Every couple in which a U.S. citizen marries and sponsors a noncitizen
for an immigrant visa or green card based on marriage can expect one thing:
Their application will be carefully scrutinized by U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services (USCIS) and also by the U.S. State Department (if the
immigrant is applying from overseas, through a U.S. consulate).
The U.S. government tends to believe that a large number of
the marriage-based immigration applications it receives are fraudulent or fake
– that they’re just a means for the would-be immigrant to obtain U.S. residence.
Nevertheless, the relevant immigration agencies will give some applications a
closer look than others, particularly when it spots the “red flags” described
in this article.
Bear in mind that, to qualify for a marriage-based green
card, you must prove more than the fact that you are legally married. The U.S.
government requires evidence that you are sharing, or are making arrangements
to share, a life together.
The following types of personal characteristics or living
situations raise questions in the eyes of USCIS or the consulate.
- No shared
language. If the couple can’t talk to each other, how can they really build
a shared life together?
difference in age. People of different ages certainly do get married
sometimes. But when combined with other red flags, the thinking is that it may
represent a compromise by someone who is either interested in obtaining a green
card or in being paid to help someone else do so.
in religion. Because religious beliefs are fundamental to many people’s
approach to life and daily behavior, the U.S. government takes a second look at
applications from people of different religions who have married.
social class or cultural background. People of different wealth levels or
place in society often get married, too – but the U.S. government will be
curious to know more about how this occurred, and whether it’s for real.
in race. You can see a pattern here – any time a couple doesn’t share basic
characteristics, it raises questions.
educational background. Studies
show that most women don’t believe they could admire a man less educated
than they; and that men put intelligence and education at number five on their
ranking of desirable qualities in a mate. So if one person in the couple is
highly educated and the other not, expect questions.
addresses. After marriage, most couples live together. If you don’t –
particularly if both of you are living in the same country – you will need to
provide a good explanation, for example, that one of you is finishing a
university degree and the other one can’t leave his or her job. Also be ready
to show that you plan to live together as soon as possible.
house, but no actual interaction. If, for instance, your work and other
schedules are set up so that you are never home at the same time, the U.S.
government will wonder whether that was intentional.
marriage. If you haven’t told your friends and family, USCIS will wonder
whether it’s because you don’t want them to get all excited about a marriage
that you plan to end as soon as the immigrant gets a green card.
timing of marriage. A goodly number of marriages happen after an
undocumented person in the U.S. is caught and placed into removal proceedings,
or before someone on a nonimmigrant visa is reaching the date by which he or
she must leave the United States. (One can apply for a green card based on
marriage as a defense to deportation.) You will have to explain why you didn’t
choose to marry until it became a matter of urgency.
to manufacture evidence of shared life right before the interview. You will
be asked to provide evidence of joint accounts, assets, memberships, and so on.
Those items will likely have dates showing when they were begun. If those dates
are mere weeks before the green card or visa interview date, it will create
suspicion that you were trying to make your case look good rather than taking
natural steps to join your lives.
soon after you met. Most people like to take at least several months to
consider getting married. If you got married after only a few meetings or
weeks, the government will wonder whether the cause was more romance or, say,
soon after a divorce. Again, this would indicate that the “courtship” was
suspiciously short. (Or you might have to prove the existence of a long affair!)
of U.S. petitioner sponsoring other spousal immigrants. If the U.S. citizen
or permanent resident has married and petitioned for one or more other
immigrants in the past, it stands to reason that those marriages ended in
divorce. Did that mean a real marriage fell apart – or was the earlier
marriage(s) nothing more than a green card scam? And now, since the petitioner
didn’t get caught the first time around, is he or she trying it again?
comes from a country with a history of immigration fraud. The U.S.
government keeps track of which countries’ citizens commit visa or other
immigration fraud at high rates. Though it’s not your fault, if the immigrant
spouse comes from one of these countries, he or she will face extra scrutiny.
children if woman is of childbearing age. Having children is not a
requirement of marriage – but if no children is an added factor in an otherwise
questionable case, it won’t help.
U.S. citizen or resident petitioner. If the U.S. member of the couple lacks
a job or apparently needs money, the immigration authorities might wonder whether
he or she is looking to make some quick bucks through a fraudulent marriage.
of crimes, fraud, or lies by either spouse. Anyone who has committed past
illegal acts may be looked at as more likely or willing to enter into marriage
Clearly, any or many of these
factors may be present in a perfectly real marriage. And couples whose cases
present no red flags may nevertheless be given a hard time by the immigration
The important thing is to realize that they’ve got a tough
decision to make in a short time. The more you, as an applicant, can do to
recognize and allay their likely sources of doubt, the better the odds that
your case will be approved. For a complete discussion of the rules and guidance on how to apply, see Fiance and Marriage Visas: A Couple's Guide to U.S. Immigration (Nolo).