham” marriage. Below are frequently asked questions pertaining to Marriage Fraud.

1) What Is Marriage Fraud?

Under U.S. immigration law, marriage fraud is not defined in its entirety. In fact, terms such as “marriage,” “spouse,” “husband,” or “wife” is not defined either. However, under section 204(c), law states that USCIS will deny an immigration petition if the alien seeking an entry has in the past or is currently attempting or conspiring to, “enter into a marriage for the purpose of evading the immigration laws.” In the other words, if the only reason the alien is getting married for lawful permanent resident purposes, it’s likely a fraudulent marriage.

2) Why People Commit Marriage Fraud

There are limited avenues for people interested in obtaining a green card. Majority of the people, not in sufficiently close family relationships or with less demanding jobs, find it extremely hard to get an entry into United States as the doors for these people are almost always shut.

Spouses of United States citizens are particularly favored under the immigration law and are considered under the “immediate relatives” category. Spouses of lawful permanent residents, while there is a small annual limit on the number of allotted visas and a wait of only few years, are always ahead in the line than any other relations.

With all the advantages there are to be offered to the spouses of United States citizens, this naturally leads some would-be immigrants to keep an eye on the possibility of a marriage to a U.S. citizen. If they are unsuccessful in finding someone they are truly interested in marrying, often times they end up paying a stranger to help them immigrate to the United States. Such cases are considered fraudulent and thus the marriage is called “sham marriage.”

To avoid the scam, the immigration authorities place “sham marriage” high on the list of their enforcement priorities. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) do everything to ensure that the marriage fraud is prevented before it occurs.

The immigration authorities accordingly place marriage fraud high on their list of enforcement priorities. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service or INS) does not keep actual statistics on marriage fraud, but has stated, at various times, that between one third and one fifth of the marriage-based applications that it receives are based on fraud.

3) How Does the USCIS Discover Marriage Fraud?

At various points during the immigration process, USCIS will require the applicants to prove that they are entering into a “bona fide” marriage or the marriage is being entered in good faith. According to the Courts, a marriage is entered into good faith if the purpose for marriage is to establish a life together. [Bark v. INS, 511 F.2d 1200, 1201 (9th Cir. 1975)]. If the marriage is less than two years old at the time the green card is approved or the immigrant enters the United States with an immigrant visa, then there may be a red flag and USCIS is required to pay particular attention to those marriages.

After applying for green card, the immigrant is granted conditional green card. Within the ninety (90) days leading up to the end of those two years, the couple must submit a new application to USCIS and attach documents proving that their marriage is ongoing and still the real thing. Waivers are available for cases of divorce (which, by itself, is not seen as an indication that the marriage was a sham); but if the couple is simply no longer living together or the U.S. spouse is unwilling to sign onto this joint petition, there is a good possibility that USCIS will deny the petition. If the evidence shows traces of fraud, then USCIS will likely do a thorough investigation before granting the petition.

Even if the process is successful, marriage may be scrutinized again if and when the immigrant later applies for citizenship. If the couple gets a divorce, then USCIS may ask for further proof that marriage was bona fide. The immigration authorities have broad investigatory powers. If any doubt persists, they can visit the couple’s home, talk to the couples’ friends, and check with the employers to ensure couple is really married under “good faith” presumption.

What is the Penalty for Entering into Fraudulent Marriages?

If a couple enters in fraudulent marriage, there can be civil and criminal penalties for the immigrant and for the U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitioner. If an immigrant had been found to commit marriage fraud, he/she can be deported (removed) from United States. If he/she holds a non-immigrant (temporary) visa, there is a possibility of visa revocation. Additionally, history of fraud remains on the person’s immigration records, making it virtually impossible to enter into United States in the future with any U.S. visa or a green card.

Regarding criminal penalties, under the Immigration law, “any individual who knowingly enters into marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration law, will be imprisoned for not more than five years or fined not more than $250,000, or both. In addition, under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 1546, making false statements under oath can result in ten (10) years of imprisonment for first or second offense. Penalties can be more severe if an alien engages in conspiracy, such as systematic arrangement of fraudulent marriage.

It is important to keep in mind all these considerations before taking such a drastic step. Yes, so many opportunities exist in United States, but not at the expense of doing anything illegal. If you are seriously considering marrying a U.S. citizen just for citizenship purposes, think twice. If you have any doubts as to what is right and what is wrong, consult a local immigrant attorney today.

Written By: Disha Nanda