Marriage Visa, Lies and Immigration Consequences
Marriage based visa petitions is one of the most common ways to obtain US immigration benefits. While a legitimate marriage is a straightforward way of getting legal immigration status, there are certain caveats to be kept in mind. The petitioner, a United States citizen, may confer immigration benefits through a Petition for an Alien Relative (Form 130) to the beneficiary spouse, through marriage. The immigration laws define marriage as two persons undertaking to establish a life together and assume certain duties and obligations. In contrast, a sham or fraudulent marriage is one in which the parties marry primarily for the purpose of obtaining the noncitizen spouse’s lawful permanent resident status. The petitioner bears the burden of proving that the couple married in good faith. Hence he/she must prove to the immigration officer that the parties married for the principal purpose of love or to establish a life together.
To determine the marriage’s bona fides, USCIS may examine the parties’ conduct both during and after the marriage in order to assess their intent at the time the marriage took place. This is typically done by both an extensive personal interview and by examining the documents which the couple has presented. These documents should show the couple’s intent to establish a life together. The relevant case law has indicated that the normal married couple has a fair amount in common. They typically share a language, religion and a cultural background. They live together and do things together, such as take vacations, celebrate important events, birthdays, and holidays, join clubs or gyms, support each other through medical problems, and most importantly have children. Typical couples also combine financial and other aspects of their lives after marriage. They demonstrate their trust in one another by sharing bank and credit card accounts and ownership of property, such as cars and houses. They spend time with each other’s families. The interview and the documents should reflect the couple’s knowledge of these various aspects of their marital life.
USCIS grills marriage-based immigration applicants for a longer and more detailed personal interview as compared to other applicants. If the couple has been married for less than two years, the beneficiary spouse will be subject to a two year conditional period, and will need to apply to remove these conditions prior to the expiration of their temporary status. That two year time period starts when their Conditional Green Card is approved or when they enter the U.S. on their immigrant visa.
Couples suspected of engaging in a sham marriage are subjected to an extensive interview. This is generally referred to as a Stokes interview. The parties are separated and are individually subjected to this intense interview often lasting about 2-3 hours. These are based on all aspects of their marital life, family relationships, finance and budget, religion, daily routines, job related questions and so on. If the government has a suspicion of marriage fraud, they can and often will refer these cases to the Fraud Investigation Unit of USCIS. This special unit of investigators frequently visits the couple’s home, talk to neighbors, friends, interview employers, and make a detailed finding based on their investigation. If the marriage is deemed to be a sham marriage or a fraudulent marriage the couple can be subjected to criminal and civil penalties. Furthermore, a finding of marriage fraud may also be a permanent bar to the foreign national’s ability to file future applications with USCIS.
The consequences of marriage fraud are very severe. The petitioner, or American born citizen and foreign spouse can face up to five years of imprisonment or no more than $250,000 in fines or both. You should be thoroughly prepared for your marriage based interview as the consequences and failure to prepare can be very detrimental.