As the global community continues to emphasize human development, education, and technological advancement, the United States becomes an increasingly popular destination for couples seeking to begin family life. Unfortunately, some opportunists leverage US immigration laws in an attempt to fast-track naturalization through marriage. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) seeks to detect individuals who enter into illegitimate marriages in exchange for citizenship.
In order for a person to become naturalized through marriage, applications must meet the following requirements:
- Attain 18 years of age;
- Possess a green card for at least 3 years immediately preceding the filing of a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization;
- Have lived in marital union with a U.S. citizen spouse during the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing, and through final examination;
- Have lived within the state, or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence, for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing;
- Have continuous residence in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing;
- Reside continuously within the United States from the date of application for naturalization until the time of naturalization;
- Be physically present in the United States for at least 18 months out of the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application;
- Possess an ability to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government (also known as civics); and
- Be a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law.
Foreign spouses married for less than two years are granted conditional permanent residence status in the United States. Their significant others function as sponsors, allowing temporary emigration. Once married for two years, the USCIS will conduct a review of marriage that can culminate in permanent citizenship status.
Consequences of Immigration Fraud
If a spouse is found to be in the United States unlawfully with expired or invalid documentation, the following consequences may apply:
- If found to be residing illegally for more than six months, a spouse may be subject to a three-year reentry ban;
- If found to be residing illegally for more than a year, a spouse may be subject to a ten year reentry ban;
In divorce litigation, parties whose spouses are found guilty of entering into “sham” unions are eligible for an annulment. Otherwise, a court may award victims a disproportionate share of marital assets.
Signs of immigration fraud
- Significant pressure to marry within a short timeframe;
- Withholding details of marriage from family members;
- Secrecy surrounding a spouse’s friends and colleagues;
- Disproportionate spending of community assets on support of foreign family;
- Hesitance to disclose banking information;;
- Pressure to acquire naturalization for family members; and
- Significant behavioral changes following marriage.
The USCIS will consider the following factors when screening for illegitimate marriages:
- Whether couples speak different languages and experience a significant communication barrier;
- Whether couple demonstrate major differences in religious outlook;
- Whether there is a large age gap;
- Whether the couple occupies the same or different residences;
- Whether the couple openly advertise their union to family and friends;
- Whether the couple was married soon after they met;
- Whether one spouse is a citizen of a country with disproportionate contributions to marriage fraud cases; and
- Whether either spouse has a notable criminal record.
If the USCIS determines that a marriage is fraudulent, there may be both criminal and civil consequences for both spouses. Ultimately, the USCIS may elect to deport the foreign spouse.
If you suspect that you may be the victim of marriage fraud, you should contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss the best course of action. Skillful counsel may enable you to either annul your union, or receive a disproportionate share of marital assets upon divorce.