Marriage immigration occurs when a non-U.S. 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 country either on a fiancé or marriage visa. 

This is a legal way to obtain a visa if you meet the eligibility requirements and do not take actions that are viewed as marriage fraud. If you participate in marriage fraud, your immigration will be deemed illegal.

What are the Eligibility Requirements for Legal Marriage Immigration?

In order to immigrate to the United States through marriage and obtain a permanent visa (referred to as a green card), a person will need to meet the following requirements and take these steps:

  • Establish that the marriage is real. This will require filling out forms and providing documentation as support (such as a marriage certificate, joint accounts, pictures of the couple, etc.);
  • Have proof that one party is a U.S. citizen;
  • Have proof that the couple is not divorced;
  • Pay the required filing fee; and
  • Establish independent eligibility for receiving a green card;
  • Attend any interviews requested; and
  • Await approval of denial for the green card.

If you are not entering into a fraudulent marriage and are married or engaged to a U.S. citizen, you and your spouse can apply through the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) office. You can apply for a permanent visa under U.S. immigration marriage laws, which allows you to live and work within the U.S. You may later apply to become an American citizen.

A person may be ineligible/inadmissible for a marriage immigration visa in the following instances:

  • If you have been convicted of certain serious crimes, an act of terrorism, or have violated certain immigration laws;
  • If you have a contagious disease such as HIV or tuberculosis;
  • If you have spent too much time in the U.S. illegally; and/or
  • When you are married to more than one person.

However, if you are found inadmissible, you may file form I-601 with the USCIS office if you still wish to seek an immigrant visa, adjustment of status, certain nonimmigrant statuses, or certain other immigration benefits. This form is called “Application for Waiver on the Ground of Inadmissibility.” This will only be granted if you can prove a unique situation, such as suffering from an extreme hardship or requesting a vaccination exemption.

When is Marriage Immigration Considered Illegal?

Immigration marriage is illegal when it is based on fraud. This refers to a situation where a person enters into a fake or fraudulent marriage with the intent to deceive immigration officials. Such arrangements are often referred to as “sham marriages.” 

Some examples of conduct that might fall under marriage immigration fraud include the following:

  • Falsifying marriage documents;
  • Deceiving immigration officials;
  • Setting up a fake living arrangement to meet immigration marriage requirements; and
  • Entering into a marriage of convenience, which is when two people enter into a marriage for reasons other than love. This type of marriage is legal 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). However, when a couple marries with the intent to commit fraud, (such as marrying in order for one person to gain U.S. citizenship) it is illegal. 

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. USCIS indicates that sham marriages have been detected in as many as one third of all immigrant marriage applications. Therefore, USCIS is given a broad authority to conduct detailed investigations into such situations and test the validity of a marriage.

Marriage fraud is illegal, classified as a felony, and can result in various legal penalties. This can include deportation, loss of current immigration status, and/or a lifetime ban on obtaining U.S. Citizenship for the foreign person. It can also include fines or prison time for the U.S. citizen involved. The marriage may also be annulled.

Should I Contact an Attorney About Marriage Immigration Questions?

Immigration based on marital relationships should not present any legal issues when they are legitimate. However, this process can involve a lot of paperwork and may be more difficult depending on your situation. A local immigraton attorney can help you smoothly navigate this process and answer any questions or concerns you may have regarding immigration and marriage. 

Your attorney can assist you with the petitioning process 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.