My Husband Has Another Wife Living Outside U.S.: Can I Become a U.S. Citizen?

If your marriage is valid and bona fide, you might be able to divorce and then apply for citizenship.

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 he insists that this shouldn’t have any impact on our lives here in the United States.

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 could 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 stepchildren). Under the law, any children that your husband has while he is married to you are also considered your children, whether or not you are the biological mother.

You probably 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?

Unfortunately, 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 might be wrong in telling you that you cannot get divorced because you obtained your legal residency with him. Timing is key here. If he was already married when he married you, you do not have a valid marriage, and your very green card could be at risk. See an attorney immediately.

If, on the other hand, he got married to someone else and had a baby with her while he was already married to you, you not only have a good reason to get divorced (your husband is committing the crime of bigamy) but you might be able to preserve your green card.

Note that 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 certainly possible that your divorce will raise questions when you apply for citizenship. USCIS might take another look at whether your marriage was bona fide to begin with, as opposed to being a sham to get a green card. However, you can possibly 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 might 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 likely that USCIS will find you are practicing polygamy.

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