Many people view the United States as a place for growth and opportunity. As the world begins to shift more towards human development, education, profitable careers, and technological advancement, many (and more) people come to the United States to live, work, go to school, or to support their families. Some foreign immigrants are even able to provide their families abroad with financial support due to their security here.
Living in the United States is appealing to some people and unfortunately, those opportunists may only marry another person because of their citizenship status. In the United States, a person can gain legal citizenship, called becoming naturalized, through their spouse a lot more quickly and easier than if not taking this route. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the regulator of U.S. Citizenship and seeks to detect and punish those who did not marry for legitimate legal reasons but instead solely for the purpose of one obtaining permanent residency in the United States.
In order for a person to become naturalized through the route of marriage, the person applying must meet the following requirements:
- The Applicant must be at least 18 years old;
- Be a permanent resident of have their green card for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization;
- Have been living in marital union with the U.S. citizen spouse, who has been a U.S. citizen during all of such period, during the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application and up until examination on the application;
- 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 the application;
- Have continuous residence in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application;
- 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;
- Be able 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.
First, the foreign spouse will have a temporary green card. This temporary green card will have an expiration date and may have other restrictions or conditions.
If a spouse is ever in the United States unlawfully (with expired or invalid documentation) there will be consequences:
- If the spouse is in the United States illegally for more than six months, if that spouse leaves the U.S. for any reason, they could be banned from re-entering the U.S. for three years.
- If the spouse is in the United States illegally for more than one year, if that spouse leaves the U.S. for any reason, they could be banned from re-entering the U.S. for ten years.
- Usually, the spouse does not know about any of these penalties until they leave the United States and then try to return.
- This causes strain in the marriage as the spouses are physically kept apart.
If you have been married for less than two years, the spouse that is from another country will be granted conditional permanent residence in the United States. The spouse that is already a citizen becomes their sponsor and then the spouse comes to live with them in the United States. Once the spouses have been married for at least two years, the USCIS will review the marriage (i.e. interview friends, family, co-workers, etc.) and if you are still married, permanent status will be granted.
In divorce litigation, a spouse will be found to be eligible for having a sham” marriage annulled. The court may also award the innocent spouse a disproportionate share of the marital assets. The Court will take any evidence that a spouse is committing immigration fraud in marriage very seriously in the consideration of any rulings.
Department of Homeland Security
A True Story
I once had a client that was filing for divorce. Let’s say that the clientâ€™s name is Client to make things easier. Client had been married for 7 years to Wife before filing for divorce. They had no children together but when they met in Ecuador 8 years ago, Wife already had three adult children from a prior marriage aged 19, 24, and 27. Client was an engineer traveling for work when they met. Client was born in the United States and had no family in Ecuador. Client loved Wife and after they were married, Wife moved to the United States and was then able to obtain United States citizenship after a few years. Client paid all associated fees with gaining citizenship for Wife. Shortly after Wife became a permanent resident, Wife started to pressure Client to help all three of her adult children, including paying for the costs, to come to the United States and gain their citizenship as well. Wife urged Client that the conditions of where the three adult children currently lived was poor and unsafe. Client did not want to help Wifeâ€™s adult children because Client believed that they were old enough to care for themselves but Client loved Wife and wanted to make her happy so Client helped the adult children become citizens. It took years and thousands of dollars but finally, all three adult children were living and working in the United States permanently. During this time, Wife never kept a steady job. Instead, she would live off of the allowance given by Client and deposited into a joint bank account shared with Client. Wife had a few cash businesses as well but the money was never much or consistent.
One month after the last of the adult children became citizens (years after the marriage), Wife moved out of the house shared with Client and moved in with her three adult children. It was sudden and unexpected; one day Client came home from work to find all of Wife’s belongings gone. Client tried calling Wife, but Wife did not answer the phone for the first two weeks, though Wife sent Client a text message twice to ask Client to deposit more money into the joint bank account. When Client and Wife finally talked, Wife offered no real, or at least satisfying, explanation as to why but vaguely stated that she wanted to help her adult children get on their feet. After about 6 months of begging and pleading with Wife to move back home (to no avail), Client wanted to seek to have the marriage annulled, or at least get divorced. Client felt so used and became angry with Wife for preying on Client’s kindness. *The difference between getting a divorce and getting an annulment is that a divorce says that you are no longer married; an annulment is as though you were never married to that person. *Annulments are very rarely granted in Texas. To make matters worse, Wife was asking the Court to award her a majority of Clientâ€™s retirement. However, in the end, Client was able to get divorced on the grounds of abandonment and insupportability and was able to get a disproportionate share of the community estate.
Some Signs that your Spouse has Committed Marriage and Immigration Fraud
- Your spouse pressured or rushed you to get married;
- Your spouse still has not told any of their family about your marriage;
- Your spouse has not told you much about their family or friends;
- Your spouse frequently spends marital property on providing his/her family with substantial financial support abroad;
- Your spouse has bank accounts that you lack access to or you donâ€™t even know the estimated balance of each account;
- You paid for all of the fees associated with your spouse getting citizenship;
- Your spouse pressured or rushed you to help them get citizenship for one (or multiple) for their family members; or
- After you get married, your spouse’s behavior towards you begins to drastically change such as they are more distant, less affectionate, and you seem to have less in common.
Sometimes Both Spouses are Aware that the Marriage is a “Sham”
If you and your spouse have agreed to have a “sham” marriage, then let me inform you that this is illegal. A common arrangement between “sham” spouses is that the spouse who needs the citizenship, or their family, will pay the other spouse a substantial amount of money to essentially marry them so that they can work towards permanent residency in the United States. In the United States, a legitimate marriage is one that is more than a marriage ceremony or a marriage license. The law requires that the parties intend to live as a marital union. The parties’ intent cannot be solely for the advancement of citizenship status.
Here are some things that the USCIS see as Red Flags for a Fraud Marriage:
- The couple speaks different languages. Oftentimes people who are not trying to commit fraud speak the same language, at least a bit, so that they can communicate with one another;
- Fundamental differences in religion;
- A large gap in age between the couple;
- The couple does not live together; they have separate addresses;
- It is a “secret” marriage. Usually if the couple has not told friends or family, it is a fraud marriage;
- The couple got married soon after they met for the first time;
- One of the spouses is from another country that has a history of immigration fraud. The U.S. keeps a list of which countriesâ€™ citizens more commonly (and highly) commit visa or immigration fraud; or
- History of crimes, fraud, or other crimes of moral turpitude committed by either spouse.
If the USCIS determines that a marriage is fraudulent, there may be criminal and civil consequences for either or both of the spouses (depending on if both spouses were aware of the fraud). The innocent spouse would be able to get the marriage annulled with this type of finding. The USCIS can also deport the person who was given citizenship by using fraud.
If you believe that your spouse has tricked you into marrying them for their own benefit (i.e. getting a visa) then you should be sure to contact an attorney. You will need a divorce attorney that has experience with dealing with immigration fraud. With the right attorney, you will be able to either annul your marriage and truly start over or you will get divorced and get everything that you are entitled to receive so that you can rebuild your life.