By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Devin M. Connolly

Many people mistakenly believe that marrying a U.S. citizen is an easy way to obtain their lawful permanent residency (“green card”). However, the reality is that obtaining a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen is far more difficult than simply filing an application and awaiting the arrival of a green card.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) is well aware that some immigrants may be tempted many to marry a U.S. citizen for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card. For this reason, they dedicate a substantial amount of resources towards detecting “sham marriages.”  A “sham marriage” refers to a marriage that was entered into solely to circumvent U.S. immigration laws.  Such action is called marriage fraud and an immigrant found to have committed marriage fraud is permanently barred from being a petitioner or a beneficiary of any petition filed under the Immigration & Nationality Act.  It is the immigrant and spouse’s burden to prove that the marriage is bona fide (real). This is not always an easy task.  Therefore, it is important that a person applying for a green card on the basis of their marriage understand what the USCIS considers to be a valid marriage for immigration purposes.

The USCIS considers that facts and circumstances of each case and determine whether the parties “intended to establish a life together” at the time they recited their marital vows.  But the USCIS will not be convinced based solely on the statements of the parties.  On the contrary, they will also want to closely examine the conduct of the parties, e.g., is the couple residing together, how long have they known each other, are they conducting themselves as husband and wife, etc.  Additionally, the USCIS will also consider whether the parties have a sufficient amount of documentation proving the bonafides of their marriage.

The USCIS will commonly ask the parties personal questions about their relationship.  The potential questions a person may be asked are nearly limitless, as the USCIS may ask just about anything they believe a person should know about their spouse.  It is crucial that any vague, misleading or inappropriate questions be objected to. This is almost impossible to do if the parties are not represented and accompanied by their attorney.  

Also, it is not uncommon for the parties to be separated and asked the same questions outside of the presence of each other. The responses are compared and the answers provided to the USCIS’ questions will likely determine whether a green card will be issued.
   
The USCIS may also conduct a field investigation if they suspect the marriage is fraudulent.  A field investigation may include an officer visiting your home early in the morning or late at night, interviews with neighbors or your employer, and a review of public records.  Moreover, it may also include a review of social networking sites, such as a person’s Facebook page.  Field investigations sometimes take years to complete, leaving the applicant in limbo the entire time.  Therefore, it is highly beneficial to prove the bonafides of marriage during the initial interview with the USCIS.

In conclusion, obtaining a green card through a marriage-based petition can be a very complex process. Therefore, it is always advisable to be represented by an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney.

 However, what happens if you married for the right reason but your marriage does not last? Find out next week.

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