Understanding Marriage Fraud: Immigration Law Crime

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What Is Marriage Fraud?

By the country’s immigration laws, the foreign spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are granted certain concessions that allow them to quickly become green card holders.

Because of this position, foreign nationals often enter into sham marriages with U.S. citizens/permanent residents to allow them to benefit from the said concessions and fast-track their immigration application. Any such marriage that is contracted solely to evade U.S. immigration laws or gain other immigration benefits is fraudulent.

Marriage fraud is a criminal offense. Anyone found guilty could face criminal penalties and severe immigration consequences.

But sometimes mistakes happen, and the immigration authorities may flag an application for suspected marriage/immigration fraud when the marriage is, in fact, bonafide. This usually happens when the applicant makes mistakes during the application process or immigration interview.

If you’re filing your green card application as a conditional resident or seeking adjustment of status through marriage, the information provided below can help you avoid denials due to such scenarios.

If your application has already been denied, the details discussed here could also help you understand the situation and provide some guidance that could help you resolve the issue.

Read on to learn more. 

Examples of Marriage Fraud

Anyone can get married and produce a marriage certificate without any hassle. Hence even though a marriage may be valid on paper, it may not qualify as a marriage for U.S. immigration purposes.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires an additional element: a marriage upon which an immigration application is based must have been contracted bonafide. There must be evidence to show that the couple involved must have entered the marriage in good faith, intending to live and build a life together. Anything less may be classified as a fake marriage or marriage fraud. 

Some of the common instances of marriage fraud include the following:

  • The marriage was conducted in exchange for money paid to the U.S. citizen or LPR.

  • One of the parties was in a previous marriage that had not been legally terminated, rendering the current marriage invalid.

  • The foreign national spouse entered the marriage to evade immigration law restrictions, even though the citizen or LPR spouse believes the marriage is genuine. 

Penalties for Marriage Fraud

Under the INA 8 U.S. Code 1325(c), the penalty for knowingly partaking in a sham marriage is imprisonment for up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both. The law covers both U.S. citizens and non-citizens involved in the fraudulent act. It also covers individuals who knowingly engage in marriage fraud as a commercial enterprise.

Immigrants who commit marriage fraud will also have their visas revoked. They may be arrested, and removal proceedings may be initiated against them. The immigration authorities may also restrict their eligibility for re-admission into the U.S.

The criminal penalties for marriage fraud are overwhelming, and such acts shouldn’t be considered at all. But sometimes, despite your pure intentions, you might be suspected of being in a sham marriage based on the contents of your application and your conduct during the immigration interview.

In the following sections, we’ll discuss how the authorities assess cases to detect sham marriages and the steps you could take to avoid such issues. 

How the Immigration Authorities Prevent and Determine Marriage Fraud 

Statutory Preventive Measures

To minimize instances of marriage fraud, the Immigration Marriage Fraud Act of 1986, which amended the INA, establishes certain hurdles that spousal visa applicants must cross before becoming lawful permanent residents. They include the following requirements:

  • Couples applying for a “K” (fiance) visa must have met at least once within the preceding two years before the visa application was filed. The fiance visa allows a foreign national engaged to a U.S. citizen to enter the U.S., get married, and apply to become a permanent resident. There are exceptions to the two-year meeting rule stated above. Those who have issues complying may benefit from the help of a K1 visa immigration lawyer who can assess their case and determine whether the exceptions apply.

  • Generally, spousal immigration applications begin with the citizen or LPR spouses filing an immigrant petition on behalf of the foreign spouse. If everything goes well at that stage, the foreign spouse is issued conditional permanent residency that lasts for two years unless they had been married for more than two years on the day they obtained permanent residency.

  • To remove the conditions of residency and become lawful permanent residents, the foreign national and their citizen spouse must file a joint petition (Form I 751) to that effect within 90 days before the period of conditional residency ends. During the process, they must establish that the marriage exists, is legally valid, and was not entered into to evade immigration laws or for money or any other benefit.

Investigation and Scrutiny of Marriage-Based Green Card Applications

During the transition process from conditional resident to LPR or the application process for a spousal visa or adjustment of status through marriage, the immigration officer in charge of the case will scrutinize the details provided in the application/petition forms and the supporting documents provided.

They look out for details that show that the couple intended to build a life together, such as

  • Proof of joint bank accounts

  • Trips taken together

  • Joint property ownership.

If you’re starting the application process, it is important that you provide the officer with the above or similar documents to show the legitimacy of your relationship. 

You and your spouse may need to attend the immigration interview together. If the interview is successful the first time, there may be no need for a follow-up session. But if the answers you and your spouse gave during the interview were conflicting, it could lead the immigration officer to suspect marriage fraud.

In that case, they would invite you both for a Stokes interview, where you and your spouse would be questioned separately to determine the authenticity of your marriage. 

The answers you give at this point could improve or ruin your chances. It would help if you were well-prepared before the interview date. You can seek help from an experienced immigration lawyer to prepare for the interview beforehand.

What To Do After a Marriage Fraud-Based Denial 

If you’re already in the U.S., a denial, in this case, could lead to deportation since the immigration authorities can initiate removal proceedings against you. 

But as disappointing as it is, a denial is not the end of the road. You still have some legal options to explore, including the following:

  • You could challenge the marriage fraud allegations in immigration court during your removal proceedings. You may need to hire a deportation defense lawyer to help prepare and present your case convincingly before the immigration judge to help them decide in your favor. 

  • You could appeal the decision with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Time is essential here as you have only 30 days from when you received the negative decision to file your appeal. Otherwise, it would be rejected.

There may be other options you could explore after a denial depending on the nature of your case. A skilled immigration attorney can assess your case and help you determine the best way forward.

Get Help With Your Marriage-Based Green Card Applications at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law

If you have further questions about the immigration process, such as getting a spousal green card, overcoming a marriage Fraud allegation, or whether you qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility, we are here to help.

Our law firm is committed to upholding the unity of marriages regardless of where the spouses originate from. With our skills and experience, we can guide you through the immigration process and help you overcome the legal barriers that could keep you and your spouse apart. 

Contact us today to get personalized answers and solutions that work. Let us help you build your family in the land of your dreams.