If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or another immigration agency such as a U.S. consulate finds that you entered into a marriage for the sole purpose of getting a green card, you will not be eligible to have any other visa petitions approved on your behalf later including one based on a new (or continued) marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
This is known as the “Marriage Fraud Bar,” which is outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act at I.N.A. § 204(c). The law says that, if you have entered into a fraudulent marriage in the past for purposes of getting a green card, then you will be barred from receiving future immigration benefits (such as a green card).
This article focuses on applicants with a past marriage fraud finding against them, who are now either filing Forms I-130 and I-485 adjustment of status applications for a green card here in the U.S. or Form I-130 immigrant visa applications for a green card from abroad, based on marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse. This situation may affect both applicants who are still married to the same person, and those who have entered into a new marriage.
Entering Into a Fraudulent Marriage to Obtain a Green Card Will Bar You From Future Immigration Benefits
U.S. immigration law is unforgiving with respect to findings of marriage fraud in visa applications. The “Marriage Fraud Bar” prohibits people who are seeking to become green card holders from having a visa petition approved on their behalf if they have ever been involved or attempted to be involved in a fraudulent marriage.
To understand what a fraudulent marriage is, you first need to understand the legal definition of “fraud.” Immigration fraud generally involves the knowing or willful misrepresentation of a material fact for purposes of gaining a benefit the applicant would not otherwise be eligible to receive. So, a person who sought a a green card based on a marriage that was not entered into legitimately misrepresented the material fact that he or she was in a legitimate marriage for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit.
If you have entered into a fraudulent marriage previously, it does not matter how valid your current marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident may be, when it comes to obtaining a green card. You and your current spouse could have five children together and plenty of evidence that your marriage is real or “bona fide.” By law, immigration agencies are forced to look back at the prior marriage that was found to be a fraud.
A Denial for Reasons Other Than Fraud Will Not Bar Future Visa Applications
If you had applied for a green card in the past based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and that application was denied, it will be important to review the reasons for the denial before filing a new marriage-based green card application. If that earlier application was denied due to issues unrelated to fraud, such as insufficient evidence, lack of eligibility, inadmissibility, abandonment due to your failure to attend an interview, or because the marriage simply failed (for reasons not involving fraud), such reasons will not bar you outright from applying for future immigration benefits (though some may still negatively affect your future applications.).
How to Know Whether a Past Marriage Was Found to be Fraudulent and Consequences of Such a Finding
The best way to learn whether or not USCIS or another agency found fraud in your past visa application is to obtain a copy of its denial of your Form I-130 or Form I-485 application. If terms such as “sham marriage,” “fraudulent marriage,” or marriage “entered into for the sole purpose of circumscribing immigration law” are in the denial decision, then the immigration agency has made a conclusive finding of fraud.
To counter a fraud finding, you will need to demonstrate that the marriage was in fact not fraudulent in order to be granted a green card based on your new (or continued) marriage. You will need to show that the past marriage was a bona fide or real marriage.
If you can’t tell for sure whether there is a past finding of fraud in your record, you may still want to offer evidence that your past marriage was not fraudulent. USCIS is supposed to make an independent determination of whether the past marriage was fraudulent based on any evidence before it (such as new evidence of the legitimacy of the marriage that you furnish with the new visa petition).
In many scenarios, USCIS restates its claims regarding marriage fraud from its denial decision on the past marriage-based application within its fact-finding on the new marital petition. These claims are typically outlined in a document titled “Notice of Intent to Deny” (NOID), which USCIS issues after a review of the I-130 petition and any supporting evidence. Generally, for green card applicants applying from within the U.S. this occurs after the adjustment of status interview.
You will be given a period of time after receipt of the NOID to rebut USCIS’s claims and demonstrate that the past marriage was not fraudulent.
Examples of Evidence to Demonstrate That Past Marriage Was Not Fraudulent
If you are applying for a green card and are up against USCIS’s past fraudulent marriage finding, be sure to consult an immigration attorney. Experienced immigration attorneys have in-depth knowledge of immigration law and court decisions relating to findings of marriage fraud and can prepare a strong case against a previous finding of fraud.
There are some important pieces of evidence you will want to gather, and issues to address, in order to demonstrate that a past marriage was not fraudulent. These include:
- Sworn affidavit from your prior or current spouse stating that your marriage is or was real. For information on how to draft an affidavit, see Nolo’s article “Creating Substitute Documents or Affidavits for Immigration Applications.” An affidavit needs to be detailed and explain any problems with your previous application that led to a finding of fraud. If USCIS previously found fraud in denying your marriage-based petition, and you are still married to the same person, who is refiling a new visa petition on your behalf, this step is especially important. If your spouse withdrew a previous petition and hinted that the marriage may have been entered into fraudulently, he or she will need to explain why this was either incorrect or why immigration officials may have misinterpreted the reasons for a withdrawal. Your spouse may also need to address any specific statements that he or she made and the reasons for these statements. For example, if you were having marriage difficulties and your spouse withdrew the petition for that reason, then your spouse will need to discuss these issues in the affidavit. If you are able to get a prior spouse to cooperate with you by providing an affidavit stating that your past marriage failed but was entered into with true intentions, this can greatly help your application. Remember, you do not need to prove that your past marriage was a “good” marriage, but only that it was a real one.
- Direct evidencecontradicting USCIS’s reasons for making a finding of fraud regarding the past marriage . If a USCIS denial questioned whether you and your spouse lived together or whether you shared financial assets, then you’ll need to provide concrete evidence alleviating these concerns. You could include such items as IRS and state-government-certified transcripts of income tax returns, detailed monthly bank statements for joint accounts showing that you and your spouse were actively sharing finances, a signed copy of a residential lease by all parties (including the landlord) with an accompanying affidavit from the landlord affirming that both you and your spouse lived together on the premises, and if you co-owned property, proof of joint ownership with mortgage statements showing both names, and a copy of the deed.
- Personal affidavit or affidavits from third parties. These should be from people who have direct knowledge of information that specifically contradicts the reasons why USCIS deemed the marriage to be fraudulent. USCIS is not going to be impressed by affidavits stating merely that the couple was in love and looked great together. Instead, USCIS needs to see concrete evidence that will help alleviate its concerns about the marriage being fraudulent. For instance, if USCIS questioned whether you and your spouse ever lived together and the two of you had a roommate (or a friend or family member staying with you) during part of the marriage, ask the roommate to submit an affidavit discussing first-hand knowledge of the marital relationship and the living arrangements. The type of people who are most helpful to write affidavits rebutting marriage fraud findings are those who can write in detail about specific incidents or examples (such as recalling in detail double dates they went on with you and your spouse).
- Written rebuttal of any USCIS findings of inconsistencies. If separate interviews were conducted of you and your spouse (sometimes referred to as a “Stokes interview”), and USCIS listed inconsistencies in your respective testimonies during this interview as a main reason for denying the application, you need to deal with these findings. Include a written rebuttal of as many of these supposed inconsistencies as possible. Some reasonable explanations for inconsistencies between your and your spouse’s testimony could include your failure to understand the question, language barriers, an inaccurate recording of the testimony by the interviewer, a good faith reason for the interviewee not knowing the correct answer, and your having given a partially correct or mostly correct answer that USCIS handled as an inconsistency.
The above list is not exhaustive. USCIS handles each situation of alleged marriage fraud on an individual basis.