Marrying a U.S. citizen is the fastest way to immigrate. Typically, the process lasts from six to nine months, after which a temporary Green Card is received. Within the next two years, you must contact the USCIS again with proof of the validity of the marriage. After that, you can obtain permanent resident status, i.e. a permanent Green Card.
It is not surprising that a path with such huge immigration benefits can be used not only by real couples, but also fake couples, where an immigrant receives a green card and a US citizen receives financial rewards.
Real or Fake Marriage?
Case #1. A potential client came for a consultation. The man was extremely upset and angry as his marriage turned sour. He wanted a divorce from his wife whom he brought to the United States from overseas. The man said angrily that he would like to report his spouse to the USCIS because he believed she married him to get a green card only, and never had true feelings for him.
One can report marriage fraud to the USCIS either via phone or email. It is even possible to make an appointment at the USCIS to report the sham to the immigration officials in person. The reporting could be done anonymously as well, if one desires so.
While generally it is possible to annul a fraudulent marriage and report the marriage fraud to the immigration authorities, it would not have been a reasonable step in this case. Not only the marriage lasted for a few years, the couple bought their home while married. All these facts show a bona fide marriage, where the spouses intend to build a life together and do not marry just for immigration purposes. Most likely, the government would not consider this marriage fraudulent and would view the husband's report as revenge. Divorce by itself is not seen as an indication that the marriage was a sham.
Case #2. The U.S. government charged nearly 100 in a massive marriage fraud scheme in spring of this year. The marriages involved in this conspiracy were shams because, unlike the couple above, the spouses did not live together and did not intend to do so, contrary to documents and statements they submitted to USCIS. The spouses only met briefly, usually immediately before they obtained their marriage license, or not at all. Each beneficiary spouse entered in an agreement in which they would pay approximately $50,000 - $70,000 to obtain full lawful permanent resident status.
Fraud Marriage Punishment
Marriage fraud is a federal crime. A finding of fraud in marriage can have both civil and criminal consequences for the immigrant, and criminal consequences for the U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitioner.
For an Immigrant
For an immigrant, fraud nullifies all benefits of the United States citizenship and may lead to deportation. In addition, the fraud would remain on the person’s immigration record, making it virtually impossible to obtain any future U.S. visa or green card.
For a U.S. Citizen
The United States citizen may be found guilty of felony and may be imprisoned for up to five years in prison or fined $250,000, or both. There may apply other criminal charges such as visa fraud, harboring an alien, or making false statements; each crime carries additional prison sentences and fines.
Any person who participates in arrangement of fraudulent marriages may be punished as well. Recently, an American citizen pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge arrangement of numerous fraudulent marriages so that non-U.S. citizens would receive U.S. immigration benefits. She found and introduced a U.S. citizen to be the noncitizen’s purported spouse and helped the couple obtain a marriage license. She also organized the marriage ceremony and celebration, and coached the couple on how to make their marriage appear to be genuine despite their neither living together nor otherwise intending to remain actually married. She charged between $17,000 and $20,000 to complete this process for a noncitizen, and the citizen spouse received between $2,000 and $4,000 for their participation.
How USCIS Detects Fraud Marriages
Immigration officials look at many factors to make sure a marriage is not fraudulent. One of the factors is a history of crimes or fraud by either spouse; anyone who has committed past illegal acts may be looked at as more likely or willing to enter into marriage fraud. Another factor that may be considered by the authorities is a history of U.S. petitioner sponsoring other spousal immigrants. If the U.S. citizen or permanent resident has married and petitioned for one or more other immigrants in the past, it may raise some questions. Did that mean a real marriage fell apart – or was the earlier marriage(s) nothing more than a green card scam?
Additionally, the U.S. government keeps track of which countries’ citizens commit visa or other immigration fraud at high rates. Though it’s not your fault, if the immigrant spouse comes from one of these countries, he or she will face extra scrutiny by USCIS. The list of the factors that raise red flags is not exhaustive here.
Of course, any of these factors may be present in a perfectly real marriage. And couples whose cases present no red flags at all may nevertheless be given a hard time by the immigration authorities. An applicant has to recognize and diminish their likely sources of doubt, to increase the chances of approval of their case. A qualified immigration attorney may help with your immigration matter.
Tuyana Kupisk, Esq.