Desperate times call for desperate measures!  We have all heard this phrase many times in our lives. But the reality is that these desperate measures often produce disastrous results.  In the context of immigration law, the desperate act of marrying someone solely for a green card almost always ends very badly.

Marrying a person solely for a green card is often called a “green card marriage,” but the more official term used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) is “sham marriage.”  It has been a plotline in multiple Hollywood movies and television shows over the years, including most recently in the primetime drama “On The Wings of Love.”

“On The Wings of Love” is a fictional story about a young Filipina who dreams of coming to the U.S. for a noble reason – to visit her mother’s gravesite.  After entering the U.S. she is advised to get married to a U.S. citizen so that she can be granted lawful permanent resident status (“green card”).  Before long there is a payment of $7,500 to a person willing to marry the Filipina.  The newlyweds are subsequently coached to stage fake photographs, pretend they are a couple, and even to memorize personal information about their spouse so that they can pass the required interview.

Though “On The Wings of Love” is a fictional television show, this scenario too often is played out in real life because many people mistakenly believe that marrying a U.S. citizen is an easy way to obtain a green card.  The USCIS is well aware that many people are willing to marry a person for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card.  For this reason, they dedicate a substantial amount of resources towards detecting these “sham marriages.”  Because of the USCIS’ efforts, it is crucial 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.

First, the immigrant and their U.S. citizen spouse must prove that their marriage is “bonafide.”  This is not an easy task because the USCIS officers are highly trained to detect sham marriages.  And remember, the USCIS does not have to prove that the marriage is a sham.

The immigrant and their U.S. citizen spouse must show that they “intended to establish a life together” at the time they entered into their marriage.  Oral statements of the immigrant and their U.S. citizen spouse are not sufficient, and neither are written statements of friends and family members.  On the contrary, the USCIS 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.  The USCIS will also consider whether the parties have a sufficient amount of documentation proving the bonafides of their marriage.

The USCIS will also commonly want to ask the immigrant and their U.S. citizen spouse 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.  While you can try and learn as much as possible about your spouse, it is virtually impossible to learn enough about another person if you are not really married to them.  Sure you can learn your spouse’s date-of-birth or name of their employer, but how do you expect to know about your spouse’s eating habits unless you actually live together? How are you going to know about your significant other’s daily routine unless you are married?

Another issue that sometimes comes up is what happens if the U.S. citizen spouse dies or physically or emotionally harms the immigrant.  Despite the breakdown of the marriage, the immigrant may still be eligible to apply for their green card.  However, they will still have to prove that the relationship was bonafide at the time of the inception of the marriage.

The risks of entering into a “sham marriage” are substantial.  Fines, jail time, but no green card.  In fact, the person being petitioned will be barred from ever being petitioned again as an immigrant, even if the subsequent relationship is bonafide.  We all understand that sometimes you may think a “green card marriage” is the only option, but an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney will advise you against following this illegal, and almost sure-to-fail path, despite what you may see on television or in the movies.

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