Marriage immigration occurs when a non-American citizen marries an American citizen who is living in the U.S. If the non-citizen spouse wishes to obtain a visa to live and work permanently in the U.S., they can apply to enter the U.S. either on a fiancé or marriage visa.

What is Immigration Marriage Fraud?

Immigration marriage fraud is a violation where a person enters into a fake or fraudulent marriage with the intent to deceive immigration officials. It is also known as a “sham marriage.” Some examples of conduct that might fall under immigration marriage fraud can include:

  • Falsifying marriage documents
  • Deceiving immigration officials
  • Setting up a fake living arrangement to meet immigration marriage requirements
  • Entering into a marriage of convenience

Marriage fraud is illegal and can result in various legal penalties. 

How Do Immigration Laws Apply to Sham Marriages?

Given how difficult it is for immigrants to legally obtain a visa, it has become common for immigrants to seek U.S. citizenship by marrying a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has indicated that sham marriages have been detected in as many as one-third of immigrant marriage applications. Therefore, USCIS is given a broad authority to conduct detailed investigations and test the validity of a marriage.

Is a Marriage of Convenience Legal?

Marriages that are entered into for reasons other than love are generally legally so long as the individuals follow all the marriage requirements for a legal marriage, such as having a valid marriage license and being of age to marry. Certainly, people marry for reasons other than for love. However, when two people marry with the intent to commit fraud, such as marrying in order for one person to gain U.S. citizenship, it is illegal. 

What are the Consequences of a Sham Marriage?

Sham marriages carry severe penalties with them. For example, if the sham marriage is based on immigration fraud, penalties can include:

  • A $250,000 fine;
  • Permanent removal out of the United States (i.e. deportation);
  • Loss of current immigration status;
  • Lifetime ban on obtaining U.S. Citizenship;
  • Annulment of marriage; and/or
  • Possible conviction of a federal crime.

If one person created a sham marriage (i.e., one party intentionally deceived the other), the guilty party may have to pay retribution. This is typical if the arrangement resulted in losses to the innocent party. Often the marriage will be legally annulled. Serious offenses may be recorded on one’s criminal record.

Can You Legally Obtain a Marriage Visa?

Yes. If you are not entering a sham marriage and are married or engaged to a U.S. citizen, you and your spouse can apply through the USCIS, also called the BCIS, for a permanent visa (Green Card) under U.S. immigration marriage laws allowing you to live and work within the U.S. indefinitely. You may later apply to become an American citizen.

Who is Ineligible for a Marriage Visa?

You may be inadmissible or ineligible for a marriage visa if you have been convicted of a serious crime, an act of terrorism, or have violated certain immigration laws. You may also be ineligible if you have a contagious disease such as HIV or tuberculosis, or if you have spent too much time in the U.S. illegally. To be eligible for a visa, you may not be married to more than one person. If you are found inadmissible, you may file form I-601, called an Application for Waiver on the Ground of Excludability.

Should I Contact an Immigration Attorney?

Immigration based on marital relationships shouldn’t present any legal issues if they’re legitimate. If you have any questions or concerns regarding immigration and marriage, you may wish to hire an immigration attorney for help. Your attorney can assist you with the petitioning process if necessary, and can also keep you updated on any changes to immigration laws. Also, if you’re facing any legal disputes regarding immigration, an experienced attorney can provide you with legal representation in court.