My husband has another wife living outside the U.S.: Can I become a U.S. citizen?

You will not qualify for citizenship if you are part of a polygamous web of family relationships, even if you have married only once.

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Question

I am a legal permanent resident of the United States. I just learned that my husband, a U.S. citizen, has another woman (with a new baby) back in our home country. My husband says he is married to her there, but that this shouldn’t have any impact on our lives here in the United States. But I want to apply for U.S. citizenship. I got my green card with my husband, so he says I will lose my permanent residency if we get divorced. Will my husband’s situation be a problem for me when I apply to naturalize?

Answer

Yes. Your husband’s bigamy (being legally married to two women at the same time) could cause your interviewing officer at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to decide that you are practicing polygamy. Practicing polygamy will disqualify you for citizenship, and may result in your deportation as well.

There is no way that you can honestly answer all the questions on the Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) without telling USCIS that your husband is currently married to two women at the same time. The Form N-400 requests your complete marriage history AND your husband’s complete marriage history. It also requires you to list all your children – biological, adopted, or step – and under the law, any child that your husband has while he is married to you is also your child, whether or not you are the biological mother.

You may find this frustrating – after all, you are not married to two people, and you haven’t done anything wrong. Why should your application for naturalization be denied because of your husband’s actions? But USCIS interprets polygamy as a cultural or religious practice. That means that because you are one of the wives, if you do not leave the relationship immediately, you become a knowing partner to your husband’s other relationship.

Your husband is 100% wrong in telling you that you cannot get divorced because you obtained your legal residency with him. If he has married someone else and had a baby with her, while he is still married to you, you have a very good reason to get divorced. Your husband is committing the crime of bigamy. And it does not matter that he married his other wife in a different country. In U.S. immigration law, a marriage anywhere in the world is still a marriage.

It’s possible that your divorce will raise some questions when you apply for citizenship — USCIS may take another look at whether your marriage was bona fide to begin with, as opposed to being a sham to get a green card — but you can overcome this with documents and your own testimony. See “Can I apply for citizenship if I’ve divorced the person who got me my green card?” for details.

If you don’t get divorced, then from the perspective of USCIS, you are probably practicing polygamy. This will depend to some extent on where you are from – if you are from a country where polygamy is not legally or culturally practiced (such as Argentina or Finland), then USCIS may not decide that you are involved in polygamy. On the other hand, if you are from a country where polygamy is legal, (like Egypt or Saudia Arabia) or even from a country where it is not legal, but practiced culturally, such as Kenya or Zimbabwe, it is very likely that USCIS will find you are practicing polygamy.

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