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What Is Marriage Fraud?

You've probably heard the expressions "marrying for a visa" or "green card marriage." But what does that mean? Foreign nationals might believe that marrying a United States citizen will get them a green card (Permanent Resident Card). But that is not always the case, according to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Several issues may prevent a foreign spouse from getting a lawful permanent residency in the U.S., including marriage fraud.

How Marriage Fraud Happens

Marriage fraud or a sham marriage is a union entered solely to obtain an immigration visa. The usual fact pattern in sham marriages is that noncitizens and U.S. citizens get married under the thought of immigration benefits. They'll meet all the law requirements, including medical tests, licensing, and wedding ceremonies. But, the parties do not intend to enter a bona fide marriage and live as a couple. The U.S. citizen is paid to marry the noncitizen to enable them to gain status as a lawful permanent resident.

Those who commit marriage fraud could face severe criminal penalties. Penalties could include deportation proceedings or jail time. Immigration authorities scrutinize these cases to assess the eligibility of foreign spouses. There have also been situations where a bona fide marriage fell out. Yet, the noncitizen forces the U.S. citizen spouse to keep the marriage for as long as needed to gain permanent residence status.

How the U.S. Government Monitors Marriage Fraud

The Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986 established the two-year conditional status for noncitizen spouses seeking permanent residency. The U.S. government requires that the family still exists by the end of the two-year period to avoid any immigration consequences. Noncitizens receive conditional permanent residency for marriages under two years. This will be converted to full permanent resident status after two years of marriage. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will decide whether the conditional resident and the U.S. citizen spouse married in good faith and continued living together. This process could involve appearances before an immigration judge in an immigration court. But it is usually a simple interview like the one conducted for the green card.

Types of Marriage Fraud

Marriage fraud comes in many forms. The 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 their marriage is legitimate.
  • Mail-order marriages (where either the U.S. citizen or the foreign national knows that the marriage is fraudulent).
  • Visa lottery fraudulent marriages.

How To Avoid Being Accused of Marriage Fraud

Couples in legitimate marriages should have little trouble proving their relationships are genuine. However, the best way to avoid being accused of marriage fraud is to be well-prepared for a U.S. visa interview. During this interview, an immigration officer meets with the couple to determine whether their marriage is real.

If the immigration officer suspects the marriage is fraudulent, they will ask the couple to attend a marriage-based interview. This is 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 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

U.S. immigration authorities will determine whether 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 read your body language, attitude, and 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

Bring any requested documents, forms, and other evidence indicating the legitimacy of your relationship. Make sure that all 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 the interview.

Consult With an Immigration Lawyer

Immigration laws and procedures can be complicated and confusing. Consulting with an immigration attorney can help clear up any questions. They can also provide legal advice depending on your case. This article also talks in detail about how to avoid marriage fraud.

What Are the Consequences of Committing Marriage Fraud?

Immigration authorities could charge noncitizens and the U.S. citizen with marriage fraud. Marriage fraud is a serious criminal offense that can result in any of the consequences outlined below:

  • Denial of the change of the status application
  • Deportation of the non-citizen spouse
  • Sentence of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000
  • Other criminal charges include visa fraud, harboring a noncitizen, or making false statements. Each crime carries more prison sentences and fines.
  • The citizen spouse takes significant personal risks by granting the foreign spouse access to their private information

How To Report Marriage Fraud

You can report suspected marriage fraud to the Homeland Security Investigations tip line at 1-866-347-2423. But, if you are in removal proceedings due to accusations of marriage fraud, seeking the advice of an immigration attorney would be helpful.

Get Legal Help with Your Marriage Fraud Case

U.S. immigration law is full of confusing details that are hard to understand. Each immigration case is also different from the others. And the road to United States citizenship is not the same for everyone. That is why you should seek the help of an experienced immigration attorney near you. This is particularly true if you face deportation or removal due to a marriage fraud case.

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