What Is Marriage Fraud?
You've probably heard the expression "marrying for a visa," but what does that actually mean? There is a common misconception floating around that any foreign national who marries an America citizen is entitled to a green card (or permission to permanently live in the U.S.). However, this isn't always true.
There are several issues that may prevent a foreign spouse from obtaining a green card, including marriage fraud. In other words, if the relationship is entered into for the main purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws, then the marriage is fraudulent and the foreign spouse is not entitled to a green card. Marriage fraud is a serious criminal offense that can result in deportation or even jail time.
Types of Marriage Fraud
Marriage fraud comes in many different forms. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has identified the following types of marriage fraud:
- A U.S. citizen is paid to marry a foreign national
- A U.S. citizen marries a foreign national as a favor
- A foreign national defrauds a U.S. citizen who believes that their marriage is legitimate
- Mail-order marriages (where either the U.S. citizen or the foreign national knows that the marriage is fraudulent), and
- Visa lottery fraudulent marriages
How to Avoid Being Accused of Marriage Fraud
Couples in legitimate marriages should be able to prove that their relationships are genuine. However, the best way to avoid being accused of marriage fraud is to be well prepared for your adjustment of status interview. During this interview, an immigration officer meets with the couple to determine whether or not their marriage is real. If the immigration officer suspects that the marriage was entered into fraudulently, the couple is required to attend a marriage-based interview (also referred to as a "fraud interview" or a "Stokes interview").
During this second meeting, the couple is often split up and interviewed separately about very personal aspects of their relationship. The spouses' answers will then be compared for discrepancies. Couples can prepare for both types of interviews by following the tips listed below:
Dress professionally and be on time.
The immigration officer is determining whether or not your story is credible, so it's a good idea to put your best foot forward by wearing a conservative outfit and arriving early.
Answer honestly and don't guess.
Immigration officers are trained to evaluate your body language and attitude as well as your responses, so it's in your best interests to answer their questions directly and honestly. If you don't know the answer to a question, it is better to admit that you don't know rather than guessing and providing a different answer than your spouse.
Bring evidence of your relationship.
It's a good idea to bring any requested documents and forms as well as your marriage certificate, birth certificates, passports, visa documents, bills addressed to your shared residence, photos of your wedding, joint bank account statements, letters from your family and friends attesting to your marriage, and any other evidence indicating that your relationship is legitimate. Make sure that all of your documents are well organized and that you have photocopies for your records.
Check out sample questions before your interview.
While it's never a good idea to have rehearsed or memorized responses, couples may feel more at ease if they have read over some sample questions before attending their interview.
Consult with an immigration lawyer.
Immigration laws and procedures can be very complicated and consulting with an immigration lawyer can help clear up any questions that you might have.
What Are the Consequences of Committing Marriage Fraud?
Any member of a couple (either the American citizen, the foreign national, or both) can be charged with marriage fraud if they entered into a marriage in order to evade U.S. immigration law. Marriage fraud is a serious criminal offense that can result in any of the consequences outlined below:
- Denial of the adjustment of status application
- Deportation of the non-citizen spouse
- Denial of subsequent immigrant visa petitions
- Sentence of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000
- Other criminal charges such as visa fraud, harboring an alien, or making false statements (each crime carries additional prison sentences and fines), and
- The citizen spouse takes major personal risks by granting the foreign spouse access to their private information
How to Report Marriage Fraud
Suspected marriage fraud can be reported to the Homeland Security Investigations tip line at 1-866-347-2423.
Immigration law changes frequently. For case specific information about your citizenship application, contact a local immigration lawyer.